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E-learning Solutions on a Shoestring: Help for the Chronically Underfunded Trainer
by Jane Bozarth

By Karl Kapp / June 2006

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"Remember as you seek to develop e-learning solutions on a shoestring that you have many resources, lots of them free." —Jane Bozarth

Listening to e-learning vendors selling development tools, collaboration spaces, and development templates can be overwhelming. For a non-profit or government agency, the proposed price tag can be downright frightening. E-learning has never been cheap, but some vendors currently quote the cost of customized e-learning courses as $50,000 for one hour. And trying to get a straight answer on the cost of a Learning Management System is almost impossible—it depends on the number of learners, who hosts the application, how well you negotiate, and many other factors. Systems can cost into the millions of dollars. Even tools to create simple e-learning programs can be out of reach for many training departments already under constant pressure to reduce costs.

The average trainer is downright confused and uninformed about what they need, what they have, and what it will cost to design, develop, and deliver e-learning. Underfunded trainers with limited budgets (but a big imagination) need assistance.

Riding in on a white horse of common sense and straightforward advice is Jane Bozarth. She dispenses her own form of cost-conscious e-learning know-how in E-learning on a Shoestring: Help for the Chronically Underfunded Trainer. In her practical guide, Bozarth provides tips and insightful ideas to help design effective e-learning without breaking the training department's piggy bank.

Goals of Book

Bozarth's primary goal is to help readers understand that e-learning does not need to cost an arm and a leg. She cuts through the misinformation about the price of e-learning and describes how you can create effective online learning with the tools you already have on your desktop and within your own organization. She provides dozens of examples of how you can use tools like PowerPoint, email, MS Word and other software to create e-learning that looks professional and slick, all without the cost of hiring a top-end programmer or developer.

This comprehensive book is a catalog of ideas and concepts for creating all types of online education for little or no cost. Bozarth lists Web sites that have free downloads for adding extra elements to your MS Office Suite, and sites that offer low-cost game templates. She also "names the names" of free Learning Management System software. Although the book focuses on e-learning on a shoestring, many of the ideas and concepts are appropriate regardless of your budget. She gives advice on negotiating with vendors, buying off-the-shelf learning modules, and examining the "hidden" costs of LMS systems, and offers design tips appropriate for any e-learning program. You truly get the sense that the solutions in the book were born of Bozarth's need to provide quality e-learning across her organization.

Style of Book

You can almost hear the jubilation in the author's voice when she describes how she created an e-learning solution that looks like it costs a fortune, but actually was done for free. Throughout the book are "scorecards" that provide brief summaries of the developed solutions and how much they cost. Often the scorecards contain a comparison with more expensive solutions and at times, the differences are startling. The creation of game-show-type software, for example, including a designer to assist with interaction, was $4,500. The cost of the homegrown solution was $0.

The paperback book contains plenty of illustrations, screen captures, and examples that can be used as a guide for creating your own inexpensive e-learning. There are three parts to the book:

  • Doing it Yourself describes what you need to get started, how to build simple learning pages and programs, how to find free clip art, templates, and other downloads, how to create interactive learning experiences, and how to create low-cost collaboration and performance support systems.
  • Buying Your Solutions details the steps you should take if you decide it is more cost effective to purchase an off-the-shelf solution or to have someone build a solution rather than incur the costs yourself.
  • Putting It All Together describes e-learning hosting options and tracking learner data and progress and applying the lessons described in the book to actual case studies.

Each section supplies information in a matter-of-fact tone and style with plenty of examples and Web sites listed as resources. The book concludes with a listing of all the available resources and sites referenced in the book. The listing will help you get started in your quest to develop e-learning on a limited budget.

Not So Fast

One word of caution Bozarth provides that should be well heeded: Just because you can do e-learning inexpensively, it doesn't mean you should do it inexpensively, or even do it at all. She states that "e-learning is a great approach when used thoughtfully and for the right reasons. But I've seen it used badly and seen costs cut to the point of rendering the final product useless." You can avoid this fate for your e-learning project by focusing on quality and a well-designed instructional methodology. The technology used to deliver the instruction can be determined later.

Bozarth also cautions that even "'free' approaches to e-learning incur costs in terms of time and energy." Remember that purchasing e-learning may also be a cost-effective solution. If time is tight and the content you want to create is critical, it may make sense to hire an outside vendor. Bozarth is not against vendors per se—she merely wants her readers to be smart about e-learning-related purchases.


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