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Blended learning in the collaborative business – Training Solutions preview


Dave Simonds, director of Education at SAP UK, Ireland and South Africa and member of SAP's Global Education Steering Committee will be speaking at Training Solutions. Here he talks to TrainingZONE about how blended learning and learning management can be extended out to customers, partners and suppliers in collaborative businesses, justifying the costs through extended business benefits.

TrainingZONE What are the key elements of successful blended learning?

Dave Simonds E-learning is not widely proven as a clear success on its own: the culture of the company, or of the learners, has to accept it. You must see it as something to enable with, not something to impose.

First of all you need to learn how your target learners learn, whether they are your employees or your customers. There are three ways of learning: listening, reading and experience. You need to integrate these basic aspects, and make learning a part of your systems and processes. Make it normal: that's the most critical thing. Then it's more effective but also easier to pass on through collaborations.

Of course, there are different messages for different kinds of learning. If you want to help someone to learn to be better at the job they are doing, then it's all about integration of learning into work and the workplace. If you are going for knowledge uplift, learning that will enable a step change, you may want a slightly different approach, you don't want it to get in the way.

Measurement is essential, and it's difficult: it really can be hard to measure people's progress.

Common sense is the least used of all the senses, and you want to engage people's common sense. Very often you find with technology-based learning that there are Evangelists and Luddites, whereas where you want to be is somewhere in between. To engage as many people as possible you want to link whatever you are doing to relevance, align it with performance of the process. No one should be asking "Why are you wasting my time?" Offer learners clear approaches and contexts. You won't get anywhere with content and technology alone, you need context too.

TrainingZONE What are the crucial issues for managers and course-planners putting blended learning into place?

Dave Simonds Managers need to be clear on a few things: how they assess performance, and how learning fits with the rest of the culture. Managers need to work with that. If an evangelist comes in it can frighten people. A manager should treat learning like a routine, just part of people's jobs. Course planners have to link into managers, not the other way around. The course planner can't start taking charge of the workplace. They will always have to compete for time and attention like anyone else.

TrainingZONE What has your experience been of computer-based training so far?

Dave Simonds We've had our ups and downs. It has gone wrong when we have failed to remember the key elements, we've lost the edge when we haven't been practical. We introduced early simulation tools, which failed. You really need the context for simulation to work. If you make it difficult, or if, say, an upgrade suddenly makes things difficult, you need to get through it fast. You lose it if you over-complicate the education

TrainingZONE Obviously technology isn't everything, but what do you think will be the main technological developments in training over the next few years?

Dave Simonds The next generation technologically will be chips in everything, and with that a focus on convergence. Say I'm going to Paris: I book the hotel, download a refresher course in French, get tips off our intranet, information on local competitors and suppliers. And all through using my PDA or notebook for everything. The next effective developments will be about making this kind of thing easier, not having 10 different devices for everything.

TrainingZONE Blended learning is this year's term. What's next year's?

Dave Simonds There's a push towards reality learning. The change is subtle, with more focus on learning by experience. What people need to learn to do are real, not disconnected activities, so there should be more attention to context and outcomes.

TrainingZONE Who should we look to establish quality standards in e-learning?

Dave Simonds That's an evolving story. I would expect US defence to be influential, as they are major buyers. Then there are institutes, those with credibility, like the Electrical Engineers, or Avionics. But the customers will drive it, and that's for the best, you can't let suppliers establish standards, look at DVDs, the market would end up very unfavourable to consumers.

TrainingZONE How does blended learning fit into a collaborative business?

Dave Simonds Sharing your blended learning through a collaborative business is a way of passing a benefit all the way to your customer's customer, and reaping the benefits that come back from that. Collaborative business requires a lot of trust if it's going to work. This kind of business requires knowledge to be passed back and forth between organisations. Technology and the blended element can really make sense of this.

Most articles you read on blended learning are on internal HR, there's very little that talks about the collaborative situation. This is the bit that people have yet to get into.

But actually, demonstrating cost savings is actually easier with learning in the external, collaborative business. You just need to find a quick win to tie to it, say sales or marketing or CRM. You show that by sharing learning you can help your customers to help their customers. This will help your sales. Then you have a driver that will justify the expense on the learning programme. And if you pass on learning to your customers, you will spend less time and money on fielding their queries. And your customers can make similar savings with their customers.

A lot of head-bashing goes into internal attempts to show a return on training investment, people find it difficult. With this collaborative situation, you are already selling on the front foot, and it improves customer satisfaction, and you're away. So it's a much easier sell to management than a purely internal use is. If you have a clear business case, people will find a way to put it in place.

You can also do things that fully enable your sales people: integrated blended learning helps you to reach them all without the problem of getting them all together. Extending it through collaboration helps to ensure that your sales people are already speaking the same language as customers.


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