Wednesday, February 2, 2011

e-Learning as a Business tool

When we choose our area of study as “E-Learning”, the first thing people told was, “It looks like a viable business option for budding entrepreneurs”. Any business must get its basics right before commercialising it. The basic product of any e-learning venture is the e-learning module. In this post, we discuss some of the necessary things that a company has to decide before setting up an e-learning module.

1. Technology Support
The e-learning market has over the years had made huge technological advances. As there have been rapid leapfrogs in the information technology sector off late, e-learning has evolved tremendously in meaning, with new features rapidly emerging on the e-learning horizon. Some of them are discussed below:

LMS(Learning Management System)
A learning management system is a software application for the administration of the training programs, and training content in an organisation. LMS systems are web based ones developed using application programming languages.
Some of the functions of LMS are:
  • Systems for managing training records
  • Distribution of courses over the internet
  • Corporate Trainings
Managed learning Environment (MLE)
While LMS deals with the administration side of e-learning, MLE deals with the management side of it. MLE is the one which looks after the way in which the module is developed to the way in which it is delivered. In a way, MLE creates the relationships between learners, teachers and organisers of learning, through integrated support for communications and activities. For example, the managed learning environment allows the facilitator to indicate when chat sessions are available, determine the time periods for actively taking an exam, and how long lessons and materials for a given section of the course are available for viewing.

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE):
We can view VLE as a component or subsystem of the broader application of the managed learning environment. Virtual learning environment focuses on the tools used in the process of teaching in an online setting. The tools can be used for
  • Content management
  • Conducting Assessments
  • Organization and distribution of student grades
The diagrammatic representation of a sample MLE as given by Moira Bent,University of Newcastle is given below:

2. Content Development
Content Development is one of the vital aspects for any e-learning module. The first and foremost thing that people should avoid is exactly replicating the same contents as in the textbook. A development of appropriate e-learning model is important before we design the curriculum. This follows the normal life cycle that any product development undergoes. We will discuss a couple of models that are most commonly used:

It gives a 5 step approach for content development for e-learning
Assess – Design – Develop – Implement – Evaluate
Though the model in itself is very generic, it’s one of the successful and widely used models.
User-Centred design Model:
The user-centred process places the user as an active participant in the design of the product. After the need, target audience, and a basic e-learning solution have been determined the design process begins. Here, the end-user of the learning is actively involved.

Rapid E-Learning Model:
Nearly 90% of organizations need to develop e-learning in three weeks or less. With time being such an important factor, Rapid E-Learning begins to answer the needs of these people and their organizations. It borrows heavily the valuable aspects of the above two models and comes up with its own new model. Subject Matter Expects sit together and develop the curriculum. It is updated regularly keeping in mind the current trends in the particular area of study.

3. Instructional Design Strategy

The most important aspect of e-learning is how the teaching and learning takes place. Instructional strategies determine the approach a teacher may take to achieve the learning objectives. The strategies are usually tied to the needs and interests of students to enhance learning and are based on many types of learning styles. Strategies used in the traditional classroom setting can be used to create effective and a dynamic learning environment online. There are many types of instructional strategies that can be used in an online environment. The single ground rule that must be kept in mind is that the student should be an active participant rather than a passive recipient. We will discuss some of them over here

Collaborative Learning
This creates a dynamic online learning environment which involves interaction between students. The most effective way to implement collaborative learning is to create groups of students with different skill set levels. This helps the students to work well in a group environment, and enhance their communication and critical-thinking skills. Collaboration involves interaction, but not all online learning interaction is two-way. Online tutorials, for instance, are a method of collaboration that involves a one way information flow, where an instructor explains it, but the learner cannot interact with the instructor. But he will be given a certain time slot where he can clarify his doubts.

Self-Directed Learning
Self-directed learning is learning initiated and directed by the learner which can include self-paced, independent, and individualized learning. This strategy can be very effective, as it forces the learner to take the initiative, resulting in a more active learning process, thereby facilitating a deeper understanding of the material. Students can work independently, visiting virtual libraries, forums whenever they find time. This is especially useful for working professionals who could take classes according to their own time availability. Most of the e-learning courses are self-directed though sometimes virtual classrooms take place during a particular timeslot.
Some of the common techniques used for effective e-learning include discussion through online forums, Simulation of the therotical concepts, creation of online focus groups.
At the end of the day, though there may be many instructional strategies that can be utilized in an online classroom, it is the instructor who must decide the most appropriate method of delivery. That decision must be based upon the information to be imparted, the learners themselves, and the availability of technology.

4. Mode of Delivery
After the development of the e-learning module and choosing the instructional design strategy, we will now look into how this can reach our end user- the student. The type of delivery essentially depends upon our target audience. Let us look at a couple of examples and see how the entire module and mode of delivery differs for the two:

E-learning module for schools (Primary education):
It is important that we develop a module which is more visual in nature. It should also come with an instructor manual as there are usually teachers in the classroom who walk through the e-learning module. Usually, the modules are packaged in a disc and send to the schools. The other mode is the usage of virtual classrooms where the classes are broadcasted through web to the students.

E-learning module for corporate:
The e-learning module must not only include theoretical concepts but also simulations which will help the trainees to understand the concepts better. Most of the time, these are online modules which needs to be accessed from websites. While developing this e-learning module, we must keep in mind that there will be very little instructor help for these modules. Online forums must be opened so that the trainees are given a chance to discuss the concepts with their peer group. The assessment is also done online for these kinds of modules.

What we have discussed here are the basic aspects that must be kept in mind while developing the e-learning module. The implementation and the commercial aspects of e-learning as a business will be continued to be discussed in further posts.


  1. Good start!
    The story of tutor vista is indeed unique.

    You may provide little more elaborate and conceptually rich introduction to e-learning addressing questions like: what is 'e' in e-learning, is it about using computers or internet or both? What kind of learning could go online (compare medical education with teaching English), how are specific difficulties overcome? Can MBA go online? (Ref:

    It will look better if you could provide a Table of Contents (TOC) structure and flow at the right hand side in addition
    to Blog Archive which follows chronology of postings. The TOC could follow a standard report structure, with intro,
    background, case studies conclusion etc.

  2. The 'e' in 'e-learning' refers to both computers and internet. What started as a computer-supported learning has now grown in stature to offer technical courses via web.

    Right from basic maths to advanced science, all kinds of learning have gone online. There are even institutions that provide computer-based medical training.

    Of course, there are some bottlenecks to taking everything under the sun online. In such cases, virtual classrooms offer the necessary solutions to overcome such hurdles.

    The MBA has already gone online. Reputed institutes in India like Symbiosis Institute of Business Management & Xavier Institute of Management too have taken the online route in offering online MBA courses. However, it is still in its infancy as some amount of classroom training remains inevitable.