So much more than MOOCs: hello modern learning systems

Darcy Nicholson

Darcy Nicolson is a learning and technology expert at eWorks. Passionate about lifelong learning, Darcy focuses on improving the use of media and technology to enable better personal development and learning outcomes. Here Darcy considers the popular trend of Massive Open Online Courses in educational technology, the history of this movement and the impact of online learning acronyms.

The pre-internet 90s and CBT

From the moment you could type a document and distribute it to as many people as you would like with little or no cost, computers were seen as an opportunity to deliver better training to more people. In the pre-internet 90’s we had computer based training (CBT). It was delivered on a CD-ROM and was generally employed to provide content (often text based) and then test the user on a simple set of questions. Along came software (often Flash) providing simple multi choice, matching and fill the blank questions. The feedback on score results was immediate, and the opportunity to print a certificate of completion or compliance would be the end result. Computer based – tick. Training – tick. Fun and engaging? I’m not so sure. Instead the software and content were thought of as an advanced book. After all, you could still hold a CD in one hand, and like a book it was tangible. From my numerous discussions with organisations looking to start online course delivery, I think many people still struggle to separate the components of modern online learning systems because of this history. It’s almost as if new terms get associated back to the physicality of a CD-ROM, whereas the scope, structure and function of educational tools today are limited only by the creativity of the designer – not much of a limitation.

Moving on now to the post-internet 00s

Computer based training evolved into e-learning. I think the e was borrowed from email and therefore it became electronic learning. The CD-ROM content went online, meaning that even the cost of duplicating and distributing CDs was gone. Results could be kept in a central database, and could trigger an alert or email to managers on compliance topics that had gone out of date. This was the same era where those that were using the technology retained the power to make updates or changes to the material, often dubbed Web 1.0, when the term Web 2.0 became popular. This meant that many learners could access the content, but it was often delivered via flash and similar tools and required a web-developer to deploy it. If the system stored data on learners and their results you might also need a database administrator. Better content yes, but increasing complication in the delivery of it. Not surprisingly this era is also where the billboard in the desert term arose to describe websites that had infrequent or no changes.

eLearning, e-learning, e-Learning or just plain learning!

Moving on to more recent years, e-learning (or however you want to write it) was still a thing and people associated it with content delivered on a computer screen. I think that even in discussion with clients today the term LMS (learning management system) is merged with the term e-learning, which can make it difficult to discuss successful deployment. Compounding this is the organisation’s need to carefully control what educators are teaching and keep good records on learner results. Especially in terms of an Australian Quality Framework (AQF)/Registered training organisation (RTO) relationship.

And then there were MOOCs

The internet gave us connectivity but the true power was the change to user generated content, provided by services like Bebo, MySpace and Facebook. In other words, the crash of uni-directional control of media. Now we have the term MOOCs – understandably abbreviated from massive online open courses – and like those options before it, MOOCs come bundled with a set of preconceptions from its predecessors. You will find many articles on what a MOOC is – I even wrote one too. Lots of fun for educational technology players. Now we have xMOOCs, cMOOC, OOC, and a whole range of other ways to put edtech acronyms together like SPOC (Small Personal Online Courses).

MOOC and e-learning interest over time graph

Learning systems

My point? It seems that the term MOOC, together with the recent endorsement of this approach to learning by large Universities like Stanford and Harvard, has energised organisations to revisit or refocus on online learning. It doesn’t matter what technology or model we use, learning is an ecosystem of learners, educators, platforms and content. As more portable and connected technology pervades our everyday life, acronyms, trends and concepts like computer based training (CBT), e-learning and MOOCs will come and go. Rather than focus on the latest thing in digital education, I encourage you to think more holistically about getting great learner outcomes. When looking at your modern learning systems ask questions like:

  1. Can you openly release your content – or is it considered intellectual property by your organisation?
  2. What role does social media play in you delivery strategy?
  3. Do your educators have the right skills to adopt online delivery?
  4. Are you using your current online tools to their capacity?

Answering questions like this should help to highlight whether your program will be massive, open or something else entirely. And once you have a clear understanding of what your program is, you will be in a better position to select appropriate technologies to enhance it.

What do you think about all of this? Darcy loves chatting (and ranting!) about educational technology. Why not join in?

Online drugs training program promotes harm reduction in our communities

Chris Boag is the acting operations manager at Penington Institute and has extensive experience managing distributed teams across large territories. Here Chris talks about Penington’s online drugs training program and the need for simple, evidence-based harm reduction information that can be disseminated widely.

What is Penington’s online drugs training program?

Penington’s online drugs training program consists of an interactive online learning course containing three e-learning modules, which is accessed through a Moodle-based learning management system (LMS). The modules have been produced in response to a need for simple, evidence-based harm reduction information that can be disseminated widely. Currently there is very little material in the harm reduction field that utilises online training. This program was converted into an online format by eWorks’ content development team to complement the existing materials.

The program aims to provide basic information about evidence-based harm reduction to non-specialist workers and to friends and families of drug users. The target audience is:

  • frontline workers in the primary and secondary Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) system in Victoria
  • family support groups
  • community health and housing support
  • clients of these services and their families and friends.

Why an online drugs training program?

Penington Institute is funded by The State Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to provide support, including training, for Victoria’s needle and syringe services. They are also funded to act as a peak body for harm reduction, and part of that is about raising the profile of harm reduction in the wider community.

The Drugs Program has been developed to provide simple, introductory information to service providers across a wide range of community support agencies. Staff working in primary needle and syringe services are generally dedicated, full time Needle & Syringe Program (NSP) workers and will have a level of knowledge beyond what these programs provide. This is not always the case for their co-workers who work in other sections of community health, however. Such co-workers tend to work:

  • in the secondary NSP system
  • part-time
  • in different roles where NSP is not the primary focus
  • in other client support roles such as housing and mental health.

Dissemination of training to these staff members is vital to ensure a consistent, evidence-based approach to harm reduction. Penington Institute easily accesses the primary network as it is concentrated in a few locations, but getting information to the other audiences is much harder because they are widely distributed, making  the traditional workshops approach more difficult. The online drugs training programs are ideal for self-paced learning across a large number of sites.

An interactive online learning course

Penington’s online drugs training program consists of an interactive online learning course containing three e-learning modules, which is accessed through a Moodle-based learning management system (LMS). Each module is setup as a separate Moodle course, containing a pre-module quiz, SCORM packaged e-learning module, post-module quiz, and certificate of completion.

1. Introduction to crystal methamphetamine

he first module provides basic information about the different types of methamphetamine used in Australia, including the growing use of ICE (crystal methamphetamine). The Introduction to this module includes information about how the drugs are taken and some of the harms that may arise. Ice-affected clients behave differently depending on how problematic their drug use is, and the module gives signs and symptoms that should be looked for. It also provides information about how severely affected clients should be dealt with in order to minimise the risk of aggressive behaviour.

2. Introduction to brief interventions

Workers in the alcohol and other drug (AOD) field are trained to use the brief interventions technique to get clients thinking about change. It is a commonly used and simple technique that can be implemented with minimal training. The Introduction to Brief Interventions module gives a brief overview of the technique, including some of the underlying theoretical support for it, and suggests when the technique can be used.

3. Introduction to young people and drugs

The Introduction to Young People and Drugs module provides a general overview of how young people learn about drugs and experiment with them. Evidence-based information about harms related to drug use is provided along with simple harm reduction information.

Penington Institute acknowledges the financial assistance of the Ian Potter Foundation, Community and Wellbeing Fund, the Telematics Trust, Course Development Fund, and the Victorian Department of Health & Human Services for making the development of the three modules possible.

How to participate in Penington’s online drugs training program

Penington’s online drugs training program will be launched during September 2015. All three e-leaning modules have been designed so that they can be accessed via mobile and tablet devices. To self-register to access the modules please visit Penington’s login page.

Recognising innovation and excellence in e-learning

eWorks and Penington are finalists for an E-learning Excellence Award in 2015 for this interesting and important project. Hosted by the E-learning Industry Association, the annual E-learning Excellence Awards recognise innovation and achievement in the e-learning industry. In 2014 eWorks was shortlisted for a project undertaken with The Australian Childhood Foundation involving the creation of an online training system to support personnel working with children and young people who have experienced abuse and trauma. Both projects are excellent examples of taking existing content and making it more accessible and engaging by converting it to an online format. Please keep your fingers and toes crossed for us for an award in 2015!

How to build a business case for e-learning

Marlene Liontis

Marlene Liontis is a member of the professional team of accredited consultants at eWorks. With a strong background in both learning and development (L&D) and e-learning, she knows a thing or two about building a business case to combine the two. What at first can seem like a daunting task can be as simple as 1, 2 and a few more.

Are all of your bases covered?

Earlier this month we learned how to overcome resistance to e-learning by creating effective online courses. But what if management simply doesn’t believe that an online approach to training will save let alone make money? That’s when a good business case is crucial. If you have been given this task and feel a little overwhelmed by it, here are a few tips to make sure that you have all of your bases covered:

  1. Make a strong case. Link your desired training programmes and the objectives directly to business results (the bottom line).
  2. Explain how it all works: a delivery platform (LMS) plus content = success!
  3. Summarise the available online content options such as designing your own, paying an instructional designer and purchasing established courses.
  4. Define the categories of costs of digital delivery and how they differ from using established methods. What will the future of these costs be?
  5. Define the reasons and goals for the training, then determine costs and expected return on these costs. Some questions you might like to ask include:
  • Why are we deploying the training?
  • What skills do we want to instil?
  • How much will the e-learning cost?
  • How will it increase productivity and translate into dollar terms?


Credit: ROI by Simon Cunningham

  1. Point out that the training is an investment in your organisation’s human capital – it is not just an expense. Time and money savings will include:
  • fewer recruitment costs – less hiring of more qualified staff
  • increased productivity as a result of having more skilled staff
  • better customer/client outcomes = more revenue!
  1. Highlight the metrics that are available such as the number of staff undertaking training, the number of completed courses and reports to auditor for compliance purposes. (Note: eWork’s TVC delivery platform has comprehensive built-in metrics and reporting).
  2. Check your existing business metrics and compare them before and after the training. In other words do a beta test with select staff for your business case to measure the impact of the online courses. Any operation and function that is improved by the training and has available metrics can be compared, offering concrete evidence to support the value of digital delivery.
  3. Measure return on investment (ROI) in direct profits. Using your beta test group highlight any increase in profitability that can be directly attributed to the training.
  4. Find out what your competition is doing in relation to staff training. Chances are they – like most organisations – are deploying e-learning. And if they are not already, they will be soon. Don’t forget to mention that in your business case.

Still stuck? Feel free to contact Marlene for a little help with your business case. And once you have convinced your managers, eWorks can you get online.

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.