Myke Kudlas is the Associate Executive Director of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists and has been a champion of eLearning for over 15 years.
I first took an interest in eLearning in 2001, but became more involved in 2003, when I was the Program Director for the Mayo Clinic Jacksonville Radiography Program.
I almost felt like eLearning was a necessity for me at the time because nearly every student I had was struggling with nuclear physics. That one topic was taking up a huge amount of class time as I taught and re-taught the same concepts. I was always happy to meet individually with students to discuss concepts in physics, but this was taking up so much of my time that I couldn’t get anything else done.
My entry into eLearning was simply recording myself presenting four lectures on the topics that students struggled with the most, and posting them online for students. When students asked for help with these concepts, I was able to point them to those videos first. This simple approach immediately and dramatically reduced the amount of time I spent on the subject and positively affected my students’ test scores. One unexpected outcome was that all students benefitted from access to these modules, not just the ones that were initially coming to my office for help. That told me that some students weren’t seeking out individual help, even if they needed it. By putting these resources online, I was able to solve a problem I didn’t know I had.
After that initial experience, I began experimenting with Captivate and other authoring tools to improve the quality of the presentation and introduce interactive elements to it. Eventually, my love of eLearning brought me to the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the organization’s first Director of Instructional Technology.
Probably the biggest question I hear from our members focuses on customizing the online learning experience. Depending on the member’s learning style and their familiarity with the concepts we’re presenting, they sometimes want to be able to turn off the narration, read a transcript, use the content offline, or access the content in a different language. Meeting these needs takes more effort on the front end, but we’ve had good results making most of these changes.
The biggest mistake I see people making in the association industry is to focus too much on LMS functionality and interface at the expense of their content. “Content is King” should be the motto of all associations. Providing excellent content is what helps members in their careers and keeps them coming back for more. The quality of content also affects the public and the industries that associations serve. Catalogs, search functions, and learning portals are important, but much less so than most people think. I have seen many LMS portals that are beautiful, welcoming, and professional, with a wide array of interesting features, but once I drill down, I find only a handful of courses. Almost inevitably, these beautiful portals lead to boring courses that just make the learner read a PDF and take a quiz. A basic and functional learning portal that delivers excellent content will always beat a flashy learning portal delivering poor content.
My favorite eLearning story occurred about 3 years after I began working at ASRT. We had completed a major eLearning course called “CT Basics” about a year before. The course was designed to help Radiologic Technologists prepare for the Computed Tomography (CT) certification exam. My 90-year-old grandmother had to go in for a CT scan and, as grandmothers do, she told the person performing her exam that her grandson worked at the ASRT. The CT technologist excitedly told her that he had recently finished ASRT’s CT Basics course and completed his certification.
This event was just a small coincidence, but it affected me deeply. When developing eLearning materials, it’s sometimes easy to perceive our learners as faceless consumers. We make the mistake of thinking of them consuming education the way we consume electricity from a distant power plant. It’s easy to believe it’s all the same. When my grandmother relayed this conversation to me, it was an exciting yet sobering example of why quality matters. Our members are using this education to move their careers forward, but also apply the lessons they learn to care for their patients, like my grandmother.
There are many rising trends, such as gamification and virtual reality, that I think will become more important in the future. Unfortunately, due to the continuing education rules of the radiologic technologist certification body, our continuing education is necessarily linear, with participation measured by seat time. One of our ongoing challenges is to try to incorporate engaging experiences into linear courses.
The biggest change we’re making that I think will affect our eLearning content in the coming years is increasing the ways our members can interact with our content.
Mobile – When designing and building content, we need to be aware of the multiple devices that learners will be using to access our content – PC, mobile, and tablet, though maybe we’ll skip the smartwatches for now.
Learning Style – We also need to be aware of learning style, and provide ways for members to align our content with the way they like to learn. We have begun providing a transcript of our courses along with the Captivate modules, and allowing users to mute the narrator and follow along with closed captioning if they like. These changes seem superficial, but can dramatically affect how well our learners absorb the information we present.
Offline – For some of our international members, their internet connection does not always allow them to use our courses as designed. They have often requested to download the content to use locally on their device. We’re in the middle of figuring this one out, as there are many challenges to handing over your content rather than having a learner consume it on a secure portal.
Mobile learning is certainly a major challenge. Originally our courses were Flash-based, and not accessible on certain mobile devices, but we are close to finishing the conversion of all of our courses to more accessible formats. The other challenge for us with mobile devices is that the radiologic sciences are fundamentally a very visual field, and a key skill is the ability to identify pathology on medical images. Depending on the mobile device, we may be dealing with screen sizes that just aren’t adequate to teaching the subject. A major effort for us is creating images that learners can manipulate by zooming or panning.
I think the greatest value ASRT gets from eLearning is in the longevity of our courses. Before we developed online courses, we created home studies that were physically mailed to member’s homes, with scoring sheets they would mail back to us for evaluation. When the content became outdated, which happens quickly in the radiologic sciences, the course had to be retired and a new course developed from the ground up. With eLearning, we are constantly updating our content as the profession changes. We have more than 400 courses, and every single one is reviewed every three years, sometimes with additional changes between reviews if there is a major shift in the industry. This takes a lot of coordination with subject matter experts, but it is a lot less costly and time-consuming than creating new courses from scratch on the same schedule. Our CT basics course has been providing quality education for 8 years and has gone through three major revisions, but it’s still our most popular course. Revisions are not as flashy as creating a new course, but they are a lot more efficient.
The greatest value for members is in the ability to access the content without having to travel or take time off work. We have 154,000 members, but there are 330,000 radiologic technologists in the United States who could potentially access our content. It is not practical for all of these RTs to travel across the United States for conferences. eLearning courses provide access to pertinent education to anyone with an internet connection and the desire to learn.