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Keys to consider before hiring an e-learning Project

By Carlos Biscay (director of e-ABC)

Some years ago, when the online training began to consolidate as a global industry and the first high impact implementations began to develop in Latin America, Elliot Masie, founder of The MASIE Center and the Online Learning Council, emphasized the close relationship between competitiveness and virtual education. Besides stressing the important role that this type of training started to have in different sectors such as the corporate, the governmental, the social and the academic, the specialist pointed out that when an organization decides to implement an e-learningsystem, the first thing to note is that each company is unique and as it is the case with clothing, there is no one size that fits everybody.

Therefore it is important to consider a variety of aspects of the utmost importance that guarantee the success of such projects, as well as to know the technological approach proposed by the companies identified as potential suppliers.

It is crucial that certain points be looked at. For example, if the company employs high stable technology already checked against proven experience; if it is a company that understands the learning process as well as the type of technology used; the level of commitment the company has to the region where it operates, and finally if the company is really managing knowledge.

A recent Special Report on e-learning technologies published in the Learning Review Journal explains the technological features that must be considered when implementing e-learning projects and the factors that must be taken into account for the selection of the product to be used.

In the process of implementing a knowledge management project online, the technological factor must be considered both in terms of applications and content. No matter what the application is (an e-learning platform, a digital library, a knowledge manager, or a solution of m-learning), there are common features to be considered in this type of architecture where users connect themselves from a client to a server.

There are some factors to be considered for the selection of the product to be used:
Client: in general the current applications are compatible with the most popular browsers (although it is surprising that some banking systems do not work with Firefox). If there is a predominant browser in our community of users we must be sure that the application is compatible with it. In addition, we must know what browsers features must be enabled, such as cookies, javascript, applets or Flash. If our contents need Flash we must also take the required version into account.
Server: we must distinguish if the application will be installed on our own server or if the service will be outsourced. In the first case, the server features are usually imposed by the systems department because an existing team must be used; for internal policies on the licensed software or due to expertise of the internal staff who will be in charge of maintenance.
Communications: in the case of deployment on corporate intranets, such as banks, many times the bandwidth competes directly with the core business transactions. Perhaps we should state that our community use the applications of e-learning or other knowledge management applications implemented in specific schedules. It is also important to produce content optimized in bytes to reduce data transfer, with preload features (the next screen be transferred while the current one is being watched), maybe doing without sounds, videos or animation, but always keeping the pedagogical aim of contents. SCORM scores storage or tracking of course completeness status must be reported immediately once the value has been known. This minimizes the risk of losing data due to communication problems, users who close screens, “hang” applications, etc.
Integration: we may need to integrate our implementation with other internal systems. In this case we must consider if the product supports specific integration capabilities, if it allows modules or extensions, if it gives us the possibility of modifying the source code (if so, do we have the programming resources in the implementation language of the product?), etc. There is also to consider the implementation of content portability standards (AICC, SCORM), assessment exports (QTI, accessibility (WAI, Section 508), integration repository protocols (SRU/ SRW, OAI), or simply if it allows us to configure it in different languages or customize it graphically without losing compatibility upgrade among versions.

In conclusion, when selecting an application it is important to consider its direct comparative features as well as the way it integrates with our technological platform and the users community.

There are other factors that influence the resources allocation of a deployment. Besides,it is very important to know the proportional allocation of the total implementation effort expended on each company´s project in order to know if the supplier is focused on actual market experiences. The Special Report on e-learning technologies published in the Learning Review Journal has established an average distribution of each of these agents from the analysis of several cases.

The resulting scheme raises the following classification: hosting (10%), configuration (5%), security and monitoring (5%), installation (5%), error correction (5%), updates (10%), data management (5%), educational and operational support (10%), software maintenance (10%), technical support (15%), server maintenance (15%) and graphic design (5%).

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