If you decide that tools more sophisticated than a virtual classroom are necessary, but worry about the potential cost of the software you have in mind, there’s still hope. Bryan Chapman, e-learning analyst with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based training technology consultancy Brandon Hall Research, says that according to statistics tabulated by its LMS KnowledgeBase 2006 database, the collaboration tool you’re looking for may already be part of your LMS.
Learner-to-learner and learner-to-instructor e-mail is the most common collaborative ability featured in most LMSs, with 72 percent of 52 LMSs sampled by Brandon Hall including it as part of their package. Sixty-eight percent include what is known as “standard threaded discussion,” or simply the visibility of the e-mail exchanges that led up to the current exchange between chat or discussion group participants.
Global broadcast messaging, or the ability to broadcast a mass distributed, large-scale message to all employees, was present in 64 percent of the systems.
Fifty-eight percent offer the ability to cluster users into work groups for study sessions. Moderated threaded discussion, or discussion in which a moderator is able to control which comments get posted online, was available within 50 percent of the sampled LMSs; 44 percent of the systems offered live chat for synchronous, large-group discussions; live, instant messaging on a learner-to-learner basis was included in 30 percent; Web casting, in which a piece of media such as a videotaped speech, is sent to the entire organization, was present in 30 percent; live sharing of virtual PowerPoint presentations was also available in 30 percent; 28 percent had the availability of application sharing in which an instructor can share an application such as, for instance, a claims processing system, to teach the student how to work within it; a virtual whiteboard, in which the instructor can draw freeform online using his or her computer was found in 22 percent of the systems; and live voiceover IP, in which voice communication is handled through the online learning platform rather than over the phone, was found in 16 percent. —M.W.