Smartcard technology is constantly evolving and the increased need for this technology is becoming more obvious. The ‘smart’ in smartcards, ie the silicon chips, should start to follow several evolution paths including increased memory capacity, lower power consumption, greater processing power, higher security and contactless operation.
Milton Goldschmidt, MD of SmartForce Africa, looks at the technology and the architectures needed to implement a fully integrated and effective e-learning environment.
Over the last decade computer-based training (CBT) initiatives have promised much - flexible, low cost, effective, self-paced training - and delivered little, at least, not as far as effectiveness is concerned. Without effectiveness, cost and flexibility are meaningless.
The available CBT technology of only a few years ago was not really up to the task and instead of using what was available to support more effective classroom training practices - essentially an extrapolation of the dynamic, high involvement instructor-led scenario - training needs were forced to comply with the limitations of the technology.
As a result, CBT courses were delivered as text-based material and became boring learning experiences, which lacked a fundamental need for interaction between learners.
Just what is e-learning?
e-learning - using Internet browser technology to deliver education and training - has the potential to transform education to the next level by creating an environment where each learner can be linked to instructors and peers, and accordingly facilitates a continuous learning environment.
Many training providers mistakenly believe e-learning is all about taking existing courseware and putting it into HTML format.
Such an approach to e-learning essentially only delivers reading material over the Internet - or the corporate intranet.
Once again we are in danger of overlooking the universal truth about training effectiveness: people learn more effectively when more senses - sight, hearing, activity - are engaged.
Reading text or HTML pages activates few of these senses and - as with the old CBT training - is essentially boring.
This is why fully understanding the technology that can enable e-learning is so important.
Companies have a choice of 'doing it themselves' or letting someone else take on the e-learning development headache. Creating e-learning materials from your own Internet-based learning infrastructure and database development engine to actually writing and designing the courseware is fraught with problems and pitfalls.
The alternative is to outsource to an e-learning specialist capable of offering a fully integrated and customised solution built on an open platform.
While there are off-the-shelf solutions to meet many e-learning challenges, the industry currently lacks standardisation and so integration becomes a problem.
The 'do-it-yourself' option could lead to a 12 month purpose-built project with limited potential of meeting the sophisticated and complex needs of e-learning today. In many instances the cost factors associated with creating the integrated environment are hugely underestimated and this can negatively impact upon the perceived cost-effectiveness of the solution.
The latter 'off-the-shelf' could be up and running in a totally hosted and Internet-based environment within weeks and operating anywhere in the world on a 'round the clock' basis thereafter.
Whichever route is taken, the goal is to have an e-learning infrastructure that is able to go beyond content delivery standards to meet future marketplace demands.
A collaborative environment
Most significantly, there should be a collaborative environment, which facilitates interaction between learners and learners, as well as learners and subject matter experts. This is what makes learning effective.
So any solution must be able to leverage the web to make such two-way communication possible. This could take the form of chat areas with live subject mentors, e-mail, web broadcasts, discussion groups, live meetings and virtual classrooms. You can even have telephone link ups to discuss aspects of the course under review.
It is the development of such an engaging environment supported by multimedia graphics, streaming audio and video and real world analytical and role-playing simulations that ensure learners retain what they are being taught in the long term.
Learning management systems
Apart from content delivery and interaction, course administration and management are core needs in an e-learning environment if the effectiveness goal is to be managed and realised. This is where learning management systems (LMSs) need to be deployed.
They cover aspects such as registration, tracking, reporting and skills-gap analysis. LMSs also feature collaboration technology that allows for interactive electronic whiteboards and other interaction between students and instructors over the web.
LMSs should connect to appropriate back-end databases and human resources systems so that training managers and human resources personnel can track course and career progress.
Being able to track and manage the competence of an organisation's workforce enables management to marry training needs to business goals. With skill gap analysis, prescriptive learning paths can be recommended to resolve specific needs.
An LMS solution also provide a comprehensive set of standard and custom summaries and detailed reports on students, skills certification, business skills careers and e-learning objects, for example.
The platform also needs to comply with industry standards such as AICC - The Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee, which was originally formed to standardise training material for aircraft manufacturers and buyers.
Another key standard is SCORM - the Sharable Content Object Reference Model, which is a US government effort to define interoperable, object-based e-learning systems for government training materials.
With all these components in place, companies can be assured of an effective e-learning environment that can support a company's critical strategic business initiatives well into the future.