It was difficult to find examples of cloud computing within enterprise learning just a few years ago, but it’s here now in a big way. According to a Mimecast cloud computing adoption survey for the U.S. and Canada:
• In 2009, 36 percent of companies used or considered cloud computing.
• In 2010, 56 percent of companies used at least one cloud application.
• In 2011, 70 percent of companies plan to implement or expand cloud-based technology.
Buzz is one thing; rising adoption and use is another, and despite a significant degree of optimism about the results this type of technology can deliver, there are some challenges to consider. First, is an organization’s platform, likely a learning management system, able to leverage the cloud? How will the organization protect proprietary content? Finally, can cloud learning deliver strategic value?
To answer these questions, Tom Kelly, a former Cisco and Oracle learning executive, and Jim Hanlin, president of Best Training Resources, hosted a learning executive think tank in April with 12 senior-level executives from a variety of industries. Their responses revealed several considerations necessary for cloud-based learning success.
1. Improve global scalability. Cloud computing enables the global deployment of learning events, activities and knowledge sharing.
“Our cloud learning program was extremely well-received and rapidly adopted,” said Zaakera Stratman, senior program manager at Microsoft, on how the company uses the cloud to connect with its global tech team. “Due to overwhelming demand, we were able to quickly reconfigure our cloud-based platform to accommodate more users. And with learners from 46 countries across 24 time zones, we incurred tremendous savings from travel and logistics alone.”
2. Provide easier, more controlled training. In addition to expanding reach, the cloud transforms how learning is delivered. It makes content easy to access, searchable and modularized — all in a controlled, learner-centric format.
“Using the cloud, we implemented a 14-week, wide-scale partner academy,” said Randy Hugie, program manager, certification and skills assessment at Novell, of one of his company’s applications. “With videos, labs and other online materials, attendees completed training virtually, and the cloud brought everyone together in one collaborative learning community.”
Danielle Tomlinson, senior director of Red Hat Training at Red Hat, an open source technology provider, said, “We’ve transformed our certification program by putting exams in the cloud. Now through a uniform delivery platform, we’ve created a consistent experience for every examinee, which was virtually impossible before.”
3. Unify all content sources via one portal. Another benefit of cloud learning is that users can access all of an organization’s learning applications, content and sources, including external ones, via one portal or interface.
“It’s crucial that users can easily access all necessary information without multiple registrations and jumping from site to site,” Kelly said. “Often, content is needed from outside the enterprise. We made our site a portal through which users can access it all. So, it became a trusted, go-to source.”
4. Ensure content security. Determine who owns and manages secure access to learning content once it’s in the cloud.
While each think tank participant took an approach unique to his or her needs, the most popular security solution was a hybrid model, one with public and private components. This allows learning leaders to choose which applications/services are best served from their organization’s data center and which can be moved to SaaS (cloud) applications.
“We generate a vast amount of IP [much of it by education services] that we need to make available in a targeted fashion to our employees, partners and customers,” said Tom Clancy, vice president of educational services at EMC, a storage hardware provider. ‘[The] cloud simplifies and facilitates the distribution of content that is open and appropriate for all audiences, and we use internal systems for proprietary content where we can set, maintain and monitor permission levels.”
Cloud computing is an exciting technology, but when it comes to a cloud learning solution, one size does not fit all. Learning leaders must assess their organization’s precise needs and devise an appropriate learning strategy to meet them.
Ramesh Ramani is CEO of Expertus. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.