Learning Online: Getting Down to Business

Online learning platforms have made the process of offering workshops, courses, and educational content of all kinds easier than ever. In addition to the growth of online learning in traditional educational spheres like colleges and universities, there’s been growth in the business world. Companies and organizations increasingly have been using online learning platforms both to train employees and to educate customers and clients.

“Online learning is growing and vibrant because it allows people around the world to access opportunities for growth and development that were previously inaccessible or unaffordable,” said Abe Crystal, cofounder of the online learning platform Ruzuku.

“It’s democratizing access to learning just as search engines democratized access to factual information,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Finding a Niche

A number of companies provide educational opportunities related to the work they do and the services they offer. The marketing company Hinge, for instance, runs Hinge University, which offers a wide range of courses related to marketing, communications and business strategies.

“For over a decade, Hinge has conducted ongoing research on the professional services marketplace, with a special focus on high-growth firms and how they market themselves differently from their slower-growing peers,” said Hinge Managing Partner Lee Frederiksen.

“We created Hinge University to equip professional services firms and individual experts with the strategies, tools and skills to build an evidence-based marketing program that delivers faster growth, greater visibility and higher profits,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Hinge has identified the value of offering classes, in addition to other educational content, to people seeking help and information, thus both growing the firm’s customer base and enhancing its standing in the industry.

“Our audiences include professional services executives, solo practitioners, marketers and client-facing professionals — anyone in the professional services who is looking for proven research-based marketing strategy and skills training,” noted Frederiksen. “We also have an enterprise membership level for large organizations that want to develop the visibility and skills of their professionals.”

Benefits of Online Learning

While it shares some characteristics with traditional classroom learning, online learning is unique in the way instructors and students interact and engage with each other and with the content.

“Online learning is vastly different than in-person learning, with the most obvious difference being engagement,” said Ruzuku’s Crystal. “It’s much more difficult to maintain attention, focus and engagement online, and requires new approaches to course design and participant interaction.”

One significant benefit of online learning — both for instructors and students — is that it’s accessible to people around the world.

“It allows educational institutions to provide course content to a geographically broader audience, and in turn enhance and diversify their revenue models,” observed Steve Nyland, LMS manager and lead designer at Educadium.

“Increasingly, we see larger educational institutions providing complimentary courses related to core subjects that might not be feasible in a formal classroom setting, for both cost and logistical reasons,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Because of its many benefits and accessibility, online learning is quickly becoming mainstream — one of the primary ways people teach, learn and share information.

“Online learning is rapidly becoming more mainstream, which leads to a raising of the bar,” said Crystal. “People are demanding higher-quality, more effective courses with better user experiences.”

The Internet has revolutionized the way educational content can be delivered and consumed.

“The Internet is transforming how people acquire new skills and grow professionally,” said Hinge’s Frederiksen. “Research has shown that people who learn online actually outperform those in traditional classroom settings. And from a learner’s perspective, the lower cost and the convenience of learning at one’s own pace and on one’s own schedule — at work, at home, even on the go — can’t be beat. Companies, too, recognize that training with these characteristics is far more effective, and it’s more appealing to their employees.”

It’s likely this transformation of educational practices will continue apace, with proliferation of various kinds of learning management systems (LMSes) that specialize in particular kinds of interactions, content, audiences and purposes.

“Online learning, or e-learning, has been a fast-growing sector since the early 2000s, and this trend looks set to continue,” said Nyland. “There are numerous overlapping reasons why. The cost-effectiveness of providing remote classes versus traditional classroom courses has persuaded a lot of larger universities and colleges of the value of systems like Educadium.”

What Makes a Good Online Course

It’s important for online course designers to understand the capabilities of the platform they’re using, and the ways they can shape and design their content to make it as engaging and effective as possible for their particular audiences and purposes.

“While Educadium and other LMS platforms have provided the tools to create more flexible, multifaceted courses for some time, digital course creators are catching up in terms of understanding how they can better engage with their students,” said Nyland.

“The online educational community has become smaller or more tight-knit, with a lot of sharing of pedagogical ideas and concepts on how we can best serve our clients, and how our clients can best serve their students and employees,” he pointed out.

One of the keys to a successful online course is taking it beyond basic slideshows and making use of the wide variety of engagement methods available online.

“More and more, we see a move away from long — boring — self-paced PowerPoint-style presentations, with courses evolving to blended learning and instructor-led-training, or ILT, courses, combining the benefits of real classroom-based lessons with the benefits of digital self-paced e-learning modules,” observed Nyland.

“More collaborative activities between groups of students are being used in courses, less focused on grading or core assessment needs, but more on enhancing the knowledge levels of learners and complementing their abilities, interspersed with core grade requirements,” he added.

Quality is key for successful online learning offerings, in other words.

“If the first decade of the 21st century saw schools and businesses worrying about how they could meet their training requirements and make sure their students and staff were seeing the content they had to see to be qualified, they’re now caring much more about the quality of that content and how it’s shaping their learners,” said Nyland.

It’s vital that those offering courses online continually work to make their offers more competitive, creative and engaging.

“As e-learning becomes more common as a solution, providers of e-learning are having to be more competitive and creative in how they meet that need,” suggested Nyland. “There’s a long way to go, but the steady march toward that being the norm continues day by day. If education is the key to both personal success and resolution of our many societal problems, the LMS is a powerful and important social tool toward that goal.”

Vivian Wagner

Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a varietyof outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.Email Vivian.

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