Every successful company passes through a number of stages as it matures: think of a bright idea that helps people and makes their life easier, hire key personnel and top management, seek investors or align plans with the parent company, etc. Having passed through these stages, the organization can proceed to hiring and training employees.
As long as the number of employees does not exceed 10-15 people, frontal instruction in the form of informal talk or organized meetings is sufficient for sharing knowledge and expertise within the company. In time, as the company grows to 40-50 employees, a small meeting room that was used to host all-hands meetings becomes less and less adequate. Space becomes an issue, and gathering all employees in the same room at the same time becomes more and more troublesome.
By that time, new knowledge and expertise are being generated at a dramatically accelerated pace. Management begins to realize that keeping track of the information flow becomes progressively harder. As the pace at which work is done within the organization picks up steam, the opportunities for employees to talk and share their knowledge become more and more rare. Savvy employees begin picking up on the fact that knowledge and expertise within the organization are being lost because nobody has the time to write anything down. If you take a close look at an organization at this stage, you will likely notice employees repeating mistakes another employee already made. Sooner or later, a cry goes up for a consolidated knowledge base for storing the knowledge and expertise generated within the company. Does this sound familiar? Are you, perhaps, experiencing a similar situation in your company? If so, it is high time you began familiarizing yourself with E-Learning.
E-Learning - How to Start?
The first step towards adopting E-Learning in your organization should be choosing how you are going to store the information. This choice, in turn, will inform your choice of the E-Learning platform.
There are two widely used methods for storing information in E-Learning:
Primarily text-based pages using Wiki-engine
A Learning Management System paired up with a Rapid Authoring Tool
Using Wiki as your knowledge base platform allows you to store information in the form of separate pages, with every individual page being dedicated to a separate topic. You can spice the text pages up with pictures, videos, and (in some Wikis) audio. Think of this option as building your own, internal, organization-sized Wikipedia. This approach has both advantages and drawbacks. On the one hand, you can easily create an approachable and easy to understand hierarchy of categories and topics. On the other, text materials are often seen as boring, and Wiki-software generally lacks any ability to make the materials interactive. This is the principal drawback of this approach: it can be hard to motivate employees to contribute to and learn from a Wiki-based knowledge base, as reading walls of text is not a fun activity.
LMS + Rapid Authoring Tool
Rapid Authoring Tools (sometimes also known as Course Builders) - help create interactive courses. The word “Rapid” indicates that the tool is sufficiently intuitive that even someone with no prior E-Learning experience can use it. Rapid Authoring Tools are known for their ease of use, and can be used to deliver a fully-featured course on a tight schedule.
A Learning Management System (LMS) - is a platform enabling you to host courses, manage users and groups, and also track learning-related statistics. Once a course is created in a Rapid Authoring Tool, the next step is to use a Learning Management System to host it. Traditionally, Learning Management Systems and Rapid Authoring Tools were sold separately, but in the last few years this trend has begun to change. Now, you can get a product able to perform the function of both a Learning Management System and a Rapid Authoring Tool for the price of one.
What do I choose? Wiki, LMS, or an Authoring Tool?
Giving a straightforward answer to this question is harder than you may think, and it mainly depends on the way your priorities are aligned. Deploying a Wiki platform is a complicated and lengthy process, and it usually demands the attention of the organization’s IT department. Besides, the choice of available Wiki solutions is limited, and it is possible that none of the existing offerings will adequately fit your needs. Getting started with an Authoring Tool or an LMS is much easier, as in the worst case you just need to install the application on your computer (and in the best case, a cloud-based solution does away with the need for deploying it altogether). In general, when you go down the Authoring Tool + LMS route, the setup time is limited to one or two days. In addition, if you choose a cloud-based solution, you get rid of the necessity to maintain the platform and keep it up-to-date, as these responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the service provider.
There are, of course, certain peculiarities in terms of day-to-day use as well. For example, text search works best in Wikis, as the most of content in any Wiki is text. On top of that, creating a topic in a Wiki is very straightforward and doesn’t take a lot of time. On the other hand, LMSes are much more convenient to use, and produces interactive courses, which spurs the employees’ motivation and desire to learn. Another important feature present in many LMSes is the ability to enhance courses with tests and surveys. This enables you not only to train your employees, but also understand how well they mastered any given topic, and if a repeat training is necessary. Finally, good LMSes give you the ability to track the statistics that help understand how well the employees learn. You can usually get high-level overviews together with more granular statistics, like the data about a specific course, group of learners, or even an individual learner. Most LMSes are able to generate and export comprehensive reports based on the statistics data.
Can I create E-Learning course without prior experience?
Most modern course builders have streamlined, easy to use interfaces, and are no harder to learn to use than PowerPoint or Gmail. These tools are designed in such a way that someone completely new can learn to use them by doing, intuitively and without assistance. And when the method of trial and error fails, in most cases, video tutorials are readily available. Besides, most E-Learning vendors offer webinars teaching the client’s staff to operate the LMS on demand.
The advantage of Rapid Authoring Tools as compared to regular course builders is that even someone completely new to E-Learning can pick one up in just one or two days, while becoming reasonably proficient with a professional course builder can take months. For that reason, small organizations should go with a Rapid Authoring Tool - at least in the beginning - as its capabilities should be more than sufficient for the first two to three years. If, in the future, the need to create more complex courses arises, you will be able to “level up” without the need to switch your Learning Management System.
It bears mentioning that using a Rapid Authoring Tool has the advantage of not needing to hire a professional whose sole job will be to train the employees. In fact, one of the major selling points of Rapid Authoring Tools is that anybody can become proficient with one and build a high quality interactive course in a matter of days. No need to fear adopting e-Learning in your organization.
To learn what to look for when shopping for an LMS, read Everything You Need to Know About Choosing a Learning Management System. I would also like to recommend Geenio as your first Rapid Authoring Tool. This platform was designed specifically for people with no prior E-Learning experience, and was built from the ground up to be easy to learn and use.
Where do I go from here?
Once your knowledge base becomes an indispensable tool used throughout the whole organization, you should consider optimizing it, taking the most popular search requests into account. You can read more in the article on the Knowledge Centered Support methodology. Talent Management is another direction E-Learning can take in your organization. Talent Management helps you process the information gathered during training to identify talent within your organization, who can then be promoted to key positions within the company. Thus, as your employees complete courses and tests, studying the statistics data becomes more important, as it allows you to identify and promote talent.