Cheri Thompson

Article Summary:

How to evaluate which of the latest eLearning platforms is right for you.

Evaluating eLearning Platforms

Although I dislike when people answer a question with another question, sometimes it's necessary to get clarity. For example, when someone asks who we recommend as a webconference provider, I have to ask "what are your needs"? Our clients' needs vary, and what they need today will probably change tomorrow, so it's impossible to recommend a sole vendor without understanding their needs.

Unlike seven years ago, when we only had a few players providing mediums for webconferences, webcasts and distance education, today is literally a buyer's market and everything is negotiable. We don't have an exclusive partnership with any one vendor; therefore, we never recommend a platform prior to conducting a thorough needs analysis. As many studies have shown, attempting to deliver eLearning in a "cookie-cutter" format fails. As flashy as developers think the training is, if it fails to meet the 3 Rs (Ready, Relevant and Realistic), it won't be used.

We're providing an abbreviated version of an evaluation we've used with our clients to help in selecting their platform; however, let's first make sure we're speaking the same language.

We define eLearning as any type of online, collaborative learning that's relevant and realistic to the user.

What's the difference between a webconference and a webcast? Let's define these terms by introducing two more: Synchronous and Asynchronous. A webconference is a moderated session with both the facilitator and end user present simultaneously (synchronous). A webcast is a recorded session that can be accessed by the end user at their convenience (asynchronous).

Below we've defined some common features that can be found on most platforms.

  • Annotating: Using drawing tools on whiteboards.
  • Archiving: Recording and storing the session for playback anytime.
  • Polls: Gathering real-time input from participants.
  • Screen sharing: Allow participants to view applications on your desktop.
  • Whiteboards: An electronic version of a dry-erase board.

Below are several platforms we have utilized and recommend to clients based on their needs. Select the statement that most accurately reflects your organizational needs.

Organizational Needs
_ a. A small organization where the number of participants per session will be 25 or less
_ b. A medium-sized organization where the number of participants per session will be
greater than 25 but less than 100
_ c. A large organization with an unlimited number of participants per session

Features
_ a. We require the basics (annotating, chatting, screen sharing, whiteboards)
_ b. The ability to archive sessions is important
_ c. A fully loaded platform with all the bells and whistles

Cost
_ a. Cost effectiveness is most important
_ b. Cost and quality are equally important
_ c. Quality is our primary concern

If you have selected 2 or more "A"s, you should evaluate Blackboard's and Convoq's platforms because they both offer basic webconference features and are affordable. Blackboard Inc. is a leading enterprise software company for e-Education and delivers Internet solutions for online teaching and learning. Convoq is an innovative application that is designed to seamlessly support both ad hoc and scheduled meetings, ASAP blends the immediacy of instant messaging, the intimacy of video conferencing, and the power of Web conferencing to meet all your collaboration needs.

If you selected 2 or more "B"s, you should review Live Meeting and webex platforms, which both offer exceptional webconferencing features (including archiving) plus competitive pricing. Live Meeting offers a native-based desktop console that follows familiar conventions of Windows-based software, making it easy to learn and use, and provides more flexible controls for meeting presenters. Webex Training Center provides an interactive online classroom for the delivery of live and on demand online training.

If you selected 2 or more "C"s, you should assess Interwise and Centra. Interwise delivers live collaboration and elearning solutions in one comprehensive platform and they're recognized for their VoIP (voice over IP) technology. Centra provides specialized software and services for real-time communication, collaboration and learning over the web.

Regardless of the platform selected, remember when you take away all the bells and whistles, the core content must be Ready, Relevant and Realistic.

Cheri Thompson is President of eTrainers.org, an Education, Training and Coaching firm. eTrainers.org has been customizing learning solutions for individuals, schools, corporations and government agencies for over 15 years. We specialize in designing creative solutions that are economical, interactive and engaging. Visit us online at http://eTrainers.org

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