Accountability is being addressed by levels of assessment, certification and management reporting about metrics that are not really possible without Web-based tools. This accountability has several new aspects. Yes, we can track and report on progress, test results and usage in order to hold learners accountable for what they are supposed to know to do their jobs well. More importantly, we can roll that information up organizationally and analyze the knowledge and skill factors at a macro level.
In addition, we can hold content creators or authors accountable for the accuracy and freshness of the materials they create, and we can analyze or survey to determine if we are using the proper medium for different types of content. Accountability is what separates this new capability of e-learning from the previous incarnations, including classroom training.
E-learning offers something no other training, communication or education tool ever has: accountability on a grand scale. Putting topics, courses or information in the hands of the learner has happened with other media. But there was never an effective or affordable way to hold the learner accountable for using the product to actually learn anything. We measured how many CDs were sent out or how many were bought, but never got a good idea of the usage, the effectiveness or the impact of all that effort. We didn’t even know if we had chosen the most effective media for the subject or the specific audience.
Today, however, we can test each individual on each module or chapter. We can report progress and analyze data to determine whether or not the content is flawed, the media is inadequate or the test item itself is invalid. We can hold the learners accountable for what they are supposed to know, hold the author or developer accountable for the content quality and determine if we have used the best media for a specific topic and for that audience.
For example, the Cisco Networking Academies are globally deployed in public high schools, colleges and universities. There are over 500,000 students in more than 11,000 educational institutions in more than 150 countries using the same online content (in nine languages) for learning and testing. Over 40,000 tests are taken every day. Scores and trends are analyzed, then flaws in content, instruction or testing are identified and fixed. This fuels continual improvement based on results and hard data that is not even possible in traditional classroom settings on a global scale.
When we use consistent tools and processes, we can decentralize the creation of content to subject-matter experts (SMEs). The SMEs can be sales personnel, engineers, product marketing staff, executives or whoever is the best at his job and is willing to share what he knows. When the best salesperson in the organization speaks about selling, the rest of the sales team listens. There is no one with greater credibility in an audience than someone who has been there, done that, and has a reputation for doing better than almost everyone else in that audience.
E-learning offers yet another level of enhanced credibility through the ease of keeping content current and relevant. What is the difference between a book, a videotape and a CD? When it comes to edits, changes and updates to an existing product, there is little or no difference. All three take weeks or months to edit, update, republish and redistribute. The cost in time and reproduction dollars is incredibly high, not to mention the cost of repeated translation. With e-learning products, the maintenance is easier, faster and cheaper, which makes the medium easy to update and revise.
The tools available through e-learning have added dimensions of accountability and credibility to the learning process that complement business demands. Not only does e-learning have the potential to alter the business process, it also offers the opportunity to reinvent the perceived value of the learning function.
Tom Kelly is vice president of the Internet Learning Solutions Group at Cisco Systems Inc. Nader Nanjiani is marketing programs manager of the Internet Learning Solutions Group. Contents of this article will also appear in ï¿½A Business Case for E-Learning: Justify Your Network Investmentï¿½ from Cisco Press in 2004. E-mail Tom and Nader at firstname.lastname@example.org.