Martin Bean is chief operating officer of New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, the largest independent IT training company in the world.
As chief learning officers, you are charted with cost-effectively managing training and ensuring knowledge transfer through your initiatives. In the past couple of years, you may have been caught in the e-learning boom and quite possibly have been burned. Don’t let this discourage you from exploring technology and developing new solutions. How can you best utilize technology to meet your goals?
With the introduction of e-learning, technology rapidly broke into the training industry, but now the focus has switched to acquiring knowledge and utilizing training to solve problems. At the end of the day, saving money for the sake of saving money without achieving goals does not cut it.
IDC recently released a report estimating that between 2001 and 2006 the overall IT training industry will grow about 13 percent. Interestingly, instructor-led training is only going to grow 2 percent, and e-learning is expected to increase by 30 percent. That said, when you look at the pie chart for 2006, the reality is that instructor-led training still represents 30 to 50 percent of the overall learning industry.
Apply that statistic to your organization. This reinforces the idea that there is a need for technology in your training, but also much more. One of key findings is the need for a blended offering with consistent content, which allows you to cast the biggest net over your audience. If you do not choose a vendor that meets all your needs- modality, content and learning- you run the risk of minimizing your return on investment and leaving some of your employees behind.
According to the IDC, blended learning is not just vendor hype. IDC conducted a survey with Online Learning Magazine in 2001 and found an increasing number of organizations using e-learning as a means not to replace classroom-based training, but to complement it. Small and large companies alike are recognizing the value of blending e-learning with off-line instruction and are increasingly doing so. Compare this idea to how your organization conducts business. You most likely use a number of communication media to promote your products and services, and the same can be said of training. Combining technological solutions- such as online assessments, labs and self-paced and live e-learning- with traditional instruction offers an effective, convenient and flexible solution for a wide range of training needs.
Employees Ask, “What’s in it for me?”
I read an article recently from a major retailer whose CLO was thrilled because with e-learning the employees could now take courses during their breaks and after hours. This took something that was motivational (one of the top-rated benefits for employees) and turned it into an imposition on people’s scarce personal time. How successful do you think that company is going to be in deploying learning outcomes and getting knowledge transfer?
Adults want to decide for themselves when it comes to learning. If your desired outcome is knowledge transfer, which it should be, tailor development paths for your employees that blend modalities, content, technology and delivery mechanisms to allow the learner to have a say in what they learn and how they learn it.
Second, adult learners want to be able to validate the information and apply concepts to their own workplace. By allowing adults to learn in an environment where they can interact with others, this validation begins. It should not just be a choice between asynchronous e-learning and the classroom. Find unique ways to use all that technology has to offer to benefit your learners:
E-learning and online resources enable global enterprises to ready their widespread audiences.
Asynchronous e-learning provides on-demand learning when employees need it or can fit it into their schedule.
Synchronous e-learning blends the best elements of classroom learning and asynchronous e-learning with the cost-effectiveness of being able to bring it to employees’ desktops.
Virtual classrooms allow employees to access a live instructor or peer group, with value-added benefits such as live labs.
Sorting Through the Learning Options
You can leverage technology when evaluating learning options. For example, in a global audience your challenges lie in reaching all of your employees and effectively implementing training. Technology can help you present an overview of the training initiative to your constituency and then evaluate employees’ skill sets to develop a plan of action.
Synchronous e-learning channels can be used pre-sale to assist you with this. Involve management to assess what would be best for their teams. Administrative, technical support and management staffs all have different needs and skill levels. Online assessments in each respective area help determine these needs and help you easily tabulate results.
Make it a priority to understand what is available when creating your training initiative. In the end, the most effective learning will include some technology-based and some traditional training options. Use your findings to implement the best training solution, not the cheapest option.
Tracking Your ROI
No company invests in learning simply for the sake of investing in learning, so it is your job to provide hard facts and data illustrating success. Considering that 60 percent of employees are taking instructor-led training now and 30 to 60 percent by 2006, you need to be capable of tracking everything, regardless of the delivery method. Is it acceptable to track only those employees doing e-learning? The answer, of course, is no. What is the point of utilizing these means if you are not able to prove that you have done a stellar job managing and implementing training?
No doubt many of you are evaluating learning management systems (LMS) and struggling with the technology. Many major stand-alone LMS companies are having real problems with corporate adopters. However, it does not have to be difficult, and with the right solution, the LMS will tie it all together and make the management easy for you.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Do not simply believe the promise of interoperability because you hear phrases like “AICC or SCORM compliant” or “ODBC or XML data model.”
Research the technology and find a vendor capable of not only tracking e-learning, but seamlessly tracking everything (e-learning, instructor-led training, labs and assessments) to maximize your return.
If you do not want to adopt an LMS, choose a training vendor that can provide LMS functionality.
Assess Your Employees
What is your goal in implementing training? To satisfy your organization’s needs and solve problems through training, right? How can you prove that happened? In the past, calculating the success of your training would be more difficult, but with technical resources, this job is much more manageable.
Begin by assessing your employees. Why is that important? First, there is no way to prove a return on investment unless you quantify your goals and objectives. To do this, you need to set goals with measurable results, and that is where the beauty of technology comes into place. Often it will be a diagnosis of existing skill sets, so you can find out what you can save in learning before talking about what you have to spend. This is ideally performed through online assessments, to provide electronic analysis of skill gaps and proficiencies.
Online assessments are valuable tools not only in prescribing learning, but also in hiring and promoting employees. Consider the cost of acquiring and training a new hire, only to realize they are not cut out for the job. Plus, using an online assessment will speed the time of scoring and comparing results.
Once you have determined what content needs to be taken, you can utilize your LMS to develop an online learning path that allows both training managers and students to monitor and track progress. Going back to how adults learn, this will be empowering. They will feel in control, and you will get the buy-in needed for successful learning.
When creating their paths, depending on the economic and time constraints, employees do not just have to choose this track or that track. Another advantage of technology in training is the ability to choose specific topics within a course. You can drop into the asynchronous module on a skill or choose the single, applicable lesson with live learning. Many providers offer club-type membership where your employees have the flexibility of choosing any or all of these types of learning.
Take it to the Next Level
Most training managers stop right there. As soon as the courses are complete, they gauge success by how many people showed up, the number of hours of learning logged and overall completion rates. Big deal. Most adults forget between 20 and 90 percent of what they hear in a structured learning environment.
Reinforcement is where the knowledge transfer takes place. It is the ability to deploy a number of value-added products and services to surround your employees and maximize the transfer of earning to the workplace.
As part of the reinforcement, you and the training managers within your organization provide additional support through the LMS, tracking and analyzing results to ensure the learning took place. Aside from proving your return on investment, this support is also about motivating your employees and making sure the training initiative is a success.
E-learning implementations fail when you do not create an environment conducive to legitimizing e-learning. It is fine to put online courses on the servers, but how is the employee going to get the quiet and dedicated time to be able to learn? Most companies do not stop to realize that there had better be something in it for the learner. Offer ways to help adult learners embrace learning:
Formal third-party assessments that demonstrate that the employee has achieved a certain level.
Transcripts so the employee can prove competency in certain areas.
Technology is not learning, and it is not a means to an end. It is rather the enabler to learning and learning management every step of the way. You, as CLOs, have the opportunity to explore all that technology has to offer and develop solutions that will be cost-effective and beneficial to your entire enterprise.
Dos and Don’ts of Implementing Learning in the Workplace
– Do leverage technology to make learning more manageable.
– Do work with a training provider that meets all of your needs in terms of content, learning, support and technology.
– Do develop a blended learning solution to make sure you address all employees’ needs.
– Do think of the needs of an adult learner when developing your plan.
– Do utilize training to motivate your employees.
– Do make use of online tools, such as assessments, labs and exams to increase retention.
– Do assess your learners and follow up to validate return on investment.
– Don’t implement technology in your training without understanding how it will help you solve problems.
– Don’t let technical terms fool you when it comes to choosing an LMS.
– Don’t assume all learners want either e-learning or instructor-led training exclusively.
– Don’t lose sight of the learner.
– Don’t think your organization will not benefit from technology in your training, or you are missing the boat.
By using technology in your training you can realize many benefits:
– More training to more people within the same budget.
– Large reach for global audience in remote and widespread locations.
– Convenience and increased effectiveness with online tools.
– Experienced employees through hands-on training in virtual environments.
– Reinforced learning through multiple tools and resources.
– Validation that learning occurred by use of assessments and tracking.
– More effective learning with prescribed learning and measurable upfront goals.
– Quantified results to prove return on investment and knowledge transfer.
Technology and Training in Action
Let’s look at how some enterprise organizations are utilizing technology in unique and innovative ways to meet their global training needs:
Citrix Systems Inc., a global leader in virtual workplace software and services, was launching a new product and needed to provide training for 3,000 to 8,500 partners and resellers worldwide. The Citrix education team had to make this happen in a mere six weeks, within budget. Citrix chose a training solution to meet these demands through the use of technology.
The partners and resellers around the globe needed to complete a product training course according to their varied schedules and then pass an exam issued by Citrix. The course was presented through synchronous e-learning and recorded for later playback. Students were able to access this playback at their convenience and then take the online exam to validate that the knowledge was transferred and they were prepared to successfully launch the new product.
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