E-learning in the Emergency Services
We are now nearing 20 years since e-learning became ‘the next big thing’. Roger’s bell curve of innovation (often used to talk about technology adoption) would indicate e-learning has now been picked up by even the late majority of organisations, with statistics on e-learning showing more than 80% of all organisations are using it in some form and over 80% of learners have tried it at some point.
Emergency Services came to the e-learning party a bit later than other organisations. A scan of our sector currently shows that:
- All main Emergency Service Organisations in Australia now have some type of Learning Management System (LMS), many have a Content Management System (CMS) and all have at least some online learning modules available
- There are multiple approaches to e-learning policy
- Multiple Learning Management Systems (LMS) and development software are being used by different agencies
- Some organisations have been developing their systems for longer than others
- There is disparity in resourcing for e-learning development between organisations
- Some organisations have established ‘sharing’ arrangements for content to help distribute cost and time of developing material
- There remains an organisational preference for content that is “customised” to individual agencies, especially with look and feel and use of Jargon – a perception that it will be better received by membership maybe? This does tend to mean reduced sharing of resources ‘as is’
- There is a mix of in-house development, outsourcing and use of pre-packaged learning currently in use
- There are multiple approaches to content delivery and assessment methodology
- Some working groups exist to promote aspects of e-learning across different organisations and even states, such as simulation software, which are a great way to get involved and move the e-learning agenda forward
Establishing an e-learning system and developing content represents a significant investment for all organisations, especially in a climate where funds for training and development are often already limited.
Current Complaints about E-learning
Everyone is trying to adapt e-learning to best meet the diversity of their organisation’s membership. Speaking to representatives from training sections and from learners using their systems, several key issues are continually raised:
- The uptake and use of e-learning is varied. In all organisations, but especially those with volunteer/retained workforce it feels near impossible to get everyone using the product.
- The technology literacy levels of learners is varied. In all organisations, there are many Digital Immigrants who don’t seem to have the inclination or skills to access and benefit from e-learning. They may lack experience in using new technology tools, or they can only use basic functions. (The number of people who are truly techno-illiterate are fewer than we think!)
- The infrastructure to support e-learning is varied. All the things that make e-learning so great for some (such as overcoming issues of time and distance) also mean for some members working around poor bandwidth, low download speed, and missing out on group/trainer support and discussion. To make learning work for all (and in the budget and time-frame available) often means missing out on the best features that e-learning presents.
Here is one more thing to think about: Is the e-learning issue complicated by, or assisted by the fact that many of us responsible for developing e-learning at the moment are digital immigrants ourselves?
Many of us may have pushed forwards to be digital explorers, but has it rewired our brains or are our brains working ‘bilingually’? Does this mean we create better e-learning for those in our organisations? Or is it restricting the design and form of learning from what it could be?