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eLearning: Going Portal
by Bray J. Brockbank

 
   
 
   

We live in unparalleled times. It's been said that the currency of the new economy is knowledge. It's true. Organizations possess incredible knowledge that once harnessed creates a capital rich environment.

The challenge has been, and continues to be, providing access to that capital and assembling it for development of best practices and collective learning. Once defined marketplaces are melding into one global marketplace. Human capital is now an asset to be meticulously managed. Learning is a strategic advantage and weapon. Workforce supply is in flux. Everyone's a free agent. The world is in a state of rapid-growth and hyper-efficiency - and it's all beginning to blur at Internet speed.

To counteract the waves of change, top management needs to turn the focus of organizational learning and training from traditional, new employee orientation and personal development seminars to continuous learning and development programs designed and implemented to provide employees with the knowledge resources necessary to successfully fulfill their roles and responsibilities. Solid and intense competition is forcing organizations to implement collaborative solutions that integrate internal systems and leverage existing (legacy) technology to harness the knowledge and intellectual capital that exists in the public domain, while utilizing knowledge and intellectual capital that resides across the organization and among suppliers, partners and customers.

The New Reality

Organizations are looking for solutions to meet the challenge of channeling knowledge and ideas in the form of training and learning to employees more rapidly, more effectively, and in an even more efficient manner than ever. In an effort to meet these objectives, organizations are seeking to consolidate disparate knowledge and learning technologies into a centralized point of access and management, while leveraging existing investments (legacy systems, resources, etc.) in enterprise infrastructure in order to provide employees with simple, seamless access to knowledge, training and learning.

In a recent IDC and eWorld survey (www.idc.com, IDC #24788, June 2001), training and education was rated in the top three applications integrated with U.S. organization Web sites. Nearly one-third of U.S. organizations have their training and education integrated with their Web sites. Training and education ranks third in priority (behind customer service and support and customer relationship management.) Over sixty-percent of large organizations are leading the way in integrating education and training with their Web sites - roughly the same as those who planned to integrate knowledge management and materials management into their Web sites.

Learning and training processes are becoming increasingly integrated into strategic organizational processes. Industries rapidly moving to integrate their training and education include: healthcare, government, education, banking, transportation, media, telecommunications, and utilities.

eLearning Industry

The eLearning industry consists of three vendor segments: technology, content and services.

  • Technology: segment includes learning management systems (LMS), learning content management systems (LCMS), authoring tools, training delivery systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP), application service provider (ASP), live eLearning tools, streaming video, EPSS, testing and assessment tools.
  • Content: segment includes third-party content providers, books and magazine publishers, enterprises, subject matter experts (SME), government agencies, colleges, universities, schools, training organizations, eLearning portals, IT firms, and system integrators.
  • Services: segment includes enterprise information portals (EIP), corporate universities, learning service providers (LSP), content aggregators, learning consultants, consulting, professional services, certification service providers, collaboration services, and online mentoring services.

Although most vendors are "pure-players," many offer "hybrid" solutions. Several vendors market themselves as eLearning portals, end-to-end solutions, blended eLearning solutions, best-of-breed technology, global learning management solutions, integrated learning and management systems, and eLearning infrastructure technology.

eLearning Components

eLearning components include: learning management system (LMS) or learning content management system (LCMS), content, collaboration, testing and assessment, skills and competency, e-commerce, and Internet video-based learning. A complete eLearning portal represents the total integration of multimedia, instructor-led, and real-time training - in a human, collaborative environment.

When implemented correctly, eLearning portals can help organizations develop and maintain a competitive advantage in the following areas:

  • Recruitment and Selection: the attraction, evaluation, and hiring of new employees.
  • Retention: the retention of intellectual capital (human capital).
  • Learning and Career Development: classroom training, online learning, and other forms of learning activities.
  • Rewards, Recognition, and Response: the recognition of individuals according to their ability to meet/exceed performance expectations as defined by the organization (according to appropriate business goals.)
  • Succession Planning: the identification and development of peak performers with the appropriate competencies and skills needed to advance within the organization.

Types of eLearning Portals

eLearning portals can be categorized into five key categories: learning management, content aggregation, community collaboration, content creation, and internal.

  • Learning management systems (LMS or LCMS) portal: tracks courses or learning content the user is taking and his progress;
  • Content aggregation portal: users can access knowledge on many topics from various sources;
  • Community collaboration portal: users can interact with and learn from colleagues and peers;
  • Content creation portal: where the user can create content directly on the site;
  • Internal portal: users can access all the services of the organization's training and development department.

Learning Management System

A learning management system (LMS) ties all other eLearning components together. The LMS is the infrastructure or framework used to track, support, manage and measure eLearning activities. An LMS helps manage and measure the entire learning process, whether the organizations' needs are managing computer-based training (CBT), web-based training (WBT), document-based training (DBT), instructor-led training (ILT), or blended training methods (BTM).

Learning Content Management System

A learning content management system (LCMS) is a system used to create, accumulate, assemble, and distribute personalized eLearning. The LCMS was developed to more effectively deliver "small-chunks" of learning - tailored to the user's learning style and needs. Content is delivered to the user in the form of learning objects. A learning object is an independent piece of education containing content and assessment based on specific learning objectives. A learning object has descriptive metadata enclosed around it - describing what is contained within the object. The object is assembled in an effort to help users achieve specific learning goals and objectives.

Learning Content

Organizations may assemble course content through various processes: buying off-the-shelf content, developing courses internally (in-house, home-grown) and outsourcing for custom courseware development. A complete eLearning portal should offer interoperability with all learning content.

  • Off-the-shelf (or third-party): content developed to meet general organizational needs. Off-the-shelf content vendors include: NETg, SmartForce, SkillSoft, etc.
  • Authoring tools: Authoring tool products include: Authorware, Dreamweaver, etc.
  • Custom developed: content developed to meet the unique needs of an organization and capture knowledge proprietary to a specific organization.

Defining the eLearning Portal

There are basically two types of eLearning portals: external and internal. The first focuses on providing access to external learning services. The second focuses on providing access to all learning within the organization. Of course the internal portal may also include use and management of external learning and providers.

Essentially, an eLearning portal is a virtual environment set up by an organization to give users access to knowledge. These portals have also been called eLearning centers, online education centers, internal portals, corporate universities and virtual universities.

A portal is merely a vessel, framework, or infrastructure for training, learning and assessment of knowledge and competency. With the advent of eLearning portals, organizations now have tools to help knowledge workers aggregate, access and navigate through full or bite-sized "learning chunks" or "learning objects" from internal databases, repositories, courses and Web sites. The complete eLearning portal supports the learning cycle with various components of eLearning.

The eLearning portal is an intelligent portal. The portal advises users on what skills and experience they need to advance to other levels in the organization, provide competency maps and assessment, and discussion forums related to essential learning themes - online learning communities. It recognizes what the user knows, certifications earned, experiences, and his ideal learning style.

As eLearning portal technology has evolved, navigation has become more sophisticated, content more relevant, and interfaces more user-friendly and intuitive. Until most recently, eLearning was offered only in the form of full, off-the-shelf, or customized courseware.

Full-Service eLearning Portal

The complete or full-service eLearning portal supports the learning cycle (assessment, preparation, learning, and re-assessment) with different components of eLearning. Many of these components are foundational to the learning process and are critical in creating a full-service eLearning portal. All components of a full-service eLearning portal are fully integrated with seamless transition from one component to the next.

The full-service eLearning portal is comprised of three stages: assessment, competency and learning evaluation. The assessment phase is composed of components for knowledge assessment, competency assessment, and learning evaluation. The preparation stage contains learning catalog, e-commerce, and enrollment components.The learning phase is comprised of learning activity, expert forum, and community components.

  • Assessment: assessing the learning needs of a user begins with an evaluation of his knowledge or competencies. This knowledge assessment is then compared with the competencies required for the job.
  • Preparation: the user makes preparations for fulfilling his learning need through creating a plan from the list of learning activities that would best meet his need.
  • Learning: the user engages in learning activities to build knowledge and develop competency (from experts forum to community collaboration.)

eLearning combines traditional classroom instruction with technology-based delivery - offering blended learning solutions to the masses. eLearning offers: real-time learning; learner-centric training; attract, train and retain; personalized individual training; ownership; simulation; collaboration; anytime, anywhere; cost effective; and metrics.

Portal Technology

Portal technologies supporting open standards can be easily integrated into an organization's existing infrastructure. The portal needs to be operating system - and web server-neutral so that enterprises can host it on the platform of choice. The portal solution should be deployable and accessible across a variety of platforms and devices. With a platform, application, and device independent architecture, the eLearning portal provides optimal flexibility.

A modular approach provides the greatest flexibility and efficiency for building content, collaboration and commerce functionality. Moreover, current business climate and economies demand that enterprise technology have the capability to adapt to changes in the user base, and integrate with the most demanding applications. Many eLearning portals have been built from the ground up to be a true enterprise strength solution. This allows organizations to implement with confidence, knowing that their portal server can accommodate not only thousands, but also hundreds of thousands of users if required.

Next-Generation Portals

The ability to provide mobile, distributed workers organized access to the applications, knowledge, and information they need for sound decision-making has become vitally important for businesses striving to be productive, agile and profitable. The attractiveness of Web-based computing, combined with the need to expedite information access and learning, has fueled adoption of eLearning portals.

Open technology architecture will enable application access on virtually any device, including wireless and handheld communication devices and information appliances, platform independent. Mobile users will be able to move seamlessly from one device to another and receive consistent, personalized learning and knowledge. eLearning portals that offer scalability, flexibility, interoperability and extendibility are built for the future.

Conclusion

eLearning portals will drive the evolution from the information economy to the knowledge economy. Moreover, new technologies and the power and connectivity of the Internet will enable eLearning technology, content and service companies to develop critical learning resources - revolutionizing the way we mentor, train and learn. eLearning portals will be portable.

The learning portal will be positioned as an integration and development platform - not a separate standalone application. The continued knowledge revolution will allow the eLearning portal to bring all information into a distinct, consistent, easily used interface while being fully integrated with other enterprise systems.


     
   
     
   

The Author

 

Bray J. Brockbank has fifteen years successful experience in marketing, management, product, and public relations development and execution. Mr. Brockbank has also been a marketing and business consultant to small and medium-size technology companies. He has extensive experience and success in marketing and managing software, technology, and enterprise learning solutions on a global scale. Mr. Brockbank has also taught on an adjunct basis marketing, management, and technology at a prominent North American college. He can be reached at: BrayJB@hotmail.com .

     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2002 by Bray J. Brockbank. All rights reserved.

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