Five Steps to Online Delivery

At a time when funding cuts top the agenda for most managers in FE & Skills and the common solution is to slice even deeper into depleted budgets. It makes even more sense to maximise the resources that you already have and is quite likely to be underutilised. For example, even if it was not already being legislated for, it is simply common sense to deliver some of your training online.

Not only can this reduce some overheads and enhance the learning experience by introducing new activities that are not possible in the classroom. It can also extend your offer beyond the local catchment area, nationally or even globally. Offering high quality and effective online training to learners and your own staff, is a potential income generator, as many learning providers have discovered. So what do you need to offer online learning?

www-717721_640Firstly you will need a digital platform, a place where the outside world can access your courses at any time to suit them and from anywhere they have internet access. Ideally this would be a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), but which one? The answer is easy, it’s the one that’s right for you and may already have. But here are a few points to think about when deciding on a VLE.

Step One

Identify your goals: What do you want the VLE to be able to do? Do you know what a VLE can do? What are you trying to achieve? If you are planning to use your VLE as an online repository, don’t bother, just set up a Dropbox account. The VLE is far more than somewhere to store resources, it can be an opportunity to enhance and extend your classroom-based activities outside of the classroom and onto the World-Wide Web. Think clearly about how you want to do this and choose a system that has the right functionality. One size does not fit all.

Step Two

What resources will you need, in terms of hardware and software, digital storage space and staffing? What technical support will you need, what do you currently have, is it enough, do they have the right skills? Managing a VLE requires different skills to managing a website or network system. If you need more help, where will it come from? Is it available? Some VLEs require specialist knowledge, be careful not to choose a VLE that requires staff skills that are in short supply. It’s great getting a VLE that is bespoke, but think about how you will maintain it, will it require specialist knowledge, is this available, and if so at what cost or at what savings? As well as technical support you will also need someone with a pedagogical view to drive it. VLEs are not computer systems, they are online classrooms. If you wouldn’t let your technical manager head your teaching and learning or training department, then they shouldn’t be managing your VLE, at least not on their own.

Step Three

It’s all about the money, money, money. What is the budget, be realistic when deciding on a budget. Remember to include the cost of training, resources and hosting, as well as the cost of continued design, development and support. But set that against an estimated return on investment (ROI). Some VLEs are free at source but they all need to be developed and kept up to date. Again think about it like a classroom, you don’t just let learners into a classroom and hope learning will happen, of course you don’t, it needs course design, resources, the input from teachers, trainers and instructors. The VLE needs all these elements too. You need to budget for this, but it may be less than you think and the benefits could be significant.

Step Four

Set a realistic time scale. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were any of the high quality effective VLEs that I’ve seen. Create a detailed implementation plan that includes time for design, development and training for staff, students and the technical team. Just like any educational structure there are many elements to creating a VLE, make sure all these elements are in place before launching it. You wouldn’t send a learner into an empty classroom, week on week and expect them to keep returning just in case something happens. Then don’t send a learner to visit a badly designed, under-resourced or empty VLE course, as they won’t keep returning. If all they are getting from it is the hand-out they already received in the classroom, why should they bother. Don’t launch your VLE until it is complete. No half measures. Give staff realistic deadlines and sufficient training, so they can populate the VLE with meaningful resources that will enhance the learning experience not just a replication of what they use in the classroom.

Step Five

smartphone-571961_640Do your research before making your choice. Sales personnel are very good at convincing you their system is the best, that’s why they are in sales. If you are interested in a particular VLE get impartial advice find out which other learning providers are using it. Visit them, ask questions, and find out if their needs are similar to your own. Try to visit organisations that have been using the VLE for a long time, make sure it’s been launched and is being used by the learners. Stay away from VLEs where you can only find examples of users that are in the development stages, it will be difficult to find a true representation. Don’t be anyone’s guinea pig, it’s better to go for VLEs that have been established for a long time where you can join online forums and attend events. Find out about development costs and if you can have access to the backend of the systems to make you own adjustments. Sometimes VLE providers have a long list of developments and your requirement might be at the bottom of it. If you have the resources to develop an open source VLE, this will be the best choice.

Getting it right at the beginning will save time and money later. The time has come to embrace the digital age and get all or parts of your courses and resources online, so if you going to do it, do it right.

You have to make time to get it right!

Anita Holt
Technology Enhanced Learning Manager
Institute of Learning & Teaching
University of Liverpool

See also: What is a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment)?
Tell me more about VLE



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