E-learning promises to increase learning productivity in corporations quite unlike any other form of learning initiatives. Moreover, the rationale is straightforward: rather than travelling to one place and staying there to be trained, it would be great if the learner could learn right from where he or she is working, using the very computing devices he or she has in hand. With the ubiquity of mobile devices and web-based digital learning, including the availability of massive open online courses, E-learning promises a productive alternative to conventional classroom-based learning at anytime, anywhere and on any device. Online video portals also promise a rich array of videos that could be streamed to users on demand, making learning engaging.
However, what if there is no internet connection? Or, what if the broadband ‘pipe’ just is not wide enough to accommodate 500 individuals streaming such high quality content at the same time from the same place? In these instances, the promises of an online learning management system (LMS), may collapse and learning regresses to the traditional ‘offline’ system. Yet, there are interesting and potentially attractive opportunities that present themselves to learning providers and learners when they faced with these challenges.
But first, let’s explore the Achilles Heel to e-learning.
The Achilles’ Heel to Online Learning: The Inability to Access the Internet Continuously
Online learning demands that the learner has continuous and uninterrupted broadband internet access. Otherwise, bandwidth ‘heavy’ content such as high definition videos and complex graphics may not be viewed smoothly; or they may just take too long to load that users become bored and irritated with the entire process of accessing learning content. It could become a challenge in territories where the presence of such internet wireless infrastructure is not yet ready or ubiquitous.
Some LMS could be complicated to use. Many of currently available learning management systems are designed as browser-based applications, requiring the user to first have an internet connection, then inputting the portal address (URL) to the browser before keying in the necessary login credentials to enter the portal. Once inside the portal, the user needs to carry out a series of clicks to locate the relevant content material. The entire process could take up to two minutes and is not seamless or intuitive.
A New Thinking of E-Learning Is Needed
Given the challenges currently faced by providers and adopters of e-Learning worldwide, there is a need to rethink how e-learning could take place, perhaps by (re) examining our very own learning habits. It would be interesting to note a mismatch between how learning material is organized in a typical online learning universe and how we typically would access content on a mobile device - we like to reach the desired content within one to two clicks or taps of the button: one to launch the application/app, and another to launch the desired content (if it is nested within the application) and this parallels how we would do so with, say, a book; with an online learning portal, things could look very different, involving several clicks to get from one nested layer to another to finally reach the desired learning artifact for the student, and even more so for the trainer, while for all these to happen, consistent broadband internet access must be available.
There is thus a demand for a seamless manner to access learning materials digitally. But I do not think that an Online System would work, mainly because the student should be able to access the lesson material and content, complete with complex simulations, teaching videos and other assets anytime and at anywhere - this precludes any delivery system that depend on the consistent availability of broadband connectivity to work.
So What Could Such an E-learning System Look Like?
I can think of the following two main characteristics of such a learning platform:
1. Managed Learning electronically without the internet dependency headache
What if a platform enables access to high quality digital content independent of the internet, very much like how an app on the iPhone may look like; yet permitting feedback to take place when internet is available, albeit intermittently - and doing this seamlessly and elegantly, by combining the features of an offline, downloaded e-Publishing application and an online learning management system?
This means the end user literally can access highly interactive content anytime, anywhere on any device with no exceptions.
Put simply, we need a platform that does the essentials of an online learning management system and presents content in an affable manner, as those in e-publishing platforms, offline.
2. Design: Learning Content made beautiful and intuitive
An efficacious learning platform needs to have an intuitive and user-centric design of that gives users of an e-book with an LMS running in the background, unseen to the user, spotting a simple and intuitive user interface seamlessly working on a complex management backbone in the backend.