How Your E-learning can Disappear "Down the Tubes" - and Never be Seen Again

Dec 11, 2010

Do you remember that old song about the music going in one end of the trumpet and then going round and round ‘til it comes out here? Think of that song next time you take an online course.

Your online course content system is a lot like that trumpet. The course starts at one end - an LMS like GyrusAim for example, and then it goes round and round the Internet or your Intranet until it shows up on the learner's screen. That can be a mighty long trip sometimes.

Just like in the song, each step needs to go right for your course content to work right. And the hardest part to see….is the part where your course goes “round and round”. Because that's the Internet part and who's ever actually seen the Internet? Your content just goes into one end of it and disappears until it eventually shows up at the other end.

So where does your course actually go? Another way to think of your content system is like a garden hose. The LMS is the spigot where the course starts and the learner's computer is the nozzle where the course ends up. And in between is the Internet or “hose” which delivers your course from start to finish. If everything is working well, your content system performs as expected. But if the hose is kinked or has some holes drilled in it trouble is sure to follow.

If that happens your course isn't going to work. But how can you diagnose the problem on something you can't see? It's easier to see the computer showing the course and the LMS starting it, but they might not be the cause of the problem.

True you cannot see it, but there are several important things you can check to see if there is an Internet problem.

The big factor for the Internet hose is bandwidth - that's the amount of computer information your Internet connection can carry. Two major factors affect this. First is the amount of information to be transported and second is your course content system's Internet (or Intranet) capacity to carry it. There are several things that can affect this.

Think of it as supply and demand.

The supply side is the capacity of your online course content system to deliver the course. In our analogy, this is represented by the hose itself. Find out if your learners will be using high speed connections such as cable modem or T-1. Your network administrator will know what options are available.

Demand means how much you're trying to squeeze down the hose. The size of your course is an important factor. The larger the course, (measured in megabytes) the bigger the “hose” needed to carry it. A small course may be 5 megabytes and a large course may be 90 or even several hundred megabytes. Adding audio, video, and interaction can quickly swell the size of your course.

The other big demand factor is the number of learners taking the course simultaneously. There's a big difference between 1 learner taking the course and 100 taking it at the same time.

Since you cannot see your course moving through the Internet “hose”, it's necessary to test it in different scenarios in advance to make sure it can handle the load. To make sure that both “supply and demand” are balanced.

To do this test the course with different numbers of users at different times of day. If learners are going to access the course from various locations with different connection speeds, each location must be tested.

By putting your course through its paces before releasing it to your learners you can drastically reduce the chance of problems when it's their turn to take the course.