What happens to instructors and classrooms when an e-learning-based corporate university is formed? Do instructors follow buggy whips into oblivion? No, but the subtle shift in emphasis from training to learning affects the role of the instructor. Training is something the company does to you, but learning is something you do for yourself. That fundamental change puts the learner in control.
We have defined e-learning as a combination of e-communication, e-training and e-assessment. This does not suggest that anyone should remove the human element of personal interaction from the learning process. Rather, the implication is that there are other successful ways to learn, teach or communicate.
Our industry has gone through years of experimentation with corporate learning. We have experienced the full spectrum of results. What has become obvious is that the organizational impact needs to be broader than any single group or department can achieve, hence the resurgence of the corporate university.
If this era of corporate universities is going to live up to its potential, we will have to change the stereotypes the name suggests. Perhaps the corporate university will become a place where “employees’ passions and aspirations intersect with the company goals and long-term success,” as Ron Ricci, a marketing vice president at Cisco, has said. Such an institution would offer development opportunities beyond traditional training and education.
An initiative called “Cisco University” (CU) has been launched under the watchful eye of Kate DCamp, Cisco’s senior vice president of human resources. She relies on e-learning and other instructional media to offer content to a large, dispersed audience. However, e-learning will never eliminate the need for skilled teachers and communicators.
E-based learning shifts the priority in the learning process to the learner and away from the instructor’s availability. The learner gets to decide how and when to engage an instructor, a mentor or a coach, and when to learn from a book, a video, a simulation or a game. The learner gets to decide when and where to employ the wide range of available techniques. The learner gets to choose what works best at any particular moment, in any particular location. There is more than one answer in the learning matrix to the questions of “When?” “Where?” and “What media?”
The corporate university initiative at Cisco has been formulated around three broad concepts: education, exposure and experience. Such an approach ensures that employees have the necessary skills, the critical knowledge, the exposure with leaders and the right experiences to prepare them for successful careers. With the broad priorities of a corporate university, it is logical for the instructional role to evolve into one of facilitator, moderator, mentor and coach.
We have witnessed continued improvement of the tools that enable people to share knowledge, impart skills and then test their confidence in the learners’ competence. E-learning will play a larger role in enabling instructors to reach broader audiences in both public- and private-sector education and training.
The difference with e-learning will be that the control will rest with the learners, allowing them to engage when they are most motivated and most interested. Organizations will recognize learning as a strategic advantage, a key retention tool and a means of nurturing talent. E-learning in corporate universities will help drive engagement, creativity and business success.
Combining the Internet and education helps eliminate the barriers that stand between those people who want a different life and the futures they dream about. Merging the passions of employees and the goals of a company increases the probability of success for both.
With a broader set of services put in motion through e-learning, the newest corporate universities will look less and less familiar. As we deliver more content through learner-controlled choices, the traditional classroom will become less important. The stage will change, but whether you call them instructors, communicators, facilitators, coaches or mentors, they will continue to play a role in person and online.
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 “A Business Case for E-Learning: Justify Your Network Investment” from Cisco Press in 2004. E-mail Tom and Nader at email@example.com.
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