Developing an E-Learning Program: Tools and Lessons Learned

While working in a distance learning department at a community college, I gained experience designing online learning courses in a course management tool (CMS) with a hefty price tag. When I became Chair of the Consortium of Foundation Libraries (CFL), a Council of Foundations affinity group that focuses on “enhancing learning, sharing resources, and coordinating information services among foundation libraries and archives,” I was looking to develop online learning programs for our members. I didn’t have the budget for an expensive CMS but I knew there were free online tools and ended up developing an e-learning program at almost no cost.

Creating the Programs

I decided to create a podcast using Freeconferencepro’s free recording option and made necessary edits with Audacity, an open source program audio editing and recording program. I created a podcast that was first made available on iTunes, but then moved onto an XSPF music player that I placed on a Consortium of Foundation Libraries Blogger blog. To host the audio content, I ended up using Amazon S3 (fee).

To help member representatives of the Consortium of Foundation Libraries (CFL) learn tech skills even as busy professionals, I developed CFL’s Self-Paced Technology Learning Program based on Helene Blower’s PLMC Learning 2.0 Program.

The goal of this learning opportunity was to support foundation and nonprofit staff in the self-discovery of collaborative and social technology. As in Helene Blower’s program, I decided to offer tech prizes to help encourage participation. The program I created was designed to last ten weeks. Participants were required to start a blog and register it for the program using a form I developed with Google Forms. Each participant was asked to contribute a small paragraph to describe their experience.

Member representatives of the Consortium of Foundation Libraries are involved in philanthropy, so I decided not only to introduce new tools but also provide examples of how foundations and philanthropy-associated organizations and nonprofits were making use of the technology in their own work.

To provide a better learning experience to participants, I made tutorial presentations that I then posted on Slideshare. Some of those tutorials helped the learner understand Facebook and group management, along with LinkedIn and that site’s group management option.

Lessons Learned

Having high hopes that each offering would be popular, I ended up being disappointed. While the podcasts and Slideshare uploads were gaining the most attention, the one that required the most time to develop, the CFL Self-Paced Technology Learning Program, had only one participant who decided not to complete the program.

With that said, here are the lessons I learned from this experience:

Just because a solution works at other organizations doesn’t mean that it will work at yours.

Query your learning audience to develop an e-learning offering that caters to their needs. Don’t assume that since a solution is popular that it will gain the same kind of success when implemented at your organization.

Understand your audience’s motivation.

For the self-paced learning program, I was surprised and disappointed that the prizes that were being offered weren’t enough to encourage the kind of success that I had read about. Your audience may more be motivated by other factors, including perceived value, opportunities for peer connection, a certification, etc.

Use tools that increase findability and helps your audience share.

A major factor in the metrics success seen in the tutorials uploaded to Slideshare was that the site is popular and makes it easy for viewers to share with one another. Because they were not made private or posted on a closed site, their popularity was increased among others who were not my original target audience.

In addition, while iTunes is popular, it may have reduced accessibility issues for those who did not have access to iTunes. To increase accessibility, the recordings were made available in MP3 and WAV format through blog posts and through the XSPF player on the Consortium of Foundation Libraries blog.

Developing your own e-learning program doesn’t require a large budget. Be creative, make the best use of free tools, and be willing to do the research to find what will work for both you and your audience.


Photo credit: Maxx-Studio

Sophia Guevara
Sophia Guevara, MLIS, MPA, is the Virtual Events Committee Chair for the Special Libraries Association Information Technology Division. She is also the co-chair of the Social Network Analysis Topical Interest Group at the American Evaluation Association. She is currently looking for presentation and writing opportunities.