Over the past years, Elearning has become a popular buzz word. Yet, it is a word that is bandied about so loosely and with very different meanings for so many different people. At the broadest level elearning is about accessing a website and downloading learning materials, be they documents, pod casts, video streams whatever. Technically, this would be an on-line repository, or if it was more than just a set of on-line directories with downloadable files, then it would be best described as a virtual learning environment. At the top end of the virtual learning environments are the true learning platforms which allow the sharing of rich content materials and for interactive learning experiences.
It is the level of inter-activeness that is critical to the success of elearning in general. Within the corporate environment, where cost-benefit is rational basis for investment decisions, the effectiveness of training needs to be measured. E-learning provides a cost-effective return on in-house training and development since it allows for the development of standard plain vanilla self-learning programmes as well as the more complex and sophisticated collaborative or interactive learning programmes.
Regrettably this variation in use of the term, has led to a poor understanding of what it takes to develop an effective corporate elearning system.
Interaction has long been considered as being a crucial element in education (e.g. Anderson and Garrison 1998; Miyazoe and Anderson 2010). Studies conducted in schools and universities (e.g. Su et al. 2005; Chang and Smith 2008) have emphasized the importance of social interactions (i.e. between people) to foster learning. Educational interactions have been defined as “reciprocal events with at least two actions and two objects mutually influencing one another” (Wagner 1994). This ties in with the basic concept developed by Moore (1989) who described three main types of interaction, which are crucial for success in online courses:
(1) Learner–content interaction. The provision of on-line materials alone is usually not enough for learning. Students need to engage with the content purposefully, they need to be challenged and stimulated by the content and the supporting learning activities. Online course participants tend to rank learner–content interactions highly (Kellogg and Smith 2009; Rhode 2009; Miyazoe and Anderson 2010). In an adult learning environment, experience shows that there are different levels of motivation by students. At one end of the spectrum are students are interested in getting the very basic knowledge they require and these seek easy to refer to course content that typically allows them to dip in and take what they require. At the other end of the spectrum as students who seek deep knowledge and expertise in the subject. These expect to have extensive analysis and references to enable them to delve as deeply into the topic as possible.
(2) Learner–learner interaction. While some online students appreciate opportunities to work and share ideas with their peers (Su et al. 2005; Chang and Smith 2008), others feel that these are tangential (Kellogg and Smith 2009; Rhode 2009). In an adult learning environment, experience has shown that the more senior the programme and the more diverse and relevant is the work experience of the students, the more value is given to peer interactions.
(3) Learner–teacher interaction. Instructors are regarded as experts in the subject they teach. Thus, communication with them has a high perceived value amongst learners (Anderson 2003; Su et al. 2005; Rhode 2009). In an adult learning environment, the calibre of the teacher/tutor is instrumental. Students expect to interact with a teacher/tutor who not only is knowledgeable in the particular subject but has ‘real-world’ experience that is relevant to their own queries and challenges. Experience shows that these students value the interactivity as it enables them to deal with personal queries or issues that they have and which they can then refer back to their work environment to their benefit.
Based on Moore’s (1989) taxonomy, Anderson (2003) developed the interaction equivalency theorem, which establishes that deep, meaningful learning can be supported as long as one of the three types of interaction (learner–content, learner–learner or learner–teacher) is present at a high level. The other two forms can be offered in a minimal degree, or omitted, without decreasing the quality of learning.
Whilst the interaction equivalency theorem focuses on learning and provides a humanistic approach to learning, corporate programmes require other indicators to validate their effectiveness. Kirkpatrick (1979) created the most widely used framework for training evaluation. Applying this four step framework, the success of an online programme can be judged by:-
(1) Reactions: The level of satisfaction of the participants with the programme;
(2) Learning: The level of acquisition of knowledge or skills acquired by participants;
(3) Behaviours: The extent to which the acquired knowledge is applied directly in the workplace, also known as knowledge transfer.
(4) Results: The level of improvement in the broader dependable variables in the organisation such as increased sales, improved quality, higher productivity and reduced costs.
Corporate Value Added
Getting value for money from elearning in a corporate environment calls for a strategic approach to ensure that programmes are designed, developed and implemented in a way that allows for sustainable up-dating and upgrading. The tremendous opportunities presented by elearning are primarily based on the ease with which elearning platforms allow for harmonised, company-wide training and development, ensuring that the same consistent messages are given right across the organisation, irrespective of the department, the location and the country. Effective elearning corporate solutions cannot be outsourced as this often results in theoretically correct materials that are not congruent with organisational practices. Effective elearning in the corporate environment calls for strategic alliances between the client, the course content developers and the elearning service provider. Such collaboration provides stimulating, relevant training materials that encourage participants to engage in learning and to seek continued learning and development within the organisation.
Anderson, T. 2003. “Getting the Mix Right Again: An Updated and Theoretical Rationale for Interaction.” International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 4 (2). Accessed May 23, 2013. http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/149/230
Anderson, T., and D. R. Garrison. 1998. “Learning in a Networked World: New Roles and Responsibilities.” In Distance learners in higher education, edited by C. Gibson, 97–112. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.
Chang, S.-H. H., and R. A. Smith. 2008. “Effectiveness of Personal Interaction in a Learner-Centered Paradigm Distance Education Class Based on Student Satisfaction.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education 40 (4): 407–426.
Kellogg, D. L., and M. A. Smith. 2009. “Student-To-Student Interaction Revisited: A Case Study of Working Adult Business Student in Online Courses.” Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education 7 (2): 433–456.
Kirkpatrick, D. 1979. “Techniques for Evaluating Training programs.” Training and Development Journal 33 (6): 78–92.
Miyazoe, T., and T. Anderson. 2010. “Empirical Research on Learners’ Perceptions: Interaction Equivalency Theorem in Blended Learning.” European Journal of Open, Distance and ELearning. Accessed May 23, 2013. http://www.eurodl.org/?article=397
Moore, M. G. 1989. “Three Types of Interaction.” The American Journal of Distance Education 3 (2): 1–6.
Rhode, J. F. 2009. “Interaction Equivalency in Self-Paced Online Learning Environments: An Exploration of Learner Preferences.” International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 10 (1). Accessed May 23, 2013. http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/viewArticle/603/1178
Su, B., C. J. Bonk, R. J. Magjuka, X. Liu, and S. Lee. 2005. “The Importance of Interaction in Web-Based Education: A Program-Level Case Study of Online MBA courses.” Journal of Interactive Online Learning 4 (1): 1–19.
Wagner, E. D. 1994. “In Support of a Functional Definition of Interaction.” The American Journal of Distance Education 8 (2): 6–26.