Notes from the Technology Trenches – E-Learning: Lessons from the Winston & Strawn Experience

Cindy Carlson is the Electronic Resources Librarian at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson in Washington, D.C., a web committee member for the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C. , and organizer of its Legal Research Training Focus Group.

Another month has passed, and I have a few housekeeping details to let you know about, along with some perspectives on e-learning in the legal environment.


First, on a happy note, there is news for those of you who expressed an interest in last month’s article on hdFind-IT, the program to help you organize and retrieve documents from your PC’s hard drive. Jerome Wahlert, its creator, gave me a heads-up that the Word XP version has now become available. Also, a visit to the site shows that he took our comments to heart. Shortly after the article was published, Jerome let me know that while the program had been beta tested pretty extensively, all the testers had been software engineers, thus the focus on functionality and the lack of explicit documentation and contact information from the point of view of a new user like myself. Now the site gives an email address, [email protected], for users who have questions, and Jerome assures me that he and his staff will soon be incorporating some additional documentation on the product. Any of you out there designing programs, please take note; this is a classic problem. Don’t forget to have some non-technical people test your products if they are ultimately going to be your target audience.

Two Rants

Yes, this is one of those columns where I’m going to stand on my librarian’s soap box and vent for a moment or two about some things I’ve seen and heard. Several articles were published this month that I though might be of interest. The first, Tracking Federal Cases With PACER from and Law Office Technology Review. It suggests that PACER is a nice alternative to some more expensive services that allow you to access court dockets and that federal litigation attorneys should consider signing up for an account. Well, that’s certainly true, but it struck me as somewhat ironic because it seemed like such a blast from the past. PACER has been around for ages, and it’s what those more expensive alternatives are built around! It’s that old question of added value – the more expensive services have more user-friendly interfaces, better search flexibility and tons of other bells and whistles like notifications and document retrieval services, next to which PACER is rudimentary by comparison. But, it does work, and it’s cheap. In fact, if you’re a litigation attorney in a firm with a librarian, you probably already have an account and may not have noticed because your library staff has been retrieving what you need transparently from it for nearly a decade. In my own experience, attorneys are far more comfortable with the products that do some of the work up-front for them, and PACER itself is used almost exclusively by the library staff or litigation assistants. It’s one of those strictly functional products that has just enough drawbacks to make a busy person who is in crunched for time want to pass it along to someone who bills at a lower rate. If you’re in a small firm and have been using something else, definitely look into PACER, otherwise check with your librarians or legal assistants to find out about all your docket-retrieval options, PACER included.

Then there was the note in the Scout Report about Factiva‘s new White Paper on Free, Fee-Based and Value-Added Information Services. This paper argues that many “knowledge professionals”, that is those working in knowledge-based enterprises like law firms, believe that all the information they need to find is available online, an idea librarians have been battling ever since the introduction of the first major electronic resources. It goes on to say that those folks are generally very inefficient researchers who spend the bulk of their time sifting through irrelevant results. Again, not a surprise to your average librarian.

For the billionth time, everything isn’t available online, it isn’t all free, and if you spend a half an hour to come up with nothing, even the free services are not without their built-in costs.

Factiva would like those folks who aren’t adept at online research to rely on value-added services such as theirs to save time, money and frustration. Absolutely, that’s their business and they have an interest in selling it. Just don’t forget that you may have a value-added service in house, behind the reference counter in your library, that may come without the additional fees a service like Factiva may require. And don’t even get me started on the new Google Answers and Yahoo Advice services.

E-Learning in the Law Firm Environment

One other article I read recently was about e-learning. Lessons Learned at Dot-Com U. by Katie Hafner, came out in the New York Times on May 2, 2002 and was all about how colleges and universities that had tried to implement e-learning had found that, basically, their students weren’t yet ready for it, especially if it wasn’t free. There were some exceptions, but evidently, many universities went into e-learning with the idea that it would not supplement traditional classes so much as be a huge profit center. Instead, it turned out that development costs far outstripped expectations, and to top it all off, there was very little demand.

Happily, the experience in the legal environment seems to be a bit different. I know from speaking to other law librarians in the D.C. area that there is interest in developing e-learning initiatives in the law environment, be it at firms, schools or government agencies. These efforts tend to be somewhat less ambitious, both in cost and scale, and from what I’ve seen, are succeeding. This year’s LexisNexis program in April on Teaching Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL) included a presentation on e-learning. The speaker, Amy Wharton of Winston & Strawn‘s D.C. office, gave a great presentation on her experiences implementing online learning initiatives in her firm. Amy and the folks at TRIPLL were kind enough to allow me to link to some of her materials on the Web, and I hope to use them, along with comments from Amy and Trisha Uhl, also of Winston & Strawn, to give you more detail about how you might implement e-learning, hopefully with greater success than the Universities discussed in the above article.

Who Are These People, Anyway?

First, a little background on Amy and Trish. Amy has been at Winston since November, 1998 and a law librarian for fourteen years. She started at the firm as their Electronic Services Librarian and then moved into the newly created position of Intranet & Professional Development Librarian. Trish is Project Manager at Winston’s Chicago office. She’s worked with the firm for seven years, first as an IT consultant and for the last two years as a full time employee. She’s been involved with technology-driven training programs since 1997 and has developed computer- and Web-based training and e-learning programs for a variety of industries – government, employment services, food service, etc. She gave a similar presentation to Amy’s this April for the Midwest Technology User Group and came to TRIPLL for Amy’s presentation.

The PowerPoint Amy used goes into great detail about some of the whys and how’s of e-learning, gives information on some of the tools available and even demonstrates some of the e-learning modules Amy has been working on. Please take a look at it and let Amy and Trish know what you think and if you have any questions. More details are also available on a companion Web site Amy has posted at

That said, there was a whole lot more to the presentation I saw than what was available on the PowerPoint slides or the Web site. Considering that Amy and Trish work in totally different geographic areas, and in separate departments, they have really accomplished an amazing feat of communication in developing their e-learning systems. They generously let me interview them about e-learning for this article to help give you a flavor of the verbal portion of the TRIPLL presentation I saw. My questions and their responses are included below, along with a few of the definitions of terms Amy provided in the handouts for her presentation. Again, for complete details, see the PowerPoint and Amy’s Web site of TRIPLL materials, but you’ll get the flavor of their work from their comments.

Why Choose E-Learning?

Cindy Carlson (CC): What prompted you to investigate e-learning for your firm?

Amy Wharton (AW): I began thinking about e-learning applications here a year or so ago. I was aware of the “e-learning revolution” through discussions with my sister, who is involved in developing e-learning applications for a government agency. Without knowing much about it, it seemed like e-learning would be a good solution to some of the problems we were having with our traditional training, namely that people are not always available for training when and where I as a trainer would like them to be, and I, the trainer, was not always available when and where they would like me to be.

I had some PowerPoint presentations that I had used for training sessions that I wanted to make available as free-standing training modules for people who had missed the class. I knew that our intranet would make delivery possible. But the PowerPoint presentations I’ve viewed on the Web generally don’t make great teaching tools because they’re designed to run in the background behind what a speaker is saying. So I started to adapt these presentations for use as a stand-alone training tool. I discovered that PowerPoint had a few capabilities I wasn’t aware of, like Custom Show, which could make the online versions somewhat interactive.

Meanwhile, Trish and I had been working together on developing the intranet and the Learning Management System to track in-house training.

Learning Management Sytem (LMS): The “shell” of your instructional program. It may reside within your firm’s firewall (e.g., intranet) or on an external website (e.g. Blackboard, see . It is the means of aggregating, organizing, and delivering learning objects. A good LMS will manage both your e-learning and your c-learning classes. In addition to content, it will include online registration, scheduling, personalized access, notification, tracking and assessment functions.

AW: My role was to provide a constant stream of “helpful suggestions” (some might call them “complaints”) about how things might work better. Trish would see to it that any of these suggestions that she deemed useful would get passed on to the developers, or to explain to me why it was not a good idea. So I think in the course of our brainstorming efforts on these projects, we each learned that the other was looking into e-learning. It turns out that while I was working on e-learning through PowerPoint, Trish was already looking at e-learning tools for IT, HR and business development applications.

When Lexis asked me to serve on the TRIPLL council, I knew that this was the area of training that I wanted to present, so it gave me good incentive to do a lot of digging around about e-learning. Trish was also working on a similar presentation for a group in Chicago, so we did a lot of comparing notes. Now we’re actually starting to see some implementation. It’s very exciting to see it coming together!

Trish Uhl (TU): The firm’s been noodling on the idea of e-learning for a long time – it’s been a matter of assigning resources, schedule time, and budget to it. We’ve turned to e-learning (and other technology-driven training methods) to solve some of our training problems including delivering material consistently; reaching people in geographically dispersed areas with more detail and frequency; alleviating scheduling problems – offer training when people need it/want it, instead of on our schedule; bringing geographically dispersed people together to give them the opportunity to collaborate; the list goes on and on!

The bottom line is – and that’s why this is a very good question – know what it is you expect e-learning to do for you. Have the ‘hard data’ available to backup why it is e-learning makes sense for your firm.

For instance, notice I didn’t say we got into e-learning “because it’s more cost effective.” In the future, after the program gets off the ground, it will show a promising return on investment. That’s not our priority, though. We’re more interested in business need. Doesn’t mean we get to go willy-nilly with budget; it just means that cutting current training costs are not our focus. There are initial startup costs involved with these projects – those depend on what you want to do and at what level – regardless if you do in-house or outsource; off-the-shelf or custom.

If, however, your firm’s main goal is to use e-learning to cut costs then you must know what the current training costs are and look for solutions that focus on cost cutting methods. That’s ‘hard data’ (We spend X on training today; Our proposed e-learning program would cost us Y, giving us a savings of Z) that you can present to any executive committee. That’s what they want to see – the problems and how e-learning is going to solve them.

The Advantages of Combining Efforts

CC: During the TRIPLL presentation, you each mentioned that there were advantages to both of you since you had worked together. One was that since both departments used the software there was a cost advantage in that you could share access, yes?

AW: Yes, that’s true.

TU: Spreading the cost of tools and people resources across departments is very powerful. Some of these tools are expensive; it’s advantageous to be able to show multiple uses for them – throughout the firm – rather than showing how they’re relevant to some small sector.

CC: What other advantages were there that were shared? Did you split any of the research work? Anything else?

AW: I don’t think we formally “split” the research, but we’ve definitely shared a lot of ideas with each other. There’s been a great synergy.

TR: Synergy! We’re constantly swapping information! Tools to look at, things we learned at various presentations, conferences, best practices we’ve figured out, responses/feedback we’ve gotten from our trainees, on and on and on. Implementing an e-learning program can be overwhelming – there’s so much out there, so much to know, so little time! – that having a buddy involved just makes it easier all the way around. We share different perspectives, different ideas; it helps our solutions to be more creative. And the pressure feels less because we have someone to lean on, share with, turn to.

CC: Amy, if you are like me, I know it was helpful to have Trish’s experience with the technical side of things to rely on, yes? Anything else?

AW: Trish’s experience on the technology side has been incredibly helpful. I’ll read about X, Y or Z product that looks interesting and say, “hey, have you heard of these guys?” She’ll say, “yeah, as a matter of fact, we looked at X, but found their competitor Y had a better product because…” I’ve thrown some things at her that she thinks are worth a look, too. She’s recommended Web sites and books on e-learning that have been very useful for me and knows a lot about design.
CC: Trish, how about you? Any insights Amy brought to the equation?

TU: Amy has brought TONS to the equation. She has knowledge and experiences that are very different from my own – she plays such a different role in the firm than I do – that her insights, suggestions, ideas, comments, all of it complement mine. Sometimes she disagrees with what I have in my head. That helps – a lot. In a lot of ways, Amy is ‘closer’ to our user community than I am. She gets to work in close contact with them every day; I get to pop my head up from the PC every now and then and acknowledge another human being. She helps to keep me on track with what people in the firm are actually doing, how they actually work, rather than me being down in IT speculating.

She also – ha! librarian! – has better organization skills than I do. As we plow through this stuff we need to document where we’ve been, how we got there, what we found out. She’s better organized than I am. She’s also the better researcher – librarian, again! – and has taught me how to get the most out of searching legal resources.

CC: Any disadvantages to working together that you hadn’t expected?

AW: Trish is in Chicago and I’m in DC, so we don’t have a lot of face-to-face interaction. Otherwise, none, at least for me.

TU: Physical distance can be hard, at times. Getting other people to understand how to work together is key! Sometimes that’s been an uphill battle. People have such a tendency to operate and communicate within their own little groups and, it seems sometimes, that working with others outside your group is seen as heresy. But we’re here to say it CAN be done.

Time & Cost

CC: How much time do you think you had to spend comparing products before you picked one that met your needs?

AW: Trish has worked more with the bean counting aspect of things than I have, but we are still in the very early stages and haven’t yet invested a great deal in particular tools…

TU: We’ve invested some, but not a bundle. It’s in the budget, though. This is a simple question that requires a bit of a complex answer. The very first thing that people need to do is to figure out exactly what it is they need e-learning for. We talked about that previously. Once you’ve defined what e-learning means to you and will do for you, then it’s time to look around and see what you’ve already got in the way of tools and people. Do an assessment. Take stock. What do you already have that you can use? Dollars to donuts, you’ve got a starting place already. Next, what is it that you’re missing? Put together a shopping list. We need something that will X, Y, and Z. Be very clear on what it is you’re looking for and why. Now it’s time to research products.

We humans are so funny when it comes to this kind of thing. Most of us would never go car shopping, or house shopping, or appliance shopping without some kind of idea in our heads of what we must have versus what would be nice – within the constraints of a budget. If we don’t have an idea, then we go out and look around and start putting some together before we ever think of plunking down some cash.

But we tend not to shop that way for technology products. We go hog wild with bells, whistles, and shiny objects! Then we see HIGH price tags and choke, thinking that our efforts are futile because this stuff costs too much.

That’s just not the case! It isn’t that ALL e-learning products are pricey; it’s that we’ve been looking at Jaguars when what we really need is a nice, reliable Ford Escort. Do your homework first, then go out and shop around.

How long does it take? Depends. Is it just you doing the assessment and the shopping, or do you have a group of interested folks working together to figure this stuff out? When I hear of a tool, I take a look at it. If I think it’s nifty, I pass it around to a bunch of potentially interested folks at the firm (Amy, HR, the IT trainers, practice support, etc.) for their evaluation and feedback. Doesn’t matter if I find it useful and usable; if they’re going to use it, then they have to too. If people like it, then we make a case for it – that’s that ‘hard data’ stuff – and we present it to those with purchasing power.

With the last purchase we made – a tool that cost about $1600 – it took about 3 months from first seeing it to having licenses in our hot little hands.


CC: Was there anything you read as you researched about constructing e-learning classes that seemed surprising to you or particularly enlightening?

AW: I think the concept of Reusable Learning Objects was something I had never thought of before I began reading the literature.

Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs): This is the state-of-the-art approach to e-learning. Learning Objects are modular components of your training classes. The idea is that your classes are broken down into logical chunks to that they can be reused in other classes. They conform to standards being developed by several organizations They can
be any length, but 5 to 15 minutes in length is recommended. A good RLO is, among other things: modular, free-standing, and transportable among applications and environments, non sequential, based on a single learning objective and adaptable to different audiences.

AW: You have to take into consideration how you will reuse pieces once they’re built, and how you will keep training modules up-to-date. I was also surprised at the range of applications that are available to help with every aspect of the learning process.

TU: Enlightening – e-learning is about people, both the folks attending the training and the ones delivering it. Technology is used to train with because it offers advantages that other methods can’t match – available any time, consistent, opportunity to bring folks together who are separated by distance, opportunity for folks to learn from their mistakes, etc. Take advantage of the technology, but don’t forget that it’s people involved, and different people have different learning styles. Technology can help us address that. For the visual folks, we can use e-learning to give them graphics and video. Aural folks can have sound. Tactile folks can practice hands-on exercises in a ‘safe,’ uncritical environment. Technology can let people choose training on their own terms. That’s the point. The point isn’t creating e-learning training programs because someone thinks they’re cool; the point is to use technology to enhance the things that you’ve done before.


CC: Did you have any particularly good or bad experiences with anything? Tell us about any technical problems, speed issues (for either creation or use), end-user problems, pricing that seemed outrageous or the like. Prices seem to really range for these services. Did you find that the costs for the more expensive items seemed justified? Were there any licensing issues that were troublesome (especially since this is likely to be the kind of thing used in main and branch offices)?

AW: Again, we’re still taking baby steps and haven’t invested in very many products yet. We’re beginning to implement a “show-me” application.

Show-Me Applications: Literally, these animated views show users where to click in a program and what should happen as a result.

AW: One little surprise there was that when you upload a training module you’ve created with it, there are actually several files that have to be uploaded to the server in order to make it run. So we had to find a little dedicated place on our server so that all of those files could be put together. It turns out that it was no big deal, but it could have been an impediment in some environments. Some e-learning applications require plug-ins on the user end, which can be a hassle for IT. You need to really look closely at a product’s supporting literature to make sure your systems and equipment can support it before you make a buying decision.

TU: Hmmm…It may be n=more helpful to talk about types of tools rather than specific products. I’m listing prices for products that I know – at minimum – can be purchased for that amount. In most cases there are more robust, complex tools available for a higher price. In some cases there may be less expensive tools available, I just haven’t seen them!

Video – Did you know that there are tools that let you record video of what you’re doing on a computer, just like how you can grab screen shots of your PC? You can create full training presentations with them. There are some available for less than $200! (Search for tools on

Web Animation – Everyone has seen an animated, enhanced, interactive Web site; not everyone has time to learn how to develop with a robust animation tool. There are products out there – $1,000 or less – that will let you achieve similar, interactive, animated results with no programming skills and low cost. Some don’t even require additional browser plug-ins. (Search for tools on

HTML Authoring – Can’t code HTML or JavaScript in Notepad? Use an HTML authoring tool. Simple tools – which provide minimal help – run as low as $30. More robust tools – some with training modules built in – under $500. (Search for tools on

Synchronous Training – Want to offer real-time classes online? Lots of Web seminar (Webinar) tools are out there. Most offer subscription and pay-per-use. Then there’s the free, but sometimes funky, Microsoft NetMeeting. It’s at least a great way to practice Webinar presentations and tools. Need something more reliable? Pricing varies – but here’s an idea – $40/month for 15 participants – unlimited time online. (Run a search for “web meetings” on or your favorite search engine.)

Training Title Authoring Tools – There are tools available for different delivery methods – online, hard drive, CD. Some you just buy an authoring license for and can distribute freely. Others, you pay for an authoring license and per user fee. Some come with a library of existing training titles (Do you need them?); others come with their own LMS (Do you need it?). $1600 on up.

Learning Management Systems – There are TONS (like, 150!) of companies to choose from who specialize in creating, maintaining, and selling LMS services. That’s all they do – LMS. Buy content from someone else, or create your own, and integrate it with your selected LMS provider. $50k – or less – to get started. (Try searching on,, and/or

End User and/or Technical Training and/or SoftSkills – Need to train your staff on computer skills? IT people on certification? Educate folks on basic business skills (communication, writing, leadership, etc)? Compliance training (OSHA, harassment, diversity, etc)? There are TONS of e-learning companies out there who offer subscriptions to their training titles – training that covers a broad range of topics. Has someone already created training titles based on the subject matter you need? Take a look. How much? Some, under $30k/year for a couple thousand employees. (Try searching on,, and/or

CC: Any stand-out great features? I know you liked products that not only allowed you to deliver content but also to track participation, scheduling, etc. Any other great stuff you loved? Anything that tripped you up?

TU: ALWAYS ask – explicitly! – if there are startup fees that were not quoted in the original price. That’s for purchasing someone else’s content, buying an LMS (or a subscription to one), Web hosting – those types of things/services. ALWAYS ask about licensing. Sometimes it’s per seat; other times it’s concurrent. Concurrent is great for authoring tools because it means that you can have multiple people with the tool installed on their machines, just only so many can actually use it at one time. ALWAYS look for stuff that’s both useful and usable. If what you create with the tool isn’t useful, or you can’t easily use the product to create stuff with, then cost means nothing. You’ve paid too much!

Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes ‘expensive’ is warranted, but know what you need – do you really need the Jaguar? or would the Ford Escort do?

CC: Have you begun actively running any e-learning classes? How are they going? Are you getting any user feedback? What will you change based on your first experiences? Do you think it’s been worth the time and effort? How about the cost? Do you have any statistics on use?

TU: We’ve accomplished a bunch of stuff in the past 18 months that falls under the umbrella of our e-learning program. We’ve:

  • Defined, developed, and deployed a custom developed an LMS. It’s Notes/Domino based. It’s still being tweaked, as we use it and figure out stuff we need/want. We’re in the process of designing reporting tools, so that we can more easily get the data out.
  • Hosted our first round of synchronous training via the Web. We use it for train-the-trainer workshops in other offices. We also use it to train our European staff, who do not have in-house trainers. We also use it for client training.
  • Created and distributed our first round of robust, animated, interactive PowerPoint presentations. Amy’s got some great ones!
  • Developed Video training – video delivered on VHS, DVD, and straight to the desktop. Great for visual and aural learners. On the DVDs they can go through the entire presentation, or use the menu structure just to get to the points they need.
  • Developed new intranet training materials including user guides, exercises, quick reference, etc. They are available 24/7 from the intranet. It’s all completely self-serve. We hand out minimum amounts of paper at our training classes now. If people want them, they can go there to get them.
  • Delivered our first interactive training title to beta users. It’s been met with a very positive response. What we’re trying to achieve with the beta is to ensure that we’re using the correct tool to develop and deliver in, with the right mix of straight material and multimedia. They tell us that we’re on the right path, so we’ve not got a baseline to develop & test against.
  • Created Custom help files for most products we implement – including Microsoft office stuff. Why? Well, we tend to customize the mess out of the programs rendering the application’s native help virtually useless. Custom help is part of our e-learning strategy – sometimes people just need information – that’s where the help file comes in. But what if they’re in the help file
    and need actual training? We can link them there and deliver. 🙂

Still in the works are more intranet delivered titles. We’ve obtained some new tools, now it’s a matter of gearing up and getting the projects on a roll. Also in the works: secretarial certification program with online testing. Testing will include a combination of simulation, multiple choice, essay, true/false, and other types of testing techniques. Part of our secretaries’ annual evaluation includes what training they’ve taken and what new skills they’ve acquired. This is a way for them to flaunt their stuff and get credit for it.

AW: In terms of library applications, some of my early e-learning attempts in interactive PowerPoint are available on the intranet. These are totally self-directed and do not provide any feedback on usage or effectiveness, but I’ve had positive comments on them, so that’s a good start. I have a few more tools in place now and I’m planning to release several “real” e-learning modules over the next few months. Feedback is very important and many of the tools we’re looking at do provide mechanisms for getting the word back to the trainer/designer on how effective the training was.

In terms of what we will change, we will probably change a lot based on user feedback. For example, would users rather have more automatically timed presentations where they don’t have as much control, or having to do a lot of clicking to advance through the modules at their own pace? I’m betting that they will prefer the latter but it will be interesting to see.

Learning Scenarios

CC: Have you ended up with a preference for synchronous or asynchronous learning scenarios?

Synchronous Learning: An instructor-led class online where class members are logged on simultaneously and can communicate directly with one another. This is most commonly used in a law firm setting where there are multi-office law firm setting where training is being provided from one office to another.

Asynchronous Learning: Learning in which interaction between teachers and students occurs intermittently with a time delay. Examples are self-paced courses taken via the Internet or CD-ROM, Q&A mentoring, online discussion groups, and email.

CC: Are there good and bad aspects to either that you’ve encountered beyond the obvious? Any user feedback on that? Do users really seem to pick the appropriate level of instruction for themselves when learning is self-directed or tailored? Do they give you comments where you ask for them?

AW: I think they [synchronous or asynchronous learning scenarios] really should be designed to complement each other. Some people like to have the personal interaction that synchronous learning provides, then they can go back later and use the asynchronous learning modules to expand, review, test, or refresh their learning. Some may not need that personal interaction and will use only asynchronous modules on their own time.

TU: I agree with Amy – the synchronous & asynchronous methods are very different from each other and serve different purposes for different audiences. Use one or the other depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Good & bad? Training is training, period. Meaning, the instructional design basics and adult learning theories apply no matter what format you’re using to deliver them. Use technology to enhance, not distract.

User feedback? – – Lots of that. Some love self-study; others hate it. Some love synchronous Webinars; others can’t acclimate to the environment so the ability to collaborate is lost on them. Technology gives us a shot to meet more learning needs simultaneously than before, but it ain’t perfect. You just can’t please everybody all the time. That’s why blended solutions (some synchronous, some asynchronous, some stand-up, etc) are best.

Ditto for self-directed learning. Some people need coaches – they need someone else’s encouragement to proceed. Self-directed isn’t going to help them learn; it’s going to inhibit it. Vice versa; others learn better in a simulated environment because there’s no pressure and no one looking over their shoulder. Those who will, do. Those who won’t, don’t.

Comments? Oh my, yes! But you have to ask for information explicitly. Don’t leave anything implicit, if you really need the information. For instance ask, “What would you change about the structure of the course?” versus “Would you change anything about this course?” Be specific in asking your questions.

Wrapping Up

CC: Any closing advice?

AW: If you’re embarking on e-learning development, be sure to get input from as many people as possible, both from inside the library and from the other departments in your firm, especially IT. It’s really teamwork that will make your e-learning initiatives sink or swim. Like you, your IT folks have a lot on their plate. Educate yourself on the technology as best you can and have a clear idea of what you want before you approach them for help. Finally, plan your e-learning modules well before you start developing them, keeping the learning goals of your audience in mind.

TU: I agree with Amy – teamwork and plan, plan, plan. I would also encourage folks to speak with HR. In some organizations it’s HR that’s taken the leap into e-learning with some of their training considerations (communication, writing, leadership, etc).

For more on tools for e-learning, in addition to what’s available at Amy’s Web site and in the PowerPoint, Amy recommends “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Learning Systems But Were Afraid To Ask,” by Wayne Hodgins, at, and “A Primer on Learning Objects,” from Warren Longmire at The source for the definitions in this article was

If you use any of the software mentioned above, let me know, and I’d also love to hear from you about any technical glitches or inconveniences that are driving you into the Technology Trenches. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me.

Posted in: Distance Learning, Notes from the Technology Trenches