IHBC Yearbook 2021

R E V I E W A N D A N A L Y S I S 89 E-LEARNING and THE HERITAGE SECTOR MATTHEW FABER E-LEARNING HAS become a bit of a buzzword recently for obvious reasons. With little or no opportunity to attend face to face training events, seminars or conferences, many organisations like the IHBC and Historic England have taken to the digital world to provide their members and colleagues with alternatives. Academia has been doing this for years now; videoing lectures and providing students with learning resources via online platforms. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has not prevented academic institutions from delivering a full curriculum; albeit online. But within the heritage sector this all seems new to most of us. Broadly, the term e-learning may be used in this context to describe any learning or training resource that is delivered to the user via a digital platform. A familiar example may be the corporate compliancy training video on fire safety or ‘heavy lifting’, but that is only a very small part of the whole e-learning landscape. For example, if you needed to fix something in your home, such as a dripping tap or the washing machine maybe, the first thing most of us do is to search online for a YouTube video that shows us how to do it. In other words, a training video. As long as the resource delivers training or transfers knowledge, via a digital platform, it can be called e-learning. There’s a huge amount of e-learning out there, in all shapes and sizes, from a formal online compliancy assessment to an instructional video or a pdf document, and all providing some level of knowledge or training. So, the question here should be ‘what does good e-learning look like?’. That’s a little harder to answer because there are many variables to consider. One thing is certain; just because it’s big and shiny and costs huge amounts of money to create, does not mean it’s good; there are plenty of decidedly poor e-learning resources that tick those particular boxes. The point here is that we need to consider those variables. This is not the place to go into any great detail, but one would certainly be looking at factors such as learning objectives, learning outcomes and learning styles. What this all amounts to ultimately is whether the resource is fit for purpose and delivers the required outcome. To use the dripping tap example, which would be preferable, a pdf document containing all the technical data or a video showing you how to fix the tap? Two terms often waved around during conversations relating to training or learning are the ‘virtual learning environment’ (VLE) and the ‘learning management system’ (LMS). Essentially both describe a platform that hosts digital learning resources, but there is an element of ambiguity as to their meaning. Put simply, a VLE is a learning platform that promotes learning through open discussion and collaboration while an LMS hosts resources for individual learning. Another, and for some the most important, element to both is that they provide assessment and reporting; a means by which a learner’s progress can be tested and analysed against specified objectives. Going back to the dripping tap example therefore, it is possible to see that the video on its own is fine, but hosted on an LMS or VLE, with the inclusion of a quizzing element, it is E-learning at the IHBC’s virtual annual school in 2020 (Photo: Gordon Sorensen)