Winning an e-learning proposal or grant has become more difficult over the past few years because of the initially high expectations of e-learning and the subsequent disappointment in the financial results. Effective grant and proposal writers need to understand the business of e-learning and address apprehension and fears of the grantee to successfully win the opportunity to develop e-learning in corporate and academic settings. When e-learning initially burst onto the scene, the promise of untold riches was almost too much. E-learning was going to revolutionize traditional universities while simultaneously pouring millions and millions of dollars into the schools’ coffers. Dozens of major universities rapidly started to develop e-learning “branches”—many of them in partnership with private organizations. These institutions actively recruited faculty to write courses, hired instructional designers to put the courses online, and undertook large public relations efforts to market the online courses. After a few years, these universities began closing their virtual doors. The reality was that online universities failed to make a profit. They were expensive to create and revenues did not match expenditures. The dream of untold riches was just that—a dream. Students did not flock to login to e-learning courses as hoped. As an example, the E-university in the United Kingdom estimated a target student body of over 5,000 online learners; they could recruit no more than 900 (MacLeod, 2004).
While e-learning never took off as promised, it continues to have a tremendous impact on colleges, universities, and corporations. Almost half of all universities and colleges in the United States provide some form of education online, and as many as 33% use the Internet as part of a course (Horton, 2000). Additionally, the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) estimates that corporate use of e-learning is steadily increasing (Galvin, 2003).
While e-learning continues to gain ground, one obstacle to growth is its high development costs. Developing a course can range from $30,000-$40,000 per one hour of completed Web-based training (Kruse & Keil, 2000). A Learning Management System (LMS) like SumTotal Systems, Saba, Blackboard, or eCollege can cost as much as $250,000 to $850,000 per year, depending on the size of the organization (Chapman, 2004; Vaas, 2002). Even when the vendor hosts the e-learning platform on its own server, it can cost as much as $10,000 a year or more (Kiser, 2002). Cost has limited the use of e-learning in 39% of all organizations (Hequet, 2003).
The main reason for the high development cost is the need for an entire development team. Developing instructor-led, classroom training typically involves one person. That person does the research on the topic by either interviewing a Subject Matter Expert or finding the necessary information in the literature. He or she then writes and delivers the course.
In sharp contrast, building e-learning requires a team. The team usually includes a project manager, a technology specialist, and an instructional designer (Morrison, Ross, & Kemp, 2001; Shackelford, 2002). All of these individuals are usually highly skilled and have high hourly rates.
Compounding the problem is that while the costs are high, so is the risk of failure. Many institutions have learned the hard way that making the wrong e-learning investment is costly. Here is a brief list of failed e-learning ventures:
Key Terms in this Chapter
Learning Management System (LMS): A Web-based program that manages the administration of training. Typically includes functionality for course catalogs, housing courses, launching courses, registering students, tracking student progress, and conducting assessments
Bidder’s Conference: A bidder’s conference is a gathering of the organizations responding to an RFP. The purpose of the gathering is to ask questions. While bidder’s conferences used to be held face-to-face with representatives from every interested organization in attendance, today, they are typically conducted via e-mail or conference call
Funding Organization: Organization, either corporate or academic, that funds an e-learning project to meet some need within the organization
Request for Proposal (RFP): The RFP is a written document requesting a description, timeline, and budget for an e-learning solution. It typically describes, in some level of detail, the needs (or perceived needs) of the client and provides a minimal description of a desired solution
Application Service Provider (ASP): A company that hosts an application on its servers so the client doesn’t need to worry about the technical issues. The client then accesses the content and software via the Internet.
Section 508 Compliance: Part of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. Section 508 of the Act, Electronic and Information Technology, specifies that electronic information available to people with disabilities must be comparable to the information available to people without disabilities
Authoring Language: A program designed for use by a non-computer expert to create e-learning products. An authoring system does not require programming knowledge to operate. It allows the placement of graphics, text, and other multimedia elements into an e-learning program. It functions like word-processing software
Proposal: A document written in response to an RFP. In the context of e-learning, it is a document that explains how the proposing organization will design, develop, and deliver an e-learning solution to the funding organization