The future of e-learning in NIS
The importance and current role of e-learning
E-learning is defined as learning conducted via electronic media, especially on the Internet (Oxford English Dictionary). E-learning solutions include training materials from various sources of media, including text, audio, video streaming, images, and animation, as well as technology applications and processes such as audio or videotape, satellite TV, CD-ROM, and computer-based learning. Local intranet/extranet and web-based learning can also be used. Combining these resources creates a learning environment through the various e-learning platform(s) with collaborative processes worldwide.
E-learning can occur in or out of the classroom. PowerPoint is a traditional tool used for teacher led instruction, synchronous learning or courses developed using various authoring tools for an asynchronous (self-paced) learning experience.
E-learning is rapidly gaining in importance worldwide. This is partly due to regional and global changes in accessibility to technology, as well as to a flourishing need for specialized and individualized training. E-learning is actively used by numerous corporations as a means of providing training to employees through online courses while saving time and resources. Furthermore, it has proven to be the most effective and standardized mode to increase knowledge.
To date, 77%* of U.S. corporations use online learning. It has been estimated that replacing instructor-based training with e-learning saves 50–70% of training costs. Furthermore, e-learning is not only cost-efficient, it has also been found to increase knowledge retention by 25–60% by enabling trainees to access and review course materials at leisure.
The effectiveness of e-learning is not only based on the concept of posting learning materials online for downloading, nor of replacing the traditional classroom with a virtual environment. The best Internet-enabled delivery methods are based on the concept of ‘anytime, anyplace’ learning, where different media and technologies are combined and complemented with human interaction. Such learning methods may include basic e-courses, such as textbooks, pre-recorded presentations, animated schematics and knowledge banks integrated with mentor programmes, virtual classrooms and desktop channel sessions. Current opinion suggests that taken together, e-learning, with its digital-based and mobile approaches for faster and more inspirational knowledge transfer, will not only supplement, but to a large extent also replace, much of the corporate and more traditional educational training formats.
Increased availability of e-learning at the IAEA
Much of the IAEA’s mandate relates to training, for both staff and external stakeholders. Not unexpectedly, there has been an increasing demand for more sophisticated training tools, as well as fit-for-purpose e-learning solutions, training materials and formats. The number of available features and the complexity of using these tools has risen dramatically in recent years. A greater demand for training, combined with an upsurge of e-learning tools, has made e-learning solutions more attractive for many IAEA activities.
Communication platforms such as Lync Server and WebEx have recently become standard IAEA applications, which complement audio, video and web conferencing and which have facilitated the shift towards e-learning solutions. Examples of current interactive modules used at the IAEA range from nuclear power development, radiation detection, supporting analytical laboratories, reactors’ development and construction, nuclear medicine, cancer skills, performing a nuclear energy system assessment, tools for first response to a radiological emergency, AIPS training, human health campus, as well as a cyber-learning platform for nuclear education and training.
Previous ‘e-learning’ activities within NIS
Several activities have been undertaken within the NIS towards integrating e-learning platforms. In order to optimally assist its Member States, and based on the need for data collection and information processing, INIS established a ’Distance Learning Programme’. It consists of two major courses for input preparation (Bibliographic Description and Subject Analysis) and is offered both on the Internet and CD-ROM, depending on the particular needs of developing countries and new INIS Members.
Benefits and requirements of incorporating e-learning as part of regular NIS services
The advantages of incorporating e-learning as part of regular NIS services are numerous and include opportunities for collaborative processes, increasing individual and organizational performance, higher volumes of training while saving costs, electronic delivery, ease of collecting, analysing, interpreting and presenting evaluative data, enabling the evaluation of tutors, collecting and analysing training data to inform continuous process improvement, increasing the returns on IAEA training investments, optimizing overall productivity and job performance of staff, improving the likelihood of business objective realization by adequately training the work force, enhancing the sharing and exchange of materials amongst departments/divisions as well as between different geographic locations, supporting personalized and on-demand learning paths that enhance training for Agency-wide applications, and maximizing the returns on IAEA training investments. These all combine to make e-learning solutions highly valuable to both internal and external users.
In order to sustain the activities inherent in developing and maintaining an effective and efficient e-learning platform in NIS, proper infrastructure and the necessary components (IT, Subject Matter Expert (SME), instructional designer, etc.) need to be in place.
An important component of e-learning is content gathering. SMEs collect information from a variety of sources to build courses on demand. In line with the increased demand for nuclear information, NIS, with the INIS Collection Search of more than 3.5 million records, can participate and play a key role in these activities and act as a collaborative partner vis-à-vis other groups.
The role of IT in developing and maintaining an e-learning environment is equally important. NIS has a sound IT infrastructure, which allows a coordinated approach toward the development of e-learning solutions. With increasing demand for new options, it will be essential for development to continuously evolve. The skilled NIS IT group can be an asset to e-learning by assisting in the development of expansive features.
Currently, NIS has started an e-learning solutions project (the NIS Training Series) in an effort to rapidly expand the quality and volume of its training activities. This project focuses on e-training activities related to the use of tools currently employed at INIS and the IAEA Library. During this project, a skeleton platform was established and training materials from various sources, including Excel, PDF, Word, and audio and video streaming, were collated.
This will assist all new staff during the induction process. By offering an e-learning approach, NIS will also provide Member States with the relevant and up to date educational packages necessary to further develop their professional competencies.
The NIS Training Series incorporates both a conventional educational approach, through formalized training courses held in classrooms, and e-learning activities. The plan is to use a combined solution, such as a continuous and collaborative process, that is essentially focused on the individuals' performance and development. Hence, it integrates a thoroughly personalized and dynamic strategy towards the acquisition of knowledge. Both the pace and the timing of the study depend on individual choice. The main concept of e-learning is to learn rather than merely be trained, whereby understanding the topic is further enhanced by engaging the entire web usability, communication tools, and documents to provide a wide-ranging outlook on the subject being studied.
E-learning will be provided at no cost with the use of an available technical infrastructure, such as access through web servers or stand-alone packages. In this manner, the efficient transfer of knowledge and technology can be ensured to a wide range of interested recipients.
Adoption of open source, dynamic tools and modern technology designed for the future will be used in this project. The platform will be independent and web based, and can be easily migrated for handheld or mobile phone access.
Consultant, Nuclear Information Section
*based on CertifyMe.net report