Thanks to strong economic growth in 2004 and 2005, most organizations have opened up their learning budgets. However, history has shown us that waves of strong economic growth crest and ebb. Strategic leaders of learning organizations should act now to invest in capabilities that can deliver learning critical to the long-term competitiveness and survival of their companies, whether the economy—and therefore the learning budget—is up or down.
Interestingly, the same technologies that can automate and streamline a number of learning business processes, thereby reducing or eliminating inefficiencies and avoiding costs, also enable self-service learning. Investments in these technologies are like a magic bullet, creating learning in the style demanded by new generations of workers, while improving the efficiency and effectiveness of learning business processes and reducing costs.
Inefficiencies in learning that are reduced or eliminated by leveraging learning technologies occur in four critical barrier areas: integration with the business, time, cost and quality.
Integrating learning into practice is always a challenge. E-learning technologies enable learning to be integrated with knowledge management and collaboration, while removing the barriers of time and location for global learners. The Internet provides the means to collect and redeploy knowledge throughout the organization.
The opportunity-cost limitations related to geographic location and time commitments in classroom learning are well understood. These barriers necessarily reduce the number of courses an individual can take during a year. In addition, classroom sessions often take place either too early or too late. It is too early if the skills are not practiced and immediately applied. It is too late if the learner needs to use the skills prior to attending the training program. E-learning has significant potential to ensure that these barriers are reduced by making learning available at the time and point of need. In addition, communities of practice can be supported by learning technologies to allow knowledge and experience to be shared well after the end of the classroom session.
Time is more valuable today than almost any other asset. How can e-learning technologies ensure that the time invested brings a high return? According to a study from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), the shelf life of an average training program is less than two years. Many object that version control and global deployment of courseware are time-consuming. One of the benefits of e-learning courseware is that once a course has been updated, all employees have instant, global access to the same, most current version of a program.
The removal of these barriers can potentially reduce cost, but some specific issues are directly related to cost reduction. The coordination, printing and logistics associated with the distribution of classroom training material can be time-consuming and expensive. With e-learning, all classroom material is available online. Also, e-learning programs usually take fewer hours to complete than a classroom event. The learners are in charge of the pace and path they use to navigate through the learning program. E-learning can be customized to a learner’s specific needs. For example, conducting an online pre-assessment helps identify learning gaps so the participant can be directed to the course content needed to master a proficiency level in a particular subject area.
Finally, quality is enhanced with an e-learning approach. Classroom materials are frequently modified by trainers for delivery in different countries and cultures. E-learning courseware can be deployed in one version with consistent quality around the world. This is extremely important for mandated learning on regulatory requirements. E-learning also offers potential global access to best-in-class learning content.
For most enterprises, self-service learning capabilities are still at an early stage of evolution. However, using current learning investments to target future budget fluctuations while enhancing capabilities for improved performance today demonstrates a true business savvy, as it secures a competitive advantage and supports individual access to development that is less affected by downticks in the economic environment.
Nick van Dam is Deloitte’s global chief learning officer and learning consultant in the Human Capital Practice, and is author of “The E-Learning Fieldbook.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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