Remote communities and e-learning: the challenge and the solution

Rodney Spark

Rodney Spark is the executive director of eWorks and chair of the E-standards for Training Expert Group (EEG). Rodney focuses on improving the flexibility and quality of learning through the application of information and communication technologies (ICT). Flexibility has proved particularly important in his recent work with the East Arnhem Regional Council (EARC). Together with a team of technical, educational and business strategy experts at eWorks, all coordinated by a senior project manager, Rodney has been tackling The Council’s challenge to deliver training to over 300 staff in nine remote and dispersed locations.

The Challenge

East Arnhem Regional Council (EARC) is situated in the far north-eastern corner of the Northern Territory mainland, covering a land mass of approximately 33,359km2. The Council provides core local government services to nine remote communities of Arnhem land: Milingimbi, Ramingining, Galiwin’ku, Gapuwiyak, Yirrkala, Gunyangara, Umbakumba, Angurugu and Milyakburra. That five of these nine communities are located on islands only exacerbates the unique challenges of providing services to the Council’s remotely dispersed constituents. However EARC is recognised as being more than a service provider to these communities. As the predominant employer, EARC’s mission is to provide sustainable employment and development for the people of East Arnhem Land. Through the creation of quality training and an inclusive workplace, EARC is working with the communities to develop pathways for employment and to empower people through the acquisition of skills and personal development. For EARC, delivering ongoing training and development extends beyond the Council’s 300 staff and presents several key challenges:

1. Dispersed staff

With EARC staff dispersed across such a large area, the costs of face-to-face delivery can be considerable. This, combined with infrequent transport options to island communities, limits the amount of training and development which can be feasibly delivered each year. In addition, face-to-face events cannot be planned with any certainty between October and March because of the unpredictable and extreme weather.

2. Learner requirements

Approximately two thirds of EARC’s workforce is Indigenous, and for many of these staff English is not their first (or in many instances second) language. Indeed, unique languages are spoken in nearly all of the communities serviced by EARC. Acknowledging and valuing individual community identity, indigenous culture and heritage is a core value at EARC. Consequently, challenges exist in providing training to all their staff that is consistent in terms of content but tailored in terms of local context and language.

3. Limited technology

Internet access in several remote communities is slow and/or unstable and many EARC staff do not have personal computers. Mobile devices and smart phones are the primary point of internet access for remote indigenous communities but the mobile coverage is unreliable and the data costs can be prohibitive for individuals. Introducing online training successfully for EARC requires an appreciation of the technology limitations.

4. Community engagement

EARC seeks to increase community capacity and empowerment by providing employment for individuals, facilitating businesses to develop and promoting safe and healthy  communities. This requires education and training programs that extend beyond its current workforce into the communities it services and their success will depends upon community ownership and engagement in the planning and delivery.

Australia Outback panoramaCredits: Australia Outback panorama by Joan Campderrós-i-Canas

The Solution

East Arnhem Regional Council is currently undertaking an initiative to transition towards an e-learning model of training delivery to its remote staff. They are doing this in order to achieve:

  • quality training outcomes
  • broader training delivery availability, and
  • greater return on training investment.

eWorks is assisting the Council to implement a multi-faceted project comprising:

1. Development and implementation of an e-learning strategy

The successful roll-out of e-learning within an organisation involves considerable organisational change, and this needs to be supported by a clear strategy and stakeholder engagement. In consultation with EARC stakeholders, eWorks is creating an e-learning strategy designed to maximise the effectiveness of the e-learning rollout. The strategy needs to articulate the change enablers required to support the technology uptake and will include a project plan of measurable outcomes to ensure that e-learning implementation occurs as efficiently as possible within the organisational context.

2. Management of e-learning platform implementation

A key component of the EARC e-learning strategy is the roll-out of an enterprise-level training platform, which is accessible to all EARC staff. Key considerations in this component of the project include ensuring that the platform is readily available and intuitive for EARC staff, and that the platform accurately tracks staff accomplishments and facilitates learning pathways for staff members that are aligned to personal and organisational goals.

3. Resource development

A learning management system is only of limited use without a comprehensive suite of learning resources and training materials. eWorks is assisting EARC in this area by:

  • Identifying existing EARC assets that are suitable for rapid conversion to an online format.
  • Developing systems and processes to enable EARC to create engaging training materials from scratch.
  • Identifying free and cost-effective training materials available in the marketplace, capitalising on eWorks’ existing network of content publishers.

eWorks’ ongoing support and project management, designed to maximise the cohesion and outcomes across the multiple sub-projects, complements all of these services. We look forward to providing you with an update on the Council’s transition to an e-learning model of training delivery in a few months.

Do you have any stories about delivering training to remote learners that you would like to share with our readers? Contact us today.

The digital journey from mainframes to SaaS

Rodney Spark

Rodney Spark is the executive director of eWorks and chair of the E-standards for Training Expert Group (EEG). Rodney focuses on improving the flexibility and quality of learning through the application of information and communication technologies (ICT). Here, Rodney shares his views on the digital journey from his first encounter with computing to the emergence of software as a service (SaaS).

Where did your digital journey begin?

My first computer experience was a ‘dummy’ terminal connected to a mainframe. Interestingly, despite the emergence of the PC and individual computing, we have returned to the same scenario – personal devices that connect to large data storages and applications for manipulating the data. There is one significant difference worth noting though and that’s device mobility. For the end user the connecting spaghetti is now ubiquitous and invisible. While you could argue that it has been a 30 year circular path back to our starting scenario, it is important to understand that the journey itself has been essential for re-purposing computing, including for education, and for exerting a ‘people’s voice’ on the re-build.

Then came the thought of ‘big brother’

In the 70s individuals and society were exposed to the conceptual fears created by Orwell’s 1984 and big mainframe computers profiling everything we did was definitely ‘big brother’. Of course the government gave us the privacy legislation that we demanded but was that truly a guarantee that no-one was looking? The emergence of PCs enabled local applications and local data storage, the perfect ‘privacy’ solution for the distrusting public. Then Apple gave us intuitive interfaces enabling a common accessibility to the power of computing.

The birth of personal computers (aka fridges)

Apple IIe
Credit: Apple IIe, by William Warby

My first ‘PC’ was an Apple IIE in 1983 but it wasn’t until I upgraded to my Macintosh SE that I understood the flexibility and creativity that the world of ‘icons’ offered. It was only a black and white world though but the Macintosh SE was also unique for being the first portable PC. It was fully self-contained, you only had to carry the one item and use it wherever you could find electricity. For 1987, my Mac SE was a high performing PC with an 8MHz processor, 1MB of RAM and a 20MB hard drive. In terms of portability there was a well-padded carry bag with strong handles for carrying the 8kg weight. I used to strap the SE on the back of my motor bike and it looked like I was transporting a small fridge.

A time for sharing

Once satisfied with computing’s ‘new world order’ I wondered at the things we could do on our computers but it was a lonely experience given we couldn’t share it with others unless we put a floppy disk in the mail. The Internet changed all of that. At first it was hard to believe that something built for national security and covert activity would not impinge on our individual liberties. In fact the irony is that it enabled ‘people power’ and the capacity for us to share ideas, beliefs and those wonderful things we were starting to create on our PCs ….. and we were able to share privately or publicly.

Learning through computing

It was the Internet and subsequent growth of digital communication that enabled education to fully realise the learning value that computing offered. The wave of PCs that flowed during the 80s and 90s promised low-cost, self-paced learning for all. The IT world was excited about CBT (computer based training) and CAL (computer assisted learning). Employers embraced it with the same level of enthusiasm because it promised them low-cost training for large employee numbers. Educators, however, were not so quick to support CBT/CAL because it sought to replace rather than understand the teacher’s role in ensuring cost-effective learning outcomes.

Or not…

Large amounts of money were invested in CBT/CAL programs for diminished rather than increased learning returns. The three main reasons for the high development cost were:

  • level of technical expertise required
  • emphasis on professional production values, and
  • attempts to mimic the teacher’s capability to respond to individual learning needs.

Experienced teachers will tell you that the repetitive use of identical learning content and teaching strategies does not guarantee the same learning environment or learning outcome. The student is the differentiating ingredient and the teacher is able to adjust accordingly. CBT programs may have been technically innovative and visually attractive but their educational value was limited to rote learning. Consequently CBT/CAL failed to impact on mainstream education, let alone improve the availability and accessibility of learning.

The importance of content

The arrival of the Internet changed this because it promoted content over production values and it enabled content to be packaged with live social commentary. Students exposed to Youtube and other ‘cloud content’ no longer expected high quality production, the focus shifted back to the relevance and usefulness of the content. Today there is a greater student acceptance of teacher created learning material using new digital tools such as mobiles, cameras, videos and so on. Cut and paste learning objects surrounded by teacher commentary and learner support is the essence of quality and affordable e-learning. All good teachers have sound instructional design and communication skills which is why good teachers are also good e-teachers. Contrary to the original promotion of CBT, e-learning is affordable because of the teacher. Teachers adjust and support the learning experience, they provide the quality assurance for maximising learning outcomes and hence the return on the training investment.

The cloud with more than a silver lining

To understand the reason for returning to individual ‘dumb’ devices connected to centralised intelligence we need to understand the popular acceptance of the ‘cloud’. The Internet facilitated the perception of ‘anarchy, state and utopia’ where everyone benefits from everyone else’s presence. There is no perceived threat of ‘big brother’, you control your own content deciding who can see what and the rules of behaviour are limited to the basic requirements to ensure that the Internet survives. Putting aside the debate about the reality of this perception, the impact has been millions of people using the ‘cloud’ to create, store and display their intellectual property. Similarly, millions of people entrust the privacy of even their most intimate communication to the Internet in the same accepting manner as they have always done with telephony. Through social networking services such as Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn and Tumbler people have embraced software as a service (SaaS) and the cloud storage of their digital artefacts. SaaS provides reliability and predictable cost compared with owning local-based infrastructure. As our connecting devices got cheaper and smaller, our use of local applications and data storage reduced.

E-learning today

For eWorks, this shift in mindset is also very evident at a business level with over 200 employers and training providers now using the TrainingVC to manage and deliver their training. Although the TrainingVC has been providing the benefits of SaaS for over 15 years, the demand today for the service is unprecedented. Like many other businesses, training providers are seeking to reduce their ICT risk exposure (i.e. the escalating and unpredictable cost of managing secure business infrastructure) by moving to cloud based services which in turn enables them to concentrate resources to delivering their core business. E-learning began with local applications servicing pockets of innovation. Today e-learning is a core component of the business strategy requiring the provision of business critical systems. This means:

  • full disaster recovery
  • ensuring the security and integrity of data
  • 24/7 access for anyone from anywhere, and
  • large databases and storage requirements.

How has eWorks fared in the digital journey?

There are several reasons for eWorks’ longevity as an SaaS provider.

  1. Our industry leading Service Level Agreement guarantees a performance that’s greater than what’s usually offered for SaaS.
  2. Our research and development capacity to keep up to date with new technology and learning innovation, changing the service accordingly and in conjunction with the preferences and needs of our users.
  3. Our capacity to provide an end-to-end e-learning solution that includes the integration of the TrainingVC with other business systems and local portals, the provision of off-the-shelf or bespoke learning content and related staff training.

I am proud that eWorks’ track record of delivering excellent service is best illustrated by the volume of new business we win through referrals from a loyal and supportive portfolio of clients.

Does your organisation need some support through its digital journey?
Wherever you are, eWorks can help.

eWorks’ highlights and successes in 2014

Happy Holidays from eWorks

2014 has been a busy year for eWorks and it’s not surprising when you consider just some of what we’ve been up to…

We won! Deafness forum captioning award

eWorks and the E-standards Accessible HTML5 Video Player won the Deafness Forum of Australia’s online captioning and digital innovation award. Development and provision of the video player means that web-based video can be made accessible to hearing impaired, low-vision and compromised-mobility audiences at no extra cost.

Read more | Awards night and photos

VET Commons ready-made content channel launched

VET Commons is an easy way to locate existing learning resources that are relevant to vocational education and training. VET Commons currently contains over 15,000 resources and is continuously expanding to include new material from a variety of public and commercial publishers. There is also a large collection of useful free assets for building your own learning resource, such as images, videos, quizzes, case studies and more.

Read more

Five Technology innovation research projects published

Five Technology Innovations research projects were managed through the New Generation Technologies business activity, staffed by members of the eWorks team, to promote:

  • effective teaching in the 21st century
  • improvements in student completion rates
  • assessment of outcomes and student employability.

Read more

TVC Enterprise LMS for learning and development launched

TrainingVC Enterprise is an online solution specifically designed for learning and development management. This comprehensive LMS supports instructor-led training, self-paced e-learning, virtual classroom sessions and performance management among many other facilities.

TVC Enterprise flyer (PDF, 1.19 MB)

Accredited Consultant Program launched

eWorks Accredited Consultants are training, learning and development specialists that eWorks has selected to champion its learning solutions. The program launched this year with Accredited Consultant Kylie McKeon – a lover of the outdoors, the 70:20:10 framework, and everything e-learning.

Read more

National VET E-standards published

An updated set of technical standards for creating accessible and reusable e-learning content has been published for the vocational education and training (VET) sector. The annual e-standards review was undertaken by the E-standards for Training, staffed by members of the eWorks team.

Read more

eWorks nominated for prestigious e-learning excellence award

This year eWorks was nominated for an e-learning excellence award for some fantastic work the team did with the Australian Childhood Foundation. The project involved creating an online training system to support personnel working with children and young people who have experienced abuse and trauma. We didn’t quite win, but send our heartfelt congratulations to The Australian Children’s Television Foundation for winning the award in the community category for a brilliant little micro-documentary app.

Read more

My eWorks administrator portal released

My eWorks provides TrainingVC administrators with a single point of access to eWorks’ sites and services. Features of the portal, which will in time will be rolled out to all of eWorks’ clients, include:

  • Direct access to your TrainingVC sites
  • Access to Google Analytics
  • Status overview (active users, data usage)
  • Direct access to the Zone and the support desk.

Read more

ACPET, NVET and Learning@Work conferences sponsored

In August, September and October of this year eWorks proudly sponsored the ACPET, NVET and Learning@Work conferences respectively. The general feeling of the eWorks team members that attended these events was how lovely it was to hear positive feedback from people using our products and services. That’s what makes our jobs rewarding.

ACPET 2014 | NVET 2014 | Learning@Work

As the year draws to a close we would like to thank you for your continued support and business. The eWorks team wishes you and your loved ones a happy holiday season and all the best for the year ahead. We look forward to working with you in 2015.

eWorks Accredited Consultant Program

Recently, we have been contacted by businesses wishing to re-sell our solutions. As a result, we are launching today the eWorks Accredited Consultant Program. This program will give businesses the flexibility to provide both ready-made and customized e-learning solutions to their customers.

eWorks is looking for consultants from small, medium or large companies, who already provide e-learning services, consultancy, products or solutions. The Program has been designed to provide e-learning consultants with everything they need to start delivering e-learning solutions. Comprehensive training on our products is included, along with full eWorks Accredited branding for our Accredited Consultants.

Our Accredited Consultants will be supported by the following opportunities:

  • Ability to resell the full spectrum of eWorks’ products and services
  • Free training and support for eWorks’ products and services
  • Listing on the eWorks website
  • Potential for exposure in eWorks’ social media channels
  • Potential for exposure in eLink, eWorks’ e-learning newsletter
  • Priority access to all eWorks events
  • Support for new business proposals and tender responses
  • Leads for new business opportunities from eWorks’ existing networks

The program will operate at three levels of commissions and arrangements, giving our Accredited Consultants the flexibility to refer opportunities to eWorks or to work with the client, using eWorks’ support and delivery services.

For more information on this exciting opportunity, contact Darcy Nicolson on 0411 787 172.