Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is Element K OK?

From Jason Alston

Update (July 21, 2009): Element K has been discontinued due to the budget crisis.

As someone who is not a big fan of online classes and online instruction, I’m probably not the best person to offer up an opinion on Element K, a service that UNC-Greensboro offers to its faculty and staff for professional development purposes. But being that I’m possibly the only Jackson Library employee who is making use of Element K, I thought it may be helpful to my colleagues if I shared my thoughts about the service. Other Jackson employees who seek sensible (read: free) professional development opportunities need to know - at the very least - that this option is available to them.

First, some background. According to its Web site, Element K offers “learning solutions” to its clients, and these learning solutions, “provide clients with a holistic approach that addresses their business needs.” Element K boasts offering 2,800 e-Learning courses total, and it appears that a significant amount of these e-Learning courses are available to those using UNCG’s “Element K online learning” resources.

UNCG’s Element K catalog features courses in 14 broad subject areas: Business Skills & Soft Skills, Cisco, Communications Technologies, Databases, Design & Media, E-Business, Home Computing, IBM/Lotus Collaboration Technologies, IT Security, Microsoft IT Professional, Office Productivity, Programming & Web Management, Project Management, and finally, “Hardware, Networks & Operating Systems.” There are narrower concentrations within each of the 14 subject areas, and online course offerings within each of the concentrations. The online courses are basically self-paced tutorials that allow users to complete the coursework at their convenience and at a rate they are comfortable with.

The self-paced courses will vary in length. An HTML 4.01 course that I recently completed was made up of only six lessons. A more involved introduction to Dreamweaver 3 course, however, consists of 21 individual lessons, and I have only completed about a third of this course. The tutorial slides in these courses contain written explanatory information for those who learn best by reading; additionally, the words on these slides are spoken aloud verbatim by a pre-recorded voice for those who learn best by hearing the information.

Some interactive learning is also included, as users will be instructed to perform small tasks during their lessons and will not be allowed to move on to the next tutorial slide until the task is performed. For example, in one of the Dreamweaver lessons, the user is guided through the process of replacing a line break in imported text with a paragraph break. This is likely designed to facilitate learning for users who best learn through interaction or by performing a task. Once the user has taken all the lessons within a course, they may take a quiz in order to officially complete that course.

So just how effective and worthwhile is Element K?

Honestly, I’ve found this service to be useful in “laying the groundwork” for competency in the software applications I’ve taken coursework in, and not much else. A user should not undertake a software course on Element K with the expectation that they will be proficient in using the software application once they complete the course. If anything, the user will – upon completion of the course – understand the basics of why features in a software program behave as they do, and will have a decent understand of what the program is capable of. Element K could also be a sufficient refresher resource for those who haven’t used a software application in a while and need to re-familiarize themselves with the program.

But the buck seems to basically stop there. Don’t count on Element K to help you reach proficiency with a software application significantly faster than a cold turkey, trial and error approach to the program would. Also, while you may be tempted to breeze through the individual lessons in a course like Dreamweaver 3, which contains 21 lessons and has 20-25 slides per lesson, I’d advise you to take only one lesson in a sitting and take at least a five-minute break after each lesson if you want to take lessons back to back. If you attempt to cram with Element K, you will quickly find the presentation of the slides to be repetitive, making each individual slide more difficult to focus on and pay attention to. Cramming will also cause most users to zone out after hearing too much of the monotone lecture of the narrator. Many users will consider the progression of the courses to be more “snail-pace” than “self-pace.”

Element K classes do have a limited usefulness and my recommendation would be that Jackson employees at least browse the lengthy catalog and see if there is coursework related to a topic that they wish to know more about (I wanted to learn more about web design, so I chose to take courses in that discipline first). Taking a course certainly shouldn’t be harmful (unless, of course, one takes an Element K course as an excuse to get out of a meeting or reference desk duty). Also, bear in mind that I’ve only attempted two of the allegedly over 2,000 courses on Element K, and both these courses were in the “Web Design” discipline. Other courses in other subject areas may or may not be more effective to their users, and different users will have differing opinions on how effective ANY Element K course is!

To try your hand at some Element K action on campus, go to the Element K web portal and use your current Novell log-in information (note that your password for Element K won’t change, even when your Novell password is updated). I don’t know if Element K is accessible off-campus; if you find out that it is, please leave a comment and I’ll update the blog.

1 comment:

Lynda Kellam said...

Thx for posting this! It is accessible off-campus!