A statistical approach to e-learning

What happens across the pond can give us food for thought. The American Society for Training & Development(ASTD) surveys annually the state of the learning and development industry in that country.

According to a summary of ASTD’s 2010 report , the industry continued to grow in 2009 compared with 2008. The sum spent on training by companies per employee was still rising, even in the recession. More than a third of all learning was delivered or facilitated electronically. Nearly a third was delivered online. Each hour of learning content was re-used about 60 times, compared with about 45 times in 2007. It sounds positive, from an e-learning point of view.

In the UK, Towards Maturity, a group that promotes learning technologies at work, conducts similar surveys. In its 2010 report  is an analysis of what 400 organisations (including a third from the public sector) were doing to ‘deliver business results’ with learning technology. In the top quartile, three-quarters of their staff used e-learning. Compared with traditional methods, e-learning saved 21% in costs, 27% in study time and moved from idea/need to delivery 32% faster. Positive again.

Brian Chapman, who runs his own e-learning company in Utah, surveyed 249 organisations (including a few universities), asking how long it took them to develop e-learning . A simple 1-hour unit (content and questions) took on average 79 hours to design, develop and test, at a cost of about £10K. It cost more to include greater interactivity and multi-media.

Surveys like these seem to provide great hope for learning technologists looking for jobs in difficult times! But all three were published by parties with a vested interest in promoting e-learning. Is there a bias in their statistics?

The Beyond Distance Research Alliance (BDRA) is modest in its approach to using statistics. With its collaborators in projects like TIGER and OSTRICH that focus on quality in online open educational resources, Beyond Distance aims to develop mutually beneficial procedures and OERs, rather than headline-grabbing statistics. At last week’s TIGER Steering Group meeting at the University of Northampton, I was impressed by the dedication and professionalism of staff at De Montfort, Leicester and Northampton, and by their attention to detail.

David Hawkridge

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