Automating the eLearning Process

On the face of it, eLearning can be a time-consuming and labour-intensive process. There’s the effort involved in creating and updating engaging content for courses. Then there’s facilitation, discussion arbitration, and support during the course itself. To say nothing of trying to tailor learning paths to each individual’s needs.

Wouldn’t it be great if you had a machine to do this? That’s where automation comes in.

First Stop: LMS?

Whether you’ve developed an in-house Learning Management System (LMS) or subscribe to one from a service provider, it’s possible that you may already have some significant tools in your armoury.

An LMS may contain a vast library of training resources and learning content, which can be drawn from and customised to suit specific courses. This will require some work on your part to sift through the archives and choose what’s best, but it’s a start.

Algorithm and Blues

True automation starts with the mechanics of computer programming – specifically algorithms. An algorithm is simply a set of rules and associated procedures for solving a particular problem.

Once you define the rules associated with the eLearning problem you want to solve, an algorithm can be written to take care of this, and you can just sit back as course solutions are generated automatically. In theory at least.

We’re some way from this becoming a standard tool, but, elsewhere organisations like the Big Ten Network already use algorithms to generate copy for sports news reports, so it’s not entirely out of the question.

Indeed, some LMS platforms already contain algorithms to scan your course content, then automatically generate quizzes, test questions and assessments based on the training material. By assigning appropriate content based on its assessment of the skills of each learner, the algorithm can plot a unique and personalised course for each student.

Booking a Foundation

Nimble Books describes a development model currently used on Amazon to assemble publications based on a defined set of keywords, images, and access to archived material. Though used for commercial applications, it’s hosted in the cloud, and based on open-source software.

In the eLearning context, this approach could be extended to generate course content, drawing from a database of articles and training resources that are in the public domain (and copyright free).

Calling on Web Services

As this trend continues, the technology and platform of web services will doubtless play a key role in making automated learning more viable.

For course designers and facilitators, using cloud-based and hosted services eliminates the need to get bogged down in the mechanics of programming and designing algorithms – the web services provider takes care of that.

Web resources can be called up on demand and tested on different web servers to iron out the kinks for each individual use case. And the cloud platform is ideal for bringing together different tool sets (often from different manufacturers) to create the impression of a seamless whole, at least as far as the end users are concerned.

Processes to Automate

These are some of the areas you might consider:

  • Injecting multimedia content (audio, video, images, etc.) to engage your learners and enhance the course content.
  • Providing a mix of content to suit classroom or workshop-based activity and more mainstream eLearning methods.
  • Setting of custom rules for courses, e.g. for professional qualifications or regulatory compliance.
  • Automatic upload of digitally signed documents to professional assessment bodies and regulatory authorities.
  • Grading and assessing exercises, as the course progresses.
  • Automated alerts to course facilitators and students when their progress flags, or if they achieve exemplary results.
  • Email alerts to course participants, to remind them of special events and useful supplementary resources.

An Outline Strategy

Do a preliminary assessment of your course material. Decide what aspects would most benefit from being automated, and try to establish what automating these processes might look like and translate to in practice.

Assemble your tools – templates, “live” documents that respond dynamically to changes, multimedia, etc. Put them together in a library that can be easily accessed when required.

Plot your course, with markers for the aspects where automating algorithms should come in. You may not do the coding yourself, but establish a road map for your L&D, IT division or web services provider to follow.

Publish your material, and test it out on various platforms, including the web. Revise the structure, as problems and areas for potential improvement show up.

Some Resources

There’s a comprehensive listing and reviews of Learning Management Systems for business and formal educational establishments at the Capterra website. The site also has links and blog posts on a range of eLearning topics.