Are You E-Learning Ready?

A few months back, offensive e-mails sent through a company's intranet brought a pink slip party to 61, reprimands to 540 others and six hours of mandated training to 40,000 Dow employees. After an ethics breach like this, Dow CEO Bill Stavropoulos (now chairman) did not want to simply monitor the employee e-mails but train employees on workplace respect and responsibility. But conducting the mandated training for all employees spread across 70 countries was not an easy or cheap task.
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To conduct such training, Dow initiated a Web-based training system, or the e-learning system. It enabled all 40,000 employees to take the course in four months--saving the company $2.7 million. Cost savings included $162,000 in manual record keeping, $300,000 on classroom facilities, $1million on course handouts and $1.2 million on salaries--pretty impressive by most standards.

E-Learning Promise
E-learning is one of the fastest growing segments of Internet technologies. It is expected to grow at a 50 percent CAGR (cumulative annual growth rate) to more than $40 billion by 2005, up from $7 billion in 2000. This is far more than the 6 percent annual growth of the education sector itself.

The reasons for this growth are also obvious. The cost benefits of implementing an enterprise wide e-learning system are huge--IBM alone saved $200 million a year through such a system. In a study by the Monash University of Australia, 64 percent of the respondents cited reduced cost as the reason for implementing e-learning. This is followed by greater flexibility (58 percent), greater access (42 percent) and improved speed and timeliness (36 percent).

The promises of e-learning are big. In the United States, the corporate and government training expenditure is nearly $110 billion, which covers only the direct cost including facilities, training material and instructors salaries. The indirect training cost--travel and lost opportunity cost--is twice this amount. E-learning could eliminate the bulk of this indirect cost. Other than this, e-learning also shortens the training development cycle.

Climbing Mt.Everest?
Realizing the potential of e-learning programs is neither simple nor straightforward. Someone compared this to climbing
Mt. Everest. From a distance, it looks formidable. But going through this grueling exercise is a different experience. Successful implementation of an e-learning program requires knowledge about e-learning and developing a detailed plan along the following lines:

1. Reasons To Implement E-Learning
Like in any other endeavor, the success in e-learning program depends upon the clarity of the objectives. If the reasons for implementing the program are well-defined, understood and aligned with the corporate objectives, then it stands a much better chance of succeeding. While establishing objectives one should consider:

·         How are you going to develop the business case?

·         What are the learning objectives? How will you define it?

·         The business drivers: whether cost cutting, greater learning opportunity, etc.

·         The stakeholders: How would the trainers and trainees take it?

2. Implementation
Things to consider at this stage are:

·       What types of learning methods would be employed: asynchronous/synchronous, Web-based, CD-ROM, streaming video/audio, electronic performance support systems, knowledge management systems, etc.?

·       The level of upper management support needed--how much financing needs to be secured, who will champion the cause?

·       What should be the approach? Various approaches are available, but three worth mentioning are: off-the-self generic courses (for novices and starters); more customized content that uses simulation for problem-solving based skills development (for those who have some experience with e-learning); and an enterprise-wide solution that uses collaboration amongst virtual groups and opportunities to engage in face-to-face contact with other learners.

·       Technology selection: What type of LMS (Learning Management System) will be selected? LMS automates training administration, registers trainees, tracks progress of trainees, records data from trainees and provides reports, assessments and personalization. A number of LMS solutions are available and you need to figure out which one addresses your needs.

·      Hosting e-learning solution or installed enterprise-wide systems? Hosting helps companies get their e-learning solution up and running quickly, but it comes with other issues like security and lack of control.

·       Content development. What types of courses should be offered and how will they be developed? You could develop course contents in two ways: Off-the-self content could be implemented immediately, requires low effort and usually lies in the low to medium cost range; custom content requires high effort, lies in the medium to high cost range, requires more time to implement but provides a higher relevance or better fit for the organization's learning needs.

3. Post Implementation
The post implementation consideration should include:

·       Selling e-learning to everyone within the organization. Learning on the desktop is a big leap from learning in a classroom, and employee acceptance is going to be a critical factor for the success of the program.

·       Measuring the benefits. How you measure success matters. Some obvious benefits are--reduced training time, delivery of training to the workplace, reduced traveling cost, direct cost reduction, employee retention, employee morale, productivity, and competitive abilities for the company.

E-learning could make any company a true learning organization. It brings significant cost and effort savings. The success could be achieved by planning and by underscoring that the deployment of e-learning must be focused on people. You could maximize success by focusing on the nature and efficacy of learning--and not on numbers.

Strategic and results-oriented, Sunil has more than 15 years of experience in management and IT consulting. An entrepreneurial consultant, he had founded a business-to-business eCommerce company. Sunil has provided consulting services to large and small firms in the UK, Far East, India, Europe and the United States. His area of expertise includes strategic management, strategic marketing and business planning for high-tech firms. An avid mountain climber and runner, Sunil has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and various peaks in the Himalayas and finished the Detroit Marathon. He holds an MBA degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a BS in Electronics and an MS in Mathematics from the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences, Pilani, India. He can be reached at (703)-395-9812 and by writing to sunilsharma@cerebralworks.com.


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