aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

The Big Three

Posted by Ellen on April 15, 2007

First, the disclaimer:

More variations on these three key types of asynchronous learning exist than can be covered here.  The distinctions among the Big Three described here are intended to help us reach some common language about them.  Your ideal answer could be a combination of these or something else entirely.

First, keep in mind that “asynchronous” means that the course content is delivered independent from the live availability of an instructor.  These types of courses or lessons are sometimes called “self-paced” for this reason — learners pace themselves through the content.  The format of the course must include everything the learner needs because no instructor is available.

So what are the Big Three asynchronous learning types?

  • Webinars/Webcasts/Web Conferences:  Whether presented first live and then archived as a recording — or recorded from the outset — this format uses any of a number of Web-presentation applications (WebEx, Elluminate, Adobe Acrobat Connect, etc.) and can allow for some quiz options.  The live versions of these shouldn’t be considered asynchronous because they usually include live chat and the ability for the attendees to post or ask questions and get answers from the presenters.  Some vendors offer products that allow you to create courses like this without the live option — products that will do this include TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio and Adobe’s Captivate.
  • “Facilitated” Self-Paced: I usually refer to these as the “academic model” for online courses because higher education used this format to quickly (and inexpensively) move heavy content courses onto the Web. Learners access their course assignments online where they can also chat (live or via threaded discussion) with other learners or the instructor.  Reading assignments either refer to books learners need to have on hand or to PDFs or other files available from the same site for downloading.  Either way, the content isn’t much different than what the learner would find in a live classroom setting, they just get to it (or the assignment for it) via the Web instead of in class. Companies offering this option include iCohere and Blackboard.
  • Fully Self-Paced: I call this the “corporate model.”  Courses are created so the entire content is available in a self-contained, Web-delivered “package.”  Corporations have been using this type of learning for many years, but because the cost of developing such courses has dropped considerably, it’s now an affordable option for non-profit organizations and other groups with fewer resources.*  The fully self-paced option is carefully designed to include all the content an instructor would normally cover. Companies involved in this sort of online development are many and include Digitec Interactive.

It’s important to know what your primary choices are so that you can make the best decisions about what will fit your needs.

Are you developing any of these three online course types for your association? I’d love to hear what you’re doing and why you make the choice you did!

Next time — your assocation has decided it needs online learning, and they’ve dropped this tall order in your lap.  Where do you start?!?!?!?

*When I started developing this type of course for a corporate client in 2000, the cost for a 3-contact hour course was easily $250,000-$300,000.  A 3-contact hour course now could run as low as 15%-20% of that!

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