Getting Started in eLearning
Back in ’99, the ink wasn’t even dry on my diploma from McGill when I was tasked with managing a project to implement a Learning Management System and oversee the creation of the very first e-learning modules for a CEGEP in the Montreal area. I had heard about this free system called WebCT made by a Prof and a few students at the University of British Columbia, and I had been tinkering with Linux for a couple of years by that point. Armed with a small grant from Industry Canada and almost total freedom to get the job done, I began assembling a small team of energetic students and subject matter experts.
A Healthy Dose of Enthusiasm
If I could bottle and sell the enthusiasm of the team that was put in place for the project, I’m sure I would have been a millionaire a few times over by now. I’ve come to realize that this vibe is what would ultimately carry us to through to the final delivery of the project. Working at the time for a training company based in Montreal, my boss Joanne Duchastel (to whom I owe a life debt for unwittingly setting me on my career path) put a lot of faith in me. I was too naïve at the time to understand the potential institutional ramifications for the future of our client. The word ‘disruptive’ was still many years from being an over-used cliché at that point.
Fast forward to 2016, and we are still coming to terms with how to respond to the Demers report and its call for the increased use of distance education in technical programs (see Recommendation 7 on page 17 of the PDF).
A Solid Foundation
When I speak to teachers, professionals and administrators about diversifying delivery options for courses, I see how the sheer immensity of the possibilities leads to a sort of generalized anxiety. Yes, there are many options. But if we were building a house, we’d probably try to start by ensuring that we are building on solid ground with a solid foundation. I would argue that the foundation in the case of eLearning includes both a theoretical component and a technical infrastructure component.
For the theoretical aspects, I recommend that teachers who are serious about getting into e-learning take the time to read a document designed as a primer on e-learning that was created by an agency of the United Nations. You won’t be an expert at the end of reading the document, but you will have a solid understanding of an approach to building eLearning content. You should also have enough information to keep your head above water in a conversation on the subject of eLearning! Please do yourself a favour and make the time to read this excellent guide. As an added bonus, the next time you speak with an instructional designer about ADDIE, you’ll know what all the fuss is about!
You Have the Right Tools for the Job
As for the technical infrastructure to start building modules of eLearning, there has never been a better time to get started. Every college has provided teachers with access to a Learning Management System such as Skytech’s LEA, Moodle, Brightspace/Desire2Learn or others. These systems can facilitate putting your content on-line. Armed with Microsoft Power Point or the free LibreOffice Impress presentation software, you now have the tool that the majority of instructional designers use to storyboard or “mock up” their content. Storyboarding helps to ensure that you are organized when using screencasting tools like Camtasia to record lectures or on-screen demonstrations, or are wanting to sequence pages of e-Learning content.
There are many other potential technology options to cater to your specific needs. Fortunately, you also have access to an IT-REP (ICT Education Advisor) in your college that would be more than pleased to listen to your plans and brainstorm with you on your eLearning pilot project, or pair you with another teacher that has experience with these types of projects.
Always remember that teachers are the best educational technology ever invented. You are ideally placed to understand and adapt to the needs of your students. I have been privy to the on-going debate about what eLearning means for the future of the teaching profession. Just keep in mind that when you build content, it needs to be tweaked, maintained and improved over time, and that students expect to have a teacher who is present and available in some form to guide and help them grow in their learning process.
The Risk is the Reward
Back in ’99, it was both our enthusiasm and the joy of trying something new that got our project team out of bed day-after-day to build content and find solutions to the many ’gotchas’ that occur in any new endeavour. When getting started in eLearning, try not to think of the immensity of the undertaking. Just put one foot in front of the other, and remember the words of Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Please use the comments section below to share your tools, tips and words of encouragement with your fellow teachers that are diversifying their delivery methods - whether it be blended, flipped or some other model.