The content of an eLearning course is usually written or extracted and compiled from text-books, magazines, articles, report & studies, etc. by an expert author.
It is crucial that the expert author/editor is aware of the purpose in advance – an e-Learning course will need a very clear and concisely structured content. For example, the eLearning courses on Organisational Development are based on a textbook by Nancy Barnes (the Water Impact Guidebook) and have been adapted for the e-Learning courses by bringing the content down to the basic elements.
The course «Sector Governance in Urban Sanitation», as another example, was written by three different authors and has then been re-structured, edited and enlarged by expert editors in order to provide a clear e-course structure.In every case, the eLearning course content should be supplemented with graphics (tables, diagrams, photos, videos), practical case studies and examples.
During every eLearning, course participants have the opportunity to actively get involved into further development and modernisation of the course content through case-studies and practical examples or results from working groups and assignments. One task of the etTutors is therefore to ask course participants to provide additional material, documentations, case studies, etc.
Course contents need to be revisited and updated regularly, the more if the result of the course evaluation at the end of a training shows the need for it.
Before starting to convert the content and putting it online, it is important to decide on the instructional design guidelines for all modules.
The content of eLearning courses needs to be adjusted to the media format/web format. Even if there is already a lot of material in written or even in digital format, it requires adaptation to the chosen format. This is the task of the instructional designer/content developer together with the subject-matter expert(s). Ideally, the course content delivered by the expert author is at this stage not formatted.
eLearning content has «added values» compared to paper-based training material. For example, multi-media such as video stocking or podcasts can easily be included, as well as other web resources, elements initiating learners' communication or cooperation, exercises and self-testing tools. These interactive elements can make learning fun and thus enhance the process of acquiring new knowledge.
Generally, eLearning modules are more learner-centred than traditional lectures. They enable the learners to make choices, for example to choose different media formats and learning pathways. However, the level of interactivity depends on the media format and technology chosen for the course. Also the internet connectivity of the learners (bandwidth, up-to-date hard- and software) or the infrastructure offered by their institutions may decide on the level of interactivity.The minimum requirements for a successful participance are therefore communicated in the course announcements.
A very important part of eLearning is the constant guidance by an online-tutor. The eTutors are not only available for subject-related questions; he/she is also responsible to moderate live sessions and virtual working groups and to evaluate the assignments and contributions, made by participants during a course.
The most important task consists in tracking the individual participants performance on a regular basis, identifying possible constraints and problems even before the participant him/herself realises them. An eLearning course is much less «personal» compared with face-to-face trainings, so a constant personal contact and motivation has to be provided by the tutor(s) for the participants.
Provided there is enough budget, a «Blended Learning» (combination between classroom-based training with on-line elements) is therefore a good choice.
Asynchronous tutoring is offered in a format where the learner submits a question or an assignment and the tutor responds at a later time. This is appropriate for a detailed review of written tasks, for instance. The learner and the tutor need not be online at the same time. This format requires a software like a Forum, Pinboard etc., which keep track of the file and the date/time of the contribution.
Synchronous online tutoring involves a shared interface, where both tutor and learner (or group of learners) are online at the same time, regardless of (sometimes different) time-zones they live in. It requires implementation of a browser-based software and usually a functioning microphone, speakers and web-camera. The courses by Margraf Publishers use online services by VoIP (Voice over IP and video communication over IP) for this. The webinars during the courses are specialized for low bandwidths and can be as well used with mobile devices.
A dedicated server on the internet holds the content of the courses and manages the different access rights of the course administrators, authors, editors, tutors, and participants. The different access-levels are dependent from the username that has to be entered to join a certain course. The management of these usernames, the students performance, the interactive communication between tutors and participants etc. are handled by the «Learning Management System» (LMS), a software which is located on the server.
Margraf Publishers adapted an Open-Source system (Typo3) for these tasks and constantly develops the Learning Management System (LMS) further in order to follow recent improvements and trends and to provide technical security. The software is consisting of a database which makes it easy also to update and adopt the course content without the need for special HTML skills.
Depending on the experience of the actors of the course, a technical support is needed. Normally, the tutors have enough competence to solve standard questions (imparting certain technical knowledges are regular part of the eTutor trainings) which arise during an eLearning course. In some cases it also becomes necessary to support the tutors or to implement additional technical functionalities. The technical administrator is responsible for these requests and shall normally react within 24 hours.
An eLearning course normally needs to cover the following roles & responsibilities: