Accelerate your E-Learning

Eddie Kilkelly looks at how to accelerate the adoption of e-learning in your organisation and create the time and space for learners to use it.

Two conflicting schools of thought exist on the subject of e-learning:
Firstly, among buyers, that e-learning will rapidly be adopted and can be used to generate significant business benefits;
Secondly, among learners, that e-learning is a low-cost alternative to classroom training that demands more from the learner in less time and with inadequate support.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reported that 54% of organisations in 2005 were already using e-learning with a further 39% planning to introduce it within the following year. The same CIPD survey also identified that e-learning amounted to less than 10% of the training delivered with only 2% of respondents believing that it was the most effective way to learn. So if businesses are embracing e-learning to this extent, then why are managers still encountering such resistance to its use? And if people are willing to use search engines like Google to solve their business problems, why isn’t e-learning being adopted at the expected pace?

Choosing e-learning
Leaving aside cost, there appears to be five primary drivers for businesses to adopt an e-learning approach:

  • First, the opportunity to deliver training across a larger number of people in a shorter timescale;
  • Second, greater flexibility and choice for the learner. They can choose elements in their preferred sequence, study at their own pace, at their chosen location and repeat lessons as many times as they wish;
  • Third, a consistent format which is not influenced by the opinions of a trainer;
  • Fourth, managers can effortlessly track and measure progress and performance;
  • Finally, the learner can significantly improve their chances of exam success using exam simulations.
  • Objections
    Despite the advances made in e-learning over the past decade, the objections are frequent. At ILX Group, one in ten of our corporate clients is looking for an e-learning solution while the remainder resist passively. Nobody argues with the qualities of e-learning or disagrees with the benefits. The most common reaction is that ‘we like the idea but it is not right for us yet’.

    Interestingly, this statistic was mirrored in a Harvard Business School Publishing Study which found that 87% of learners preferred instructor-led training.

    Younger generations, who have grown up with computers will naturally embrace technology. Our challenge is to accelerate the pace of adoption and realise the benefits earlier. The 1:9 ratio is reversed for consumer clients spending their own money and maybe this is the most valuable piece of information. How would the uptake of e-learning change if each member of staff was encouraged to maximise their own training from their personal training budget?

    Creating the right environment
    The single biggest failing in adopting e-learning is the failure to fully consider the environment into which we are introducing it. If the environment isn’t conducive the likelihood of success is greatly reduced.

    If, like many organisations, your culture is fast moving and your working day can’t be predicted, then asking the learner to train at their desk is a tall order. Ninety per cent of e-learners surveyed by CIPD thought that e-learning demanded a shift in attitude on the part of the learners and identified management support as a potential barrier to success.

    It is essential that senior managers are visibly supportive of time spent studying at the desk, resisting the temptation to interrupt with work related issues. Providing suitable equipment and infrastructure is also essential and this could include having equipment available to borrow and take home to study. Inexpensive earphones or alternately equipping a dedicated e-learning suite could also make a difference.

    Equally, an understanding of the individual learner is also important. If the learner is likely to need encouragement then set a deadline and monitor its achievement. Forward looking organisations give e-learning the same status as a classroom course – and ensure lessons are completed as part of the employees schedule. If the course leads to a formal qualification the examination should be pre-planned for an agreed date. This can help to establish a study group who will complete their e-Learning together prior to attending a workshop.

    Businesses as diverse as BT, BP and Toyota have managed to get the balance right by aligning e-learning with their culture. This has typically included blending generic e-learning as the pre-cursor to an exam focused workshop. Not only does this establish a community of learners all working towards the same end goal but sets a common deadline and a powerful personal motivator.

    How do you measure success?
    E-learning is not a panacea, but implemented correctly it can provide greater training effectiveness and evidence of its own performance. However, success is relative and has to be clearly defined from the outset. A number of parameters can be used including the number of modules completed, the number of individual learners or the average modules completed per learner. Once these parameters have been defined they can be monitored and targets can be set for their improvement.

    Arguably the key business measure of success is the extent to which we gained greater value for money. Assuming that your business can already measure the successful achievement of training objectives, then the key measure becomes “How much more did we achieve?”.

    Recommended steps
    Changing your culture is not for the faint-hearted but building an e-learning approach around your organisation’s culture can be surprisingly simple.

    There are five actions that could make an immediate impact on the use of e-learning within your business:
    (1) Tailor the learning approach to your culture. Schedule dedicated time away from the learner’s desk if necessary and ensure that the normal line manager follow up takes place;
    (2) Make the completion of e-learning at foundation level the pre-requisite to any practical workshop training;
    (3) Promote the benefits of e-learning to the individual;
    (4) Ensure that suitable facilities are available for the individual to take advantage of these benefits;
    (5) Widely promote the successes of this initiative.

    Whatever the preconceptions of e-learning may be, it is clear that adapting your implementation strategy to complement your corporate culture will help to improve attitudes towards learning and increase the benefits to be realised by the business.

    Questions to ask when creating suitable environment for your learners:

  • Is your organisation proactive or reactive?
  • Are you often interrupted at you desk by phone calls, emails, your manager?
  • Do you plan meetings in advance or call them at short notice?
  • How often are you asked to change your plans?
  • Do you work in a noisy office environment?
  • Is your technology capability at the leading edge?
  • About the author: Eddie Kilkelly is operations director, ILX Group plc.

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