The Internet is filled with free and easy resources for you to link to within your e-Learning. It’s tempting to reuse much of this material rather than recreating it for your on-line learning. In fact in these busy times, it makes sense to do so. One of the steps that is considered an accepted part of the design and development process is to determine if training already exists elsewhere. The notion of not reinventing the wheel is of course an axiom. That said linking to an external source of content creates much risk, and I caution anyone considering this. Below are some of the risks to this practice for you to consider before making your own decision.
An obvious issue is the risk of links that go nowhere. Every day, thousands of web pages come and go. Just because you may have found a particular page of content to be beneficial, doesn’t mean the original author or their service provider will maintain it for you. In theory, you could monitor all your links on a daily basis to ensure the integrity of your eLearning, however, most iInstructional designers just don’t have the time. While linking to outside sources of information may save some time initially, it may cost you additional time later when you have to repair your course for its possible dead links.
Many organisations can still be challenged to get their learners to log in and take training in the first place. Adding links to external resourced may distract their learners and discourage the learner from returning and completing their online modules. As an instructional designer, it makes more sense to absorb the knowledge yourself and then incorporate it into your course. If you find a really stable and useful site you wish to share with your learners, put the links at the end of training as an additional or optional learning.
Although linking to a site is considered the best and most ethical way to reference another’s work, it doesn’t mean the original author will agree to its use for your training purposes. There may also be bandwidth restrictions put in place by the author’s service provider. Adding your 10,000 learners from your organisation may exceed the expected bandwidth and cause problems for the original author. Others just may not agree with the organisation you are a part of and therefore would not want their material to contribute to your learner’s development. Whatever the reason, this may become an issue for you and subsequently the original author. Consider this before using their work.
This is the one area where I got burned and inspired me to change my mind about external linking. Ironically I was only linking to my own organisation’s website. I thought I was very clever in that if anything changed about the content, my training would be updated by default. Unfortunately, there was a spelling mistake on the page I was linking to. Even though I was not responsible for the spelling mistake on the corporate site, it did affect the quality of my training and therefore I had to shoulder some of the blame. I was lucky it was only a spelling mistake, though. The web is outside your control and very collaborative through the use of forums and comment pages. You may end up linking to a page promoting a belief that is against the values of your organisation or maybe even something worse.
Of course what I’m saying here is not that you shouldn’t link or embed external content. Making additional resources available to your learners contributes to their knowledge and also takes advantage of informal learning. I think it’s important to make sure you consider all the risks before adding them to your eLearning. Try to think about all the possible outcomes mentioned in this article. If you’re prepared to handle those possible outcomes and incur those risks, by all means, share with your learners.