The impact of introducing e-learning courses

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2002

71 Pages, Grade: very good


Table of contents


1. Introduction
1.1 Some figures
1.2 The advantages of e-learning
1.3 Austria’s e-learning market
1.4 The motivation of adopting e-learning
1.5 The cost of education and training
1.6 A few words on the European legal framework

2. What exactly is e-learning?
2.1 Distance learning
2.2 Self-study
2.3 Collaborative learning
2.4 Teletutoring
2.5 Web-based learning, e-books and Web lectures
2.6 The virtual classroom
2.7 The content
2.8 The e-learning matrix
3. Examples that already work
3.1 Virtual Universities in Britain and Catalonia
3.2 The Global Campus of South Italian SMBs
3.3 Training future judges in Austria
3.4 IBM’s 2,500 e-learning programs for employees

4. What about learning theory?
4.1 The didactic triangle
4.2 Lesson structure
4.3 Interactive learning
4.4 The role of diverse media
4.5 Working in groups
4.6 Time scheduling
4.7 Instructor requirements

5. The impact on human resource management
5.1 Education and training
5.2 What HRM can expect from e-learning

6. The e-learning environment puzzle
6.1 The e-learning provider
6.2 The communication channel
6.3 The e-learning consumer
6.4 General software requirements
6.4.1 The operating system
6.4.2 The Learning Management System (LMS)
6.4.3 The e-learning content
6.4.4 The user’s front-end
6.5 Aspects to consider
6.5.1 Language and localization
6.5.2 Measuring the learning progress

7. Austria’s project plan
7.1 Microsoft MOC e-learning delivery
7.1.1 LRN and the Microsoft LRN Toolkit
7.1.2 Microsoft e-learning MOC courses
7.1.3 What Microsoft delivers
7.2 Hardware and software requirements
7.2.1 IIS installation
7.2.2 Experiences with a small test environment
7.3 Communication
7.3.1 Discussion forums
7.3.2 Chat rooms
7.3.3 Email
7.4 The staff
7.5 The role of Central Region
7.6 Resumé

8. Conclusion

9. Sources

9.1 Literature

9.2 Other sources

9.3 Internet


Private and public education and training institutions increasingly promote so-called e-learning solutions, which stand for new learning methods that make use of modern electronic media, such as personal computers and the World Wide Web. Upon closer view, e-learning is not simply hype, but a real evolution and improvement over traditional learning techniques. It enables people to preserve much more flexibility than before and to achieve higher proficiency, and it provides training materials that remain helpful and exciting months after the related e-learning course has ended. Hence, we can say that e-learning solutions enrich corporate life and are a valuable addition to the human resource department’s toolbox.

This paper has been written during my ‘Intern Semester’ for the Viennese University of Applied Studies European Financial and Business Management. With my professional background as ‘curriculum manager’ and instructor of Microsoft Technologies at IBM Learning Services Austria, this paper is meant to shed some light on the topic of e-learning in general, and more specifically, to discuss the aspects of implementing standard e-learning courses.

The first chapters describe the underlying theory and focus on different instructional models, learning psychology and didactics, the expected impact of an e-learning implementation on human resource management (HRM), and explore—from a more technical point of view—the broad range of elearning components and the role of the Internet. Additionally, one section touches on some legal aspects that are essential for e-learning providers in the European Union and particularly in Austria.

Since Austria is a rather small country, IBM Learning Services has to deal with very specific challenges, e.g. the fact that a very small staff and several freelance instructors run all the classroom education services, which means that the implementation of standard e-learning courses has to be planned and carried out with extreme care by these same people. Thus, the second part of this work explores viable approaches to implement Microsoft elearning courses based on the Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) at Learning Services Austria or respectively in EMEA Central Region.

When reading books and magazines or surfing the Internet, you may find both spellings: ‘e-learning’ and ‘eLearning’. For better readability, this paper will only use one form, namely ‘e-learning’, independently from source and IT company.

1. Introduction

« On façonne les plantes par la culture, et les hommes par l’éducation. » Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

The classical learning infrastructure seems to grow old: we must cope with huge amounts of information and build knowledge and new skills extremely fast; we are set under enormous pressure to succeed in an increasingly complex world and even learning theory moves away from traditional teachercentered instruction and instead suggests learner-centered environments. These phenomena come along with highly developed technology that is available to everybody.

Increasingly, the learning industry is incorporating electronic and Webbased solutions. At this point, in Fall 2001, learning institutions are already keen on implementing e-learning solutions but have to realize in many cases that information on this topic is rare or incomplete. When it comes to implementing an entire e-learning solution, numerous tasks have to be planned very carefully and number of very specific problems are encountered. This may be the reason why most e-learning implementation needs specific planning and development—IBM handles such demand with Mindspan Solutions, which is a brand name standing for the planning, development and final implementation of individual e-learning solutions. On the other hand, the standard—out-of-the-box—e-learning course offering has just begun to evolve.

1.1 Some figures

While in 1999 about EUR 2.6 billion have been spent on IT training worldwide, the amount for 2002 is estimated to be about EUR 7.7 billion. Of course, these figures comprise the entire range of delivery techniques, but learning and teaching have already begun to change towards more electronic and Web centered training methods.

At the Barcelona TechEd conference in July 2001, Microsoft presented some interesting analyst estimates about the training methods that will be demanded and delivered in the years to come: only 10% will be complete self-study, another 10% will remain facilitated and on-site and 80% will be what the analysts call blended learning, which is a combination of computer and Web centered learning, self-study materials and traditional classroom training.

This means that classroom training will not go away, but that its growth has already slowed down significantly while e-learning has taken on the race.

1.2 The advantages of e-learning

Corporate learners must be productive, which typically means ‘billable’, and work on different locations within one or several countries. Especially with companies, the personnel are dispersed geographically and training institutions are not always located in their neighborhood. However, corporate employees need to maintain, strengthen, broaden and further develop their skills and knowledge. Of course, they have to achieve “new skills and knowledge when and where they need them” (KULP; 1999, p. 2), but it is very unlikely that there would be enough time or a travel expense budget for attending “traditional classroom training” (ID.).

Corporate opinion polls show us that companies and human resource managers predominantly highlight the almost limitless flexibility of e-learning solutions. During a study, the Austrian management consulting firm, Markant, interviewed the 200 largest enterprises and investigated their attitude toward e-learning. About one third has already implemented e-learning for corporate training and education, and as their main justification, they mentioned ‘flexible learning’ (58%), ‘lower cost’ (36%) and the “use of new media” (10%). (ZUGMANN; 2001)

1.3 Austria ’ s e-learning market

As of Fall 2001, most Austrian learning activities typically still concentrate on traditional classroom learning and independent self-study, but employers have begun to discover the value of e-learning for their staff. While European growth rates are about 96%, the Austrian growth rate indicates even 102% (ZUGMANN; 2001) and about one third of the top 500 enterprises in Austria have already used e-learning facilities (EIGRUBER; 2001, p.33).

Alfred Bankhamer mentions that actually only language and computer courses have been offered, but more and more additional topics would find their way to e-learning platforms (BANKHAMER; 2001, p.12).

Companies that employ numerous outdoor staff are especially interested in implementing e-learning solutions since they seem to meet their needs in a much more comfortable way. Alfred Bankhamer calculates that specific elearning development, such as that done under IBM’s Mindspan umbrella, already pays off when a company has about 30 to 50 employees to train (BANKHAMER; 2001, p.12).

Of course, the most important field for e-learning is the information technology. Therefore, Learning Services Austria began to implement e-learning solutions for customers several years ago. However, most solutions are specific ones which had to be developed for explicit customer environments. IBM Mindspan Solutions is the concept we use in this context.

IDG and the Austrian newspaper Wiener Zeitung have some interesting figures concerning the actual e-learning market volume as well as estimations for the years to come:

Austrian e-learning market volume

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: IDG and Wiener Zeitung (June 13, 2001)

When it comes to e-learning, Lotus LearningSpace is the preferred product used by IBM internally and in customer projects. While IBM’s own employees gain from a worldwide development of internal Web-based courseware and Learning Services has access to a global knowledge base and experience when they develop e-learning solutions for customers, standard courses in the IT and business education fields are still not implemented in most countries.

As we take the Microsoft Official Curriculum, which is offered as a part of IBM Learning Services’ PC Server curriculum, there is still no standard elearning solution available for our customers in EMEA Central Region by Fall 2001.

Later in this paper, I will explain how the entire Central Region will play an eminent role for the implementation of MOC e-learning.

1.4 The motivation of adopting e-learning

Some assertions let us assume that cost reduction would be the prime reason for introducing e-learning, but opinion polls and studies teach us otherwise. We have already mentioned the importance of flexibility (ZUGMANN; 2001). Another source indicates the following essential justifications (EIGRUBER; 2001, p.33):

1. Availability and reliability
2. Flexibility
3. Free scheduling
4. Reduced training cost

These advantages over traditional classroom learning lead many companies and individuals to distance learning and finally e-learning solutions. Correspondingly, the reputation of such courses, education programs and even university degrees progresses steadily.

A més, (…) l’ensenyament presencial va a la baixa, tot al contrari que la formació a distància, que s’ha desfet de l’etiqueta de ser de segona fila. Ara ningú no podrà malfiar-se d’un tècnic que s’ha tret el títol per cursar una professió des de casa. (FINESTRES; 2001, p. 7)

Translation (by K. Ebner):

Additionally, (…) residential training is decreasing while the opposite is true with distance learning which has slipped off its ‘second-hand’ reputation. Actually, nobody will get the wrong idea about a technician who has acquired degree and professional skills from home.

E-learning courses continue to be available after they have been implemented. There is reliability and a guarantee of steady quality when it comes to assessing the written materials on CD-ROM and intranet servers—elearning courses are being developed to offer modern multimedia learning sessions that use the entire bandwidth of electronic media and Internet technologies. Of course, the latest findings of learning psychology and didactics are respected and included.

Since e-learning methods make use of the Internet and ubiquitous computers and multimedia equipments, large companies, i.e. multinational corporations, may particularly benefit from such technologies.

E-learning is particularly effective on a large scale—a multinational corporation, for instance, is able to use e-learning techniques to train its entire workforce around the world simultaneously on the introduction of a new product or innovation, with immediate and consistent results. (SANDERS; 2001, p. 44)

While the first and maybe more important step are individual education and development programs—the focus of IBM Mindspan Solutions—, the second step will be the inclusion of standard e-learning offerings in all areas that are suitable. Hence, they will cover primarily IT training and foreign language courses.

1.5 The cost of education and training

Quality has its price. This is what every company knows and this is what we have to consider when planning e-learning offerings as Learning Services organization. On the other hand, our customers will achieve not only more flexibility but also a reduction of training costs—and that is exactly what they will get in a longer term. E-learning gives us and our customers the opportunity to implement the best suited training methods and to reduce overall costs.

Therefore, an evenly balanced mix of traditional classroom learning, computer based training and other means of e-learning is not only an advantage from a psychological and didactic point of view but also from a pecuniary one. E-learning can be an important step towards cost reduction—while maintaining well-trained personnel and a valuable information base.

However, learning centers are able to reduce their costs only when they manage to sell their e-learning products on large scale. The economic breakeven point lies relatively high because e-learning development is rather soKlaus Ebner: The impact of introducing e-learning course offerings Page 11

phisticated and thus expensive. The inclusion of standard courses offered by large producers and third parties will certainly ease the burden. Consequently, IT trainings such as AIX and OS/400 administration are being developed by IBM, and MOC courses are increasingly promoted by Microsoft.

1.6 A few words on the European legal framework

Virtual classrooms and other e-learning sessions run over Internet connections are naturally embedded in a legal framework that constitutes the relationship between e-learning service provider and learner/customer. Several European and national acts set the legal grounds on which chances, obligations and liabilities are defined. The present section is meant to give a short overview of the legislation involved.

Basically, all legislation specific to e-commerce applies, apart from standard civil and business law, since e-learning course offerings represent products which are sold (and used) mostly over the Internet. We have to consider especially the European Directive 2000/31/EC from June 8, 2000 and its respective national transformations. Directive 2000/31/EC covers several “legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market” (DIRECTIVE 31/EC; 2000, Preamble).

I would like to point out some central aspects that will obviously influence the implementation of e-learning courses IBM Learning Services might offer in the near future via the Internet.

Article 5 singles out the information that service providers must present the name of the service provider, the geographic address, the details of the service provider, including his electronic mail address, where the service provider is registered in a trade or similar public register, where the activity is subject to an authorization scheme, the particulars of the relevant supervisory authority, where the service provider undertakes an activity that is subject to VAT; in addition, prices must be indicated clearly and unambiguKlaus Ebner: The impact of introducing e-learning course offerings Page 12 ously and, in particular, must specify whether they are inclusive of tax and delivery costs. (DIRECTIVE 31/EC; 2000, Art. 5.1 to 5.2)

Article 7 of the directive deals with “unsolicited commercial communication”. Such commercial communication must be identifiable clearly and unambiguously by the recipient and, even more importantly, the latter has a right to opt out. He may even be registered with opt-out registers that must be respected by service providers. In my opinion, a complete separation of marketing and e-learning course sessions is the best way to avoid any compromise or conflict. (DIRECTIVE 31/EC; 2000, Art. 7)

Section 4 of Directive 2000/31/EC, which describes the liability of intermediary service providers, may have some impact on virtual classroom offerings. (DIRECTIVE 31/EC; 2000, Art. 4) With regard to chat rooms and discussion forums, the e-learning provider falls under the category of ‘intermediary service providers’. In case of illegal activity being carried out through e-learning facilities or information being stored in the forum, the directive limits the liability for “mere conduit” (Art. 12), “caching” (Art. 13) and “hosting” (Art. 14) but basically requires the absolute passivity and ignorance of the service provider. There is no general obligation to monitor the entire communication (Art. 15) but given the fact that such activity could be supervised or even guided by an instructor, discussion forums, chat rooms and email should be handled with care. (DIRECTIVE 31/EC; 2000, Art. 12 to 14)

Two other directives, namely 1995/46/EC and 1997/66/EC, require the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and privacy and the confidentiality of communication. These directives have triggered the respective legislation amendments in all countries of the European Union. Attendees of e-learning and web-based courses will need secure, i.e. well-encrypted, authentication and communication. Thus, their personal data must be protected adequately by e-learning providers using state-of-the-art security technologies.

2. What exactly is e-learning?

“The next big killer application for the internet is going to be education. Education over the internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail look like a rounding error.” John Chambers (CEO Cisco Systems)

While ‘distributed learning’ has been offered for quite a long time, internet technologies have evolved and consequently provided the necessary means for an e-learning infrastructure. Laura Sanders, vice president of IBM Mindspan Solutions, states: “In practical terms, e-learning has given us the ability to learn outside a physical classroom.” (SANDERS; 2001, p. 43)

In a world of electronic media and huge amounts of knowledge one has to master, people’s learning behavior is changing. Compared to classical learning situations, Rick Kulp mentions the following new requirements for learning environments (KULP; 1999, p.2):

- Learning environments have to be “asynchronous”, i.e. not self paced nor real time.
- Learning environments should be collaborative, not individual
- Learners need an instructor or tutor.
- Learning environments must be offered in a distributed way; learning centers in only one place are anything but adequate.

E-learning uses modern electronic media and equipment and extends learning environments to personal computers and the Internet. The development has not yet ended and possibly we will see cell phones and TV satellites as components of learning environments in the very near future.

A Lotus White Paper (LOTUS; 1996) identifies three different instructional models which have specific learning objectives:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

From the Lotus White Paper

There is no doubt left that today’s society is evolving toward learnercentered and learning team-centered learning. Instructor-centered training seems more and more old-fashioned and has already lost most of its attraction. Learners are simply more successful when their training is based on learner- and learning team-centered methods. Learner centered methods allow individual learning processes; the student is able to acquire the amount of knowledge as fast and as effectively as he or she wants. This learning method recognizes the central role of the learner, who may even determine individual timetables.

If you would like to know what e-learning means, rest assured that even the press has it. Articles dealing with the reception of e-learning technologies by the economy might begin like this:

E-Learning ist nichts anderes als Wissensvermittlung mit Unterstützung elektronischer Medien. (...) Die Schulungsmöglichkeiten reichen von standardisierten Übungen auf CD-ROM bis hin zu komplexen Web-basedTrainings (WBT), wo in virtuellen Klassenzimmern oder über Lernportale auch interaktiv und unter Leitung von Tutoren gelernt werden kann. Bei Web-based-Lösungen können sich die TeilnehmerInnen im Idealfall von jedem Rechner aus mittels Browser und Passwort einloggen und in Foren oder per E-Mail miteinander kommunizieren. (EIGRUBER; 2001, p. 33)

Translation (by K. Ebner):

Virtual learning environments represent a virtual community whose orientation is distance learning by which the learning process is understood in a different way. There are no residential classes at a particular place and the

students do not have a fixed schedule. This is the pedagogical revolution of the new millennium.

In this paper, we are talking about distance and distributed learning, web learning and self-study. First of all, I would like to define the different terms and how they relate to the notion of e-learning:

2.1 Distance learning

Distance learning is a very general expression that describes a learning situation which is independent from classrooms and timetables at learning centers. Distance learning enables the students to learn at home, at work and during leisure times at any time they want.

Distance learning does not necessarily include e-learning modules. For example, distance learning universities have offered their services for a rather long time while using printed learning material and audio cassettes which are distributed by mail services. While the entire teaching and learning processes are dispersed over remote locations, the students typically have to come together to take their exams.

The notion of distributed learning sounds more modern and usually includes electronic media. Hence, distributed learning is often mentioned together with e-learning.

2.2 Self-study

Self-study components provide the student with learning materials, such as books and manuals, and require that he or she learn on his or her own. The notion of self-study might well be extended to CD-ROM and Web-based courses without instructor assistance.

Self-study sequences are a major component in traditional distance learning, such as university courses. However, during pure self-study sequences, there is no way to ask someone else or to get any help from an instructor. AddiKlaus Ebner: The impact of introducing e-learning course offerings Page 16 tionally, students need a lot of self-discipline to finish pure self-study courses.

Usually, e-learning incorporates self-study sequences, but mixes them with other media and provides additional support from an instructor or tutor.

2.3 Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning describes a specific learning technique which may be used by groups of learners. The notion of collaboration means that learners work “together to achieve results or solve problems that they could not do on their own” (KULP; 1999, p. 9). The point is that students can learn from each other; everybody has another knowledge background and different interests he or she can share. Apart from this, collaborative learning is not a teacher-student situation but an egalitarian student-student relationship— this scenario is also called synchronous collaboration. On the other hand, asynchronous collaboration is usually instructor facilitated (MACEKE; 2000, p. 10).

Groups of learners may become teams that are able simply to master more difficult tasks, or, as Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith put it:

Teams outperform individuals acting alone or in larger organizational groupings, especially when performance requires multiple skills, judgments, and experiences. (KATZENBACH; 1994, p. 9)

Of course, instructors have to consider carefully if the course’s learning objectives allow or need collaboration. Students should understand why collaborative learning is introduced and which payoff they perceive from it. They should “see the task as worthy of teamwork” (KULP; 1999, p. 9).

We know that especially in the beginning, many people feel that asynchronous distributed collaboration would be quite unnatural and “naysayers point to high dropout rates to support their arguments” (KULP; 1999, p. 18). However, the experiences IBM teams made with LearningSpace courses rather prove the opposite. Rick Kulp states that the “collaborative learning that takes place in LearningSpace courses is often better than what happens in a classroom” (ID.) and that email communication was widely accepted. One major advantage is the fact that distributed learning offers many things that cannot be done in a traditional classroom course (ID.).

The following observations and insights underline the usefulness and finally the success of e-learning solutions (KULP; 1999, pp. 18-19):

- Since learners are able to reread what they did not understand, to look things up and to take a break when they want, the “quality of learning is often better”.
- Distributed learning enables more democratic discussions because there is almost no way for domination and intimidation.
- Students “take more responsibility for their learning”.
- Trainers are able to engage students in private discussions and “answer questions that they might be embarrassed to ask in front of others”. Thus there is more and easier individual attention and feedback.
- In order to test whether students have understood a particular topic or chapter, e-learning instructors have to use surveys, pop quizzes and self-assessments. These are much more reliable than questioning the students in a traditional classroom.
- The student’s writing is assessed and reviewed by the instructor.
- At the very least, a unique benefit of distributed learning is enough “time for contemplation”.

To underline the importance of students’ time for contemplation, Rick Kulp quotes a paragraph from Guy Claxton’s book Hare brain, tortoise mind: Why intelligence increases when you think less, which I would like to reproduce here:

Recent scientific evidence shows convincingly that the more patient modes of mind are particularly suited to making sense of situations that are intricate, shadowy or ill defined. If the problem is how best to manage a difficult group of people at work, or whether to give up being a manager completely and retrain as a teacher, we may be better advised to sit quietly and ponder than to search frantically for explanations and solutions. This type of intelligence is associated with what we call creativity, or even “wisdom”. The newly formed hybrid discipline of “cognitive science” is revealing that the unconscious realms of the human mind will successfully accomplish a number of unusual, interesting and important tasks if they are given the time. They will learn patterns of a degree of subtlety which normal consciousness cannot see; make sense out of situations that are too complex to analyze; and get to the bottom of certain issues much more successfully than the questing intellect. (CLAXTON; 1999, pp. 3-4)

E-learning solutions usually contain collaborative learning parts. They foster the learning process, forge a ‘remote learning community’ and facilitate the instruction process. Collaborative learning is one of the elements that incite students to take responsibility for their own learning progress.

2.4 Teletutoring

The word teletutor stands for a rather new profession. Attendees of elearning courses and education programs need a tutor who accompanies them through the entire syllabus. Ideally, this tutor or teletutor should get acquainted with his students during the initial residential session or classroom course; if such is not foreseen, the tutor will offer a self-presentation on a web site.

There are two different concepts of teletutoring that I would like to present:

1. A teletutor or tutor mediates between students and technical experts, i.e. the instructors. He or she watches over discussion forums and an swers or forwards email.
2. A teletutor or tutor corresponds to the course instructor. He or she is the expert on a specific topic and accompanies the students via chat sessions, asynchronous discussion forums and email, and virtual class rooms.


Excerpt out of 71 pages


The impact of introducing e-learning courses
Fachhochschule des bfi Wien GmbH  (European Business Management and Leadership)
Praxissemester FH
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Mag. (FH) Mag. Klaus Ebner (Author), 2002, The impact of introducing e-learning courses, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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