Bold title for an article, as it implies that I am not going to analyze the advantages of the subject but to prove right from the start why it is what I think it is. But the truth is – the question about e-Learning usually sounds exactly like that – why e-Learning is better, not “is it better at all” – people need an answer and they need it fast. So – here it is.
For about 3 years I’ve been working as senior mentor at New Horizons training center. I was training different kinds of people – established IT professionals and students, people coming to IT from other areas and even few ex-schoolboys. The training experience was the most precious part of that job.
New Horizons, and that’s important to notice, is a worldwide network of franchise IT training centers, offering high quality training at lower prices. Well, lower than the rest centers may offer. The reason for a relatively modest pricing is simple – the training is provided by extremely optimal e-Learning based schema, where most of the time you are watching video, then going through the virtual lab, virtual tests and finally may ask questions to the trainer. So in your class there may be 20 different students and everyone of them is learning his own course. No student groups are needed in such scenario, so you may schedule your class tomorrow or even the same evening – it’s all up to you.
Of course, the trainer in the class should be allowed to train that course – for that reason I was sort of irreplaceable, as I have quite impressive list of courses allowed by Microsoft to teach in the class. But I know that sometimes it’s not the case – there may be someone with no knowledge or experience in that course but still successfully support the classroom because not everyone is asking questions. Why? Because the e-Learning course is done so well, that it leaves no room for questions.
There are people who can’t handle e-Learning, though. When your mind is not opened, when you have a conservative mindset, chances are – you need someone to read you a book. Because that’s what is happening in ILT (Instructor Led Training) class. It’s the same behavior some people have after years in army – they value the order, subordination, strength and honor. But in this case, and usually it happens after the university, people start to value… No, wait, let’s put it this way – they simply can’t learn the other way. They disable that ability, switch it off. While the problems of higher education is a good topic for another article, this is usually what is causing the learning disability – perhaps there is the switch in the brain which is turned and it is saying – “I’ve learned everything I need in this life and I will only learn anything new if you will give it to me the same way I’ve got training previously”.
As I mentioned the brain, it’s worth to talk about how it works, so it would help us to understand the best way to train yourself. In a previous article I mentioned a number of mindsets which dictates the form of training most suitable for a particular person. However, there is one thing common for most people – the way we absorb information.
During my career as a trainer, and even years before that, during the self-training, I found what also was supported by other trainers practicing Mentored Learning – the optimal schedule for training is about 2 sessions per week, 3.5 hours each. That’s about 7 hours per week, which means that any normal IT course, which was designed for one week ILT class, will take approximately one month.
The reason why that schedule is the best possible is that you don’t loose focus and that you continue to think about the subject even after the class is over. So the next day you actually know more than right after the class – you just continue to systematize received information according to your perception of the world.
ILT class usually takes 3 to 5 days, 8 hours per day. I performed a research on how well people are ready for the exam after such course. They were trying to learn different subjects based on Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) in official training center, and had to pass the test soon afterwards. About 20 people in total, and all of them failed with results of 30 to 50 percent, with most of respondents below the 40%. The same course given using the Mentored Learning methodology gave 60% and higher results, meaning that person is nearly ready to pass the exam. And notice that I said – the very same course, the only thing that was different was how it was presented.
Now, what is e-Learning at all, how it looks and works? There is no definitive answer, as there is the trend to put “e-Learning” tag on anything that is stored as computer file and is theoretically suitable for learning. For example, e-Books are not e-Learning, even though they could be used and beneficial and whatever. There is nothing bad in e-Books, unless you call them e-Learning.
e-Learning is quite wide term. As you can see in the Wikipedia article, there were many solutions created by different organizations to unify and standardize the subject, but for now we have different LMS (learning management systems) created by content providers. They all, however, are moving towards the embracing the SCORM (or Shareable Content Object Reference Model) standard. However, different standards and systems are just a form, and just like a book, the form is less important than contents, even though in case of e-Learning product, the form plays a significant role in overall success.
The ideal e-Learning bundle at this time which is suitable for most people, is a combination of:
- A video course
- A book
- The exam simulation software
- Virtual Lab, when and if needed
Video course is the most important part and that’s where your skills of training are “making or breaking” the whole show. To create the video course you need perfect coverage and quality of the material, but no less important are the presentational skills of the trainer. Usually video course is played through the LMS (Learning Management System) software, which is also responsible for student progress management and presents usable user interface with access to different parts of the course and help of trainer. Some LMS systems even allow you to ask the trainer online when he (actually – they) is available 24/7.
The book, or courseware is what serves as both the source of training material and a future reference. The official course is usually both exclusive and useless. It’s exclusivity goes from the fact that it is only available in official training facilities, where you have to pay a fortune for someone to read it for you. But the problem with original courseware is that it always comes first, and all other books you can buy at Amazon – they follow the official courseware and almost always excel it. So when you are planning to prepare for the exam or simply learn any new technology – don’t rush for official course unless there are no options. For the sake of greater justice, there may be reason to purchase the official curriculum – for example, when there is a bundled license for the product included. However, usually you can’t purchase the official curriculum without training.
The exam simulation software is what is sometimes bundled with the book, and it usually simulates the structure of the official test, only with different questions. The most popular one is Measure Up, but some books may contain simulations from other vendors. Taking into account the generally low quality of such products, I foresee new vendors emerging, so ask Google before you buy such product. Also, versions of exam simulations that you can see in training centers, even though from the same vendors, may be different – contain more questions and have extended functionality.
And the virtual lab is another song. While you can see some simulations bundled with books, usually they are written in Flash and showing you the most important areas of the user interface of the product in subject, the real virtual lab is another thing and can not be bundled.
Real virtual lab is usually provided by the vendor of technology (with one great exception – virtual lab system of New Horizons, which currently exceeds others) and is a virtual machine (Hyper-V, VMware) running the needed version of product and containing all required files and even tasks. So unlike the simulations, in virtual machine you can play with product freely, your only restriction is the time.
While it is possible to use virtual labs and test simulations in ILT class, this would make it like a hybrid of two, although I see the training scene evolving and changing into more e-Learning oriented. The biggest difference now between the ILT and e-Learning based classes is the same as the difference between the theater and the cinema. You can see actors performing live in the theater, but it won’t be the 100 million dollars setup with world top actors, and one performance could be better or worse than another one. e-Learning is like a cinema, where everything is done the best way possible, with performance refined and edited, and then edited again. That’s where you can find a lesson performed by the creator of the technology or product, by the real life expert of the subject, for a fraction of the price of live performance by someone who learned this technology two weeks ago and has no practice or notable experience. No, I don’t mean it’s bad, I only mean that price / quality ratio is different in favor of e-Learning.
The term “better” is very subjective. What is better for someone, is worse for someone else. For me as for an ILT trainer, the e-Learning is jeopardizing my job, but as for the one who seeks new knowledge it opens a wide range of opportunities and gives hope for a better future.
When I just started working as a trainer in a then small training center, the branch of New Horizons, we were at position of outsider who would go out of business any day, because the IT training market was completely occupied by another company, “Baltic Computer Academy”, for more than a decade, and just about any company and state organization was training at their ILT courses.
It took us one year to prove to everyone that e-Learning is the future and this future is now. In just one year we moved to the former office of “Baltic Computer Academy” which they previously occupied for like forever.
But that was just a half way to the final destination. And it will be over when the only mediator between you and the knowledge will be your own computer – with no 3rd party interest involved. In that sense, the e-Learning makes this world better.