Here's a look at lessons learned from Caliber Data Training's first endeavor in converting an existing ILT course to e-learning.

In 2004, a Caliber Data Training client made the decision to transition from a home grown source code management system to a third-party product. Caliber was contracted in 2005 to develop an instructor-led training (ILT) course on the new product. The ILT courseware was written in the fall of 2005, and part of that development effort included a pilot training session. The development process had a few bumps along the way as the client fine-tuned the product to fit its environment. The completed ILT course includes five hands-on exercises that are taught over a two-day period. The first day runs from 8:30am to 4:00pm and the second day runs from 8:30am to about 3:00pm, for a total of thirteen hours. These thirteen hours are estimated to be broken down as follows: 7.75 hours to instruction, 3.25 hours to exercises, 2.0 hours to lunch and 1.0 hour to breaks.

The course was delivered four times in 2006, with two additional sessions in the first quarter of 2007. However, in the fall of 2006, the client began to look for alternative delivery methods. There were two primary motivations for making a change. First, what to do about consultants? Consultants need to be trained on the use of the software within the client's environment, but it doesn't want to pay consultants to attend training, and the consultants' employers don't want to take their employees off billable time to attend training. Second, what to do about offshore workers? It is neither cost-effective to send an instructor overseas, nor to bring the offshore workers to the client's offices.

Several meetings were held to discuss options, but it was apparent early on that a web-based e-learning alternative was the most appropriate delivery method for an updated course. In December 2006, Caliber began the process of converting the ILT course to its e-learning equivalent using Macromedia's Captivate. The finished e-Learning product was delivered in February 2007.

The conversion effort

The good news is that the conversion effort was completed ahead of schedule and below budget. Many factors contributed to the success of this effort, or might otherwise have contributed to its failure. Here are the questions Caliber addressed in converting the course:

  • Does the course already exist in ILT format?
  • If there is an existing ILT course, does the courseware exist in electronic form? Is it useable?
  • If there is an existing ILT course, how complete is it?
  • Are there any hands-on labs in the ILT course? Will these need to be converted? Is it feasible to do so?
  • Is the person doing the conversion already familiar with the ILT course?
  • Is the person doing the conversion already familiar with the product or service being taught?
  • Will subject matter experts (SMEs) be available for consultation as needed?
  • Will the person doing the conversion be dedicated to this project exclusively?
  • How many people will be working on the conversion team?
  • How much animation is required?
  • Is the scope of the conversion effort clearly defined?
  • What is the approval process? Who will sign off on the project?
  • How will the finished product be implemented within the organization?
  • Does the organization use a learning management system (LMS)? If so, will this product be required to interface with that LMS?
  • How will learning be measured?
  • Is the person doing the conversion familiar with the e-learning software? Does the person doing the conversion have prior experience with similar projects?

Does the course already exist in ILT format? As indicated in the title of this article, Caliber was converting an existing ILT course to e-learning. Therefore, we weren't working from scratch and had plenty of key points to work from.

If there is an existing ILT course, does the courseware exist in electronic form? Is it useable? The ILT course was delivered using PowerPoint slides. It turns out that this didn't help us as much as one might think because the ILT course was developed using captured the screen images in text form rather than image files, such as JPEGs. The ILT course was developed this way for three reasons. First, if the screen content changed (and it did), we could simply overtype what we had rather than go through the screen capture process again. Second, the black-on-white text uses much less toner than a colored image. Third, these text images needed to be accessed by devices used by persons with disabilities.

When it came time to create the e-learning version, however, we felt that the users needed to view the real screens, not black-on-white representations of them. As a result, during the conversion project, every scenario or screen shot had to be captured as JPEGs. This was a tedious process, but at least we already knew what screens to capture.

If there is an existing ILT course, how complete is it? In other words, was the existing courseware complete with speakers' notes, or was it simply a collection of bullet points and lists? For example, in another course on programming, we show how Modulus 11 check digits are calculated. The course text and speakers' notes mentions the item, but does not show how to complete the actual calculation. This type of omission increases the time required to convert the course to e-learning.

Are there any hands-on labs in the ILT course? Will these need to be converted? Is it feasible to do so? As mentioned earlier, there were five hands-on exercises in the ILT course. No attempt was made to convert these to e-learning: it simply could not be done given the nature of the product. We have discussed the possibility of allowing people to sign up for a "lab day" in which learners would come to class for the sole purpose of completing the exercises, and thereby get their hands-on experience with the product.

Is the person doing the conversion familiar with the ILT course? If so, the developer is at an early advantage for making decisions about what to include or address in the online version. In our example, because I was one of the co-authors of the ILT course, I was already familiar with the content. If you're not the developer of the ILT course, I recommend participating in the ILT course before developing the e-learning version.

Is the person doing the conversion familiar with the product or service being taught? If not, will subject matter experts (SMEs) be available for consultation as needed? I had no prior knowledge of the software product when I began writing the ILT course, and that certainly had an impact on its development time. However, by the time I began converting that course to e-learning, I was familiar with the product and with its use within our client's environment. Still, when I began the conversion process I made a point to sit next to the employee with primary responsibility for the new product, and a consultant who served as the product administrator and SME. Both were immediately available for assistance as necessary. This proved to be an invaluable resource.

Will the person doing the conversion be dedicated to this project exclusively? Once the conversion effort began, I had the luxury of devoting entire weeks to it without interruption. In my experience, some of the tasks, particularly capturing screen shots from the mainframe and writing the scripts for the audio, require a great deal of concentration and necessitate a work environment free of interruptions.

How many people will be working on the conversion team? I had the luxury of flying solo. If the conversion project is large enough to require more than one person, then the manpower required will go up as we factor in management overhead. In other projects that require a team development approach, it's important to determine roles and outline tasks before delving too deeply into the project.

How much animation is required? Our product required very little animation. Animation will increase conversion time.

Is the scope of the conversion effort clearly defined? Early on in this project I made it clear that the conversion process was just that: a conversion process. I would be converting the existing ILT course to its e-learning equivalent, without extensive modifications or enhancements. I would not be creating a new course or developing significant modifications to the existing ILT course. Without question, having clearly defined scope was the single most important factor in the success of my project.

What is the approval process? Who will sign off on the project? As with most development projects, this issue goes back to the topic of scope. Fortunately for me, I had limited the scope of conversion only. Likewise, most of the client's associates who were involved with the product seemed more than willing to let me do my own thing--they were just glad that something was happening. They were already comfortable with the content of the ILT course. Ultimately, there was only one person who had to approve the end-product, and this was determined early in the project.

How will the finished product be implemented within the organization? Our client used a highly developed intranet site to deliver the course, and the person responsible for that site was very easy to work with.

Does the organization use a learning management system (LMS)? If so, will this product be required to interface with that LMS? Our client had recently acquired an LMS, but my stakeholders were not concerned about tracking which employees had - or had not - taken the course.

How will learning be measured? I was lucky here. I included some true/false or multiple choice questions at the end of each section, and that was sufficient for my approver. Responses are scored but not recorded.

Is the person doing the conversion familiar with the e-learning software? Does the person doing the conversion have prior experience with similar projects? I used Captivate to create the e-learning product. However, prior to this assignment, I had spent just one day "using" it. Fortunately, as most Windows-based products, Captivate is fairly intuitive. But there is a definite learning curve, particularly for a conversion effort. My project was divided into two phases. The first phase was to convert an "intro" piece, which was the first chapter of the ILT text and was presented during the first hour of the ILT course. Phase II was to convert the remainder of the ILT text, or the "advanced course." The following data would not necessarily apply to all projects, but should serve to demonstrate the learning curve.

Additional Tips

Use bite size pieces. It shortens load time, and allows the user to drill down to desired information after the fact.

Where feasible, do all screen captures in 800x600 resolution. I was surprised to find that many people prefer this resolution as it makes the screen easier to read. So if the screens will fit, change your monitor to 800x600 before doing screen captures.

If possible, write your own code. Many authoring tools generate a crude HTML file. When possible, write your own HTML and use JavaScript to make expanding lists.

ILT slides

(h:mm)

Days to convert Slides per day
Phase I (Intro) 88 11 8
Phase 2 (Advanced Course) 464 14 33
Total 552 25

Benefits of e-learning

The benefits of e-learning are well documented. Nevertheless, there are two benefits for which our experience can provide hard data or an anecdote: reduced training time and improved documentation.

Reduced training time. Here are some hard numbers that should serve to demonstrate the reduction in training time realized by using e-learning instead of an ILT course. (The ILT time shown here includes instruction time only, no exercises, breaks, or lunch.)

ILT Time

(h:mm)

E-Learning Course

(h:mm)

Phase I (Intro) 1:00 0:48
Phase 2 (Advanced Course) 6:45 2:26
Total Time 7:45 3:14

(58% savings)

For our case, significant reductions in training time were realized when the bulk of the training time was spent in actual instruction. Exercises, when included, likely require the same amount of time in ILT or e-learning.

Improved documentation. This benefit is best illustrated with an anecdote. Although, Caliber had been referring to Phase I as the "intro" and Phase II as the "advanced course," the client actually considered calling Phase II "the missing manual." Because the software product is highly modified for individual installations, there is no documentation on how to do certain tasks. However, the e-learning course was able to address such modifications.

In addition, because we were creating the e-learning course with Captivate, it was important to keep the clips short. Not only did they load faster, but smaller chunks typically made content more palatable. On the index page, the length of each clip was noted. As one learner said, "Anyone can find time for five or ten minutes of training." Also because the course is available on the clients' intranet, anyone can go back and review a topic at any time.

Cost of conversion

For this course, we will address cost is a function of labor. This should be helpful in providing similar estimates in your organization. Of course, estimating is a dynamic process, and that process should be reevaluated after each project. (Keep in mind that the following data is for the conversion of an existing ILT course with which the author was extremely familiar, and conducted in an environment that enabled him to devote large chunks of uninterrupted time to the project.)

ILT course duration in days 2
ILT PowerPoint slides 552
ILT instruction time 7 hrs 45 min
E-learning time 3 hrs 14 min
Reduction in instruction time 58 percent
Labor required to convert ILT to E-learning 28 days (224 hours)
Labor required per hour of ILT instruction 29 hours
Labor required per hour of E-learning 69 hours