“My team talks to business unit managers, and we say, ‘We know a lot about how people learn, but you know a lot about what your people need to learn,’” said Rebecca L. Ray, Ph.D., senior vice president, director of training for American Skandia. “At the end of the day, training has to align itself with the business goals of the company, and the right partnerships will help to make sure that happens.”
With 65 variations of its variable annuity product line and with sales representatives located nationwide, the majority of the company’s e-learning training is asynchronous. Its e-learning offerings range from product-specific modules that are updated quarterly to desktop applications, IT certification and business and management training via Harvard’s ManageMentor, provided through Element K.
There are several ways in which middle managers are involved in the company’s learning—and e-learning—initiatives:
- They serve on advisory councils and get involved with new business initiatives. This can involve anything from serving as “subject matter experts” and making sure content is accurate to helping design and facilitate the courses. Whether it’s a licensing requirement or a customer service enhancement, managers help the training department develop programs.
- They tie learning to professional development. Every manager does performance appraisals and development planning—these tools are online, and they’re linked to American Skandia University (ASU). At ASU, managers can find a wealth of resources to address any performance issues that come up. Once the issue is identified, managers can help employees find the appropriate training solution with just a few clicks.
- They act as coaches—creating and promoting opportunities for training. Managers can give employees the incentive and the time for training. They may hold contests or offer rewards to recognize personal initiatives. And most important, they work to find the necessary time for employees to complete the training. This is a logistical challenge, but it pays off in the long run.
- They teach courses. From the CEO on down, managers participate in “Lunch and Learn” sessions, sharing current information and best practices.
- They take courses. American Skandia offers several programs and Web sites specifically designed to help managers supervise others. One of these programs is an online “Leadership Institute,” where managers can find profiles of their peers and directors, look up practical advice, access class sessions and even take business and management courses via Harvard’s ManageMentor.
“The results of our e-learning programs have been tremendous,” said Ray. “We saw huge increases in usage in 2002 over 2001.”
In an annual survey of all employees involved in e-learning:
- 94 percent found the experience valuable and enjoyable.
- The average self-reported knowledge increase (pre- versus post-e-learning) was 68 percent.
- 85 percent said they were able to apply what they learned on the job.
“We have a wonderful team, and we’re fortunate to be recognized for our work,” said Ray. “Business managers are an important part of who we are—without the help of these people on the front lines, we wouldn’t be this successful.”
Bob Mosher is the executive director of education for Element K. He has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. For more information, e-mail Bob at email@example.com.