Elearning FAQ - understand the concepts

Elearning FAQ

(Opdateret 21/11 2019)

This FAQ gives you a quick explanation of the main concepts in digital learning and e-learning.

What is digital learning?

Generally, the term digital learning covers all uses of IT for learning purposes. If the goal is for someone to learn something and computers are used to facilitate the learning process, then it is digital learning. We are not talking about someone writing an assignment in a word processing program on a computer, but that the computer either conveys or facilitates the learning process.

The concept of digital learning is relatively new. Previously, the word e-learning was used to describe learning via computer, in much the same way that e-commerce means commerce via computer. But partly because e-learning has gained a very firm meaning, and probably also because there is so much poor e-learning, some have invented the concept of digital learning - perhaps also to signal that this is something entirely new (even though this is not necessarily the case).

What is e-learning?

E-learning is typically a multimedia presentation that combines text, video, sound, and image. Information is conveyed and users can subsequently interact with the material, often in the form of questions, small exercises, or mini learning games. The idea is that the user can use the material when they need it and have time for it. Another advantage is that you can take the material without being dependent on others, for example, a teacher.

It is typically companies that use e-learning. Within formalized learning schools, we primarily talk about digital learning although there is considerable overlap, there are also differences in culture and the purpose of learning.

Companies that use e-learning typically have a need to be able to document that users have received the e-learning, see answers to any tests and perhaps be able to issue diplomas. If you have such a need for documentation, it is relevant to use the SCORM standard, which makes it easy to collect data about the user's interactions with the material in a Learning Management System, abbreviated LMS.

In Danish, by the way, we can't really figure out whether it's called e-learning or e-learning, and whether it's with or without a hyphen. E-learning used to be also called online learning, distance education, or CBT (Computer-Based Training), or WBT (Web-Based Training).

What can you use e-learning for?

E-learning is typically most suitable for homogeneous target groups that need to learn something basic.

If the target group or the subject becomes too narrow, it typically becomes either too expensive to develop or the target groups too difficult to reach. There is a risk of creating something that is too difficult for beginners and too boring for experts.

E-learning is also good if there are financial, time or geographical challenges that make it impossible to gather teachers and students at the same time and place. It is often used for mandatory education, e.g., in the field of occupational safety and health, but can be used for many other things, such as the training of new employees, also known as onboarding, maintenance of technical equipment, use of IT systems like the office suite and much more.

E-learning is especially good if you can answer yes to one or more of these questions:

  • Do you have education or tests that you often repeat for a large group of people??
  • Do you need to be able to document education and/or test results?
  • Are there circumstances that make education or testing difficult to deliver? Should the instruction, for example, be delivered in the middle of the night, or do you only have a short time available to teach a very large group of people or should instruction be delivered in a difficult-to-reach geographical location?

nother advantage of e-learning is that you can learn when you have a need. This also significantly reduces the risk of forgetting what you have learned. In English, this is called Just in time learning.

How is e-learning delivered?

Normally, e-learning is carried out by the user clicking on a link in an e-learning portal, called a Learning Management System (LMS), or in an email, after which the e-learning material opens in a browser and the user can interact with it.

Usually, the LMS will store information on how the user interacts with the e-learning material. What did the user answer to the questions? How long did the user spend on the content? Has the user seen all the content? and much more. If the e-learning material contains a test, the LMS will also store information on how the user has performed in the test and often offer the possibility for the user to print a diploma.

Communication between the LMS and the e-learning content is normally facilitated through the e-learning standard SCORM.

Within SCORM, one thus distinguishes between (e-learning) content and the platform it is distributed on, the LMS. This may sound a bit strange, but there is a good reason for it.

What is mobile learning?

Now that we are on the subject, e-learning and other digital learning can also be delivered via a tablet or a smartphone. In such cases, some might refer to it as mobile learning, and not e-learning. Personally, I would call this type of learning e-learning or digital learning delivered on a mobile. One can easily get a little breathless - and tired - of all the many buzzwords. I mention them so that you, as a reader, know what they mean, not to bury you in buzzwords. Previously, the tools used to develop e-learning did not support mobile phones particularly well. Therefore, it was perhaps more important to be precise if it is e-learning delivered on a mobile phone. Today, many of the technical problems associated with delivering e-learning on mobile phones have disappeared. However, this does not mean that one should not take special considerations if content is to be delivered on a mobile. Obviously, the screen size is much smaller and this, of course, should be taken into consideration when designing e-learning.

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning is the practice of combining different learning methods, both digital and analog. For example, e-learning could be combined with classroom instruction and webinars. Unfortunately, blended learning has become a bit of a buzzword, and there is occasionally the impression from suppliers that as long as it was blended learning, everything was good. But with learning methods, as with tools in a toolbox; the more different tools you have at your disposal, the greater the opportunity you have to assemble exactly the tools that provide the best solution. However, it is clear that if you use a saw to nail and a hammer to saw, you will not get a good solution. The same goes for learning methods. Blended learning does not in itself ensure that good learning is taking place, but if you combine the different learning methods in a way that exploits the different strengths they each have, you can create a really good solution. We will return to blended learning later.

What is a Learning Management System?

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a system you can use to manage learners and e-learning. In most Learning Management Systems you can see reports on which users have taken which courses and how they have performed in the courses they take. It is said that the system "tracks" what the users do (i.e., logs their activity).

According to the now defunct e-learning Encyclopedia www.elearningatlas.com, there were more than 550 different LMS in 2013. My guess is that it was an underestimate. But whether there are 500 or 1000 is almost irrelevant, there are too many to familiarize yourself with all of them. There are large open source LMS, especially targeted at formalized learning (Canvas LMS, Moodle) and commercial Enterprise solutions which are often part of large HR- or ERP-systems (SAP, Successfactors LMS, Cornerstone on Demand etc.), as well as a whole bunch of smaller providers that offer specialized LMS (such as our own Activate LMS). Some support the administration of presence education, others can perform personality tests and performance measurements and so on. Some systems call themselves LMS without supporting SCORM (!). It is truly a jungle and you need to watch out.

Some of the largest solutions take 6 months to roll out in a large organization. Typically, LMS is delivered as cloud solutions where you pay a price per user per month or year and, perhaps unsurprisingly, LMS is available in many price ranges.

Since there are so many LMS's, it is difficult to provide a general description that fits all of them, but here is an attempt at what an LMS should at least be able to do.

  • As mentioned, an LMS is an online portal where e-learning can be distributed and users' interactions with e-learning can be logged through the SCORM standard.
  • Typically, users with the relevant rights can draw reports in the LMS that, for example, show which users have completed which modules, how long they have spent on it, and what they have answered in a test etc.
  • Many LMS can issue certificates to the users when they have passed a test. It is also typically possible to use the LMS to send reminders to users who have not completed mandatory e-learning. This can be done both automatically or ad hoc.
  • Many LMS can also display content that is not in SCORM format, such as PDF documents, YouTube videos, etc.

Many LMSs are more designed to ensure that an organization can document a user receiving instruction, rather than providing the user with a good environment for learning. Moreover, far from all learning takes place in e-learning modules and can be documented in an LMS with SCORM. In organizations, there is often a lot of informal knowledge and therefore a lot of informal learning takes place which is not typically well supported in classic LMS. As a counter-move to the somewhat boring image that LMSs have received, a new type of learning platform has popped up. It's called a Learning Experience Platform, with the somewhat flashy abbreviation LXP. There is probably - also - an element of old LMS wine in new marketing bottles in LXP, but LXP promises to give users more personal and social "learning experiences". I cross my fingers and hope for the best, but reserve the right to be skeptical.

What is an e-learning platform?

Can you create e-learning without having a Learning Management System (LMS)?

Yes, you can - it entirely depends on your needs. If you need to know who is taking a specific e-learning course and how they have answered questions, whether they have passed, spent more than 10 minutes, etc. there are good chances that you need an LMS. If you just want to convey some knowledge to a number of people, you should perhaps consider whether a video or some web pages on the intranet do not give you the same. The essential thing is whether you want to "track"/log how the users are doing.

What does a Learning Management System (LMS) cost?

Learning Management Systems come in many different price ranges and billing models. Prices vary greatly, from "free"/open source to very expensive. LMSs are most often sold at a price per user from approx. 60DKK/user/year to over 300DKK/user/year with 500 users. (500 users are normally not considered to be very many users).

The price typically depends on whether you buy many or few users. LMSs are often sold in modules with a basic price per user for basic functionality, where you then pay extra if, for example, you want a Social Learning module included (forums, Wikis, etc.), Integration with Active Directory or SharePoint, etc. The price also depends on whether you want to host it yourself or if you buy a hosted LMS.

In any case, you need to think carefully about what needs you have when choosing. Generally, we see that most LMSs can do much more than individual organizations need, and customers therefore often end up paying more than they need.

What is an LCMS?

LCMS stands for Learning Content Management System. A system in which you can develop (E)learning content (content) via the internet. Articulate Rise is an example of an LCMS. It is an old term that is not used much anymore.

What is the difference between an LMS and a CMS?

Previously, CMS was used as a term for a COURSE Management System. But now CMS is used as a term for a CONTENT Management System (which is typically used to create internet/intranet sites with). Now the term Learning Management System (LMS) is used instead of COURSE Management System.

What kind of programs do you use to develop e-learning material?

Programs that can develop e-learning are called authoring tools. The most commonly used are Articulate Storyline, Articulate Rise, and Adobe Captivate. There are open-source tools – however, it's hard to spot a good free tool. Read more about authoring tools here: Best programs for creating e-learning in 2023

What is SCORM?

SCORM is a standard that ensures your e-learning content and Learning Management System (LMS) can "communicate". This means, among other things, that you can move your content to another LMS if you need to change the provider - without having to pay a fortune to have it converted. It also means that you can buy standard courses from other providers and mix them with your own developed e-learning courses.

SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Resource Model and is a standard that was developed at the behest of the U.S. government.

SCORM can be compared to a file format like PDF. Just as you can save Word documents and images, you can also save different e-learning content in SCORM format. Unlike a PDF, SCORM consists of multiple files that are packaged as a zip file, and therefore we talk about SCORM packages, not SCORM files. You can easily check if a zip file is a SCORM package as SCORM packages must contain a file called IMSmanifest.xml.

SCORM comes in different versions: SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004. SCORM 2004 comes in 4 different versions, so you can say that something is SCORM 2004 3rd edition.

SCORM replaced its predecessor AICC, and the intended successor to SCORM is called xApi. xApi was originally called TinCan.

If you're getting tired of all the abbreviations and versions, I completely understand.

In practice, there's very little difference between the different versions of SCORM. SCORM versions can be a hassle, but typically you can find out which versions of SCORM your LMS supports. And otherwise, you may have to experiment, e.g., by creating a SCORM package with each main version, i.e., 1.2 and SCORM 2004 4th. Most support 1.2, and many also 2004. Once you've figured out which version to use, it typically doesn't change.

I praksis er der kun meget lille forskel på de forskellige versioner af SCORM. SCORM-versionerne kan godt drille, men typisk kan man læse sig til hvilke versioner af SCORM ens LMS understøtter. Og ellers må man eksperimentere sig frem ved f.eks. at lave en SCORM-pakke med hver overordnet version, dvs. 1.2 og SCORM 2004 4th. De fleste understøtter 1.2 og mange også 2004. Når man har fundet ud af hvilken version man skal bruge, er det typisk ikke noget der ændrer sig.

Why is SCORM important?

The best way to answer that question is by looking at what the world looked like before SCORM was invented:

Shortly after we figured out how to use computers for all the things we use them for today, we also figured out how to use them to deliver education to people. Back then, it was called distance education or CBT (Computer Based Training). Many companies built e-learning portals where you could both develop and deliver content. Over time, companies realized that this had some unfortunate consequences:

The most significant was that it was technically impossible to move content from one e-learning portal to another; if your company had developed a lot of good content, you couldn't just take it with you to a new platform.

Here is a small story that illustrates the problem. At one point, we were contacted by a large French bank. The bank had been ahead of the curve in using e-learning - before SCORM was invented - and they had chosen a platform in the late nineties and thereafter developed nearly 1000 e-learning modules. After many years, they reached the conclusion that the platform they used was no longer up-to-date. Since the nearly 1000 modules could not be moved, it meant that if they changed platforms, they would also lose all their content. A very costly decision that actually postponed the decision for a few years. When they finally decided to move to a more current platform, we spent a few months helping them package their content into SCORM so it could be moved.

In addition to the bank not being able to move their content, this story also shows that an unhealthy dependency on suppliers can easily arise. Without SCORM, the situation is that if a supplier of e-learning platform cannot, or does not want to, change their platform to meet the needs their customer might have, then the customer doesn't have much say.

Another advantage of SCORM is that it makes it possible to choose a tool according to the needs one has in relation to content. If you need to be able to record what happens on your screen, you can choose a tool that is good at it, and if you need to develop content that looks more like PowerPoint, you can choose another. So you can choose the best tool for the job. If it can save as SCORM, it can run in the LMS. Tools that can save as SCORM are called authoring tools. Authoring tools exist both as programs that are installed on a computer and as online products where you develop via your browser. The online products are also sometimes called LCMS, which stands for Learning Content Management System.

There are a number of LMS in which it is also possible to develop content, i.e., they consist of an LMS and an LCMS. It may sound immediately appealing to have everything combined in one solution. But now I will reveal one of the industry's dirty tricks: There are many LMSs that are SCORM compatible, i.e., they can run SCORM content, but where content developed in the platform's LCMS is not SCORM compatible, or cannot immediately be moved to another platform. If you go with such a solution, you end up with a supplier dependency that SCORM was originally developed to avoid.

The last advantage I will highlight is that SCORM makes it easier to buy standard courses on everything from IT security, use of the office package to how to become a better leader.

Do you lack answers to something?

Oops, then write or call us - we will help you

Are you looking for help in developing e-learning, or would you like to take a course on e-learning, where you learn to create e-learning yourself - then we can also help you

You can learn more about developing e-learning in these articles:

If you are interested in e-learning pedagogy/e-learning didactics, you can read these articles:

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