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E-Learning and Knowledge Management at the crossroads – feature


Pete RichardsThis item was contributed by Peter Richards, General Manager, Hyperwave UK.

Are major companies spending money wisely on their e-training initiatives?

According to a study released last year by CapitalWorks LLC, a human capital management service, those companies funding formalised e-training programs would have been better off spending their money on less costly informal and self-study methods. That's because, according to the study, informal methods were shown to increase employee knowledge and productivity far more than formal educational methods.

From a practical point of view, the study confirms what many have long sensed: that the majority of new employment skills are learned informally through discussions with co-workers, mentoring by managers/supervisors, rummaging through and finding knowledge gems buried in shared directories, e-mail threads and the like. Only about 25 percent of employee skills are learned from formal training methods such as workshops, seminars and synchronous classes.

Does this mean that e-learning programs should be scrapped? On the contrary, while the study takes aim at discrete e-learning programs, it is highly encouraging news for organisations that have integrated their e-learning programs with existing knowledge management resources.

Standalone E-Learning
Consider what standalone e-learning systems offer corporations. On the positive side, they address some learning needs within the corporation, while reducing instructor and travel costs typically associated with traditional training methods.

On the downside, developing courseware can be formidable for larger organisations and prohibitively expensive for smaller ones -- up to £35,000 for each training hour. Not to mention that most e-learning solutions stifle one of the most valuable aspects of real-world training -- conversations with other trainees and the instructor.

Companies can easily and inexpensively weave these elements together to create informal learning assets in a way that is easily digested by the lion's share of employees. Such informal learning can also be merged with existing formal e-learning (Web-based courseware) programs to engage employee audiences to the fullest.

For example, consider new employees that must quickly gain expertise before they can provide customer support for their company's complex product. Traditionally, they would have been sent to an expensive off-site classroom-based training course for a week. More recently, they might have been assigned to a Web-based training module.

Making a Match
If companies made the effort to marry e-learning with knowledge management, new employees would be able to take a course gleaned from a variety of knowledge base sources already in existence at their company.

For example, these could include several documents containing functional specs for their product, a recent usability study, a paper outlining the Top 10 support problems and resolutions, and pointers to popular discussion forums. This approach will get new employees up to speed far more quickly and cost-effectively.

Sharing Structure
While sound in theory, how does an organisation ensure that e-learning/knowledge management programs are implemented properly? First, knowledge management and e-learning systems should both share the same infrastructure to ensure the highest degree of integration.

Organisations should choose the delivery mechanism for this hybrid e-learning experience with care. Portals dominate as interfaces and make a good deal of sense for businesses. People are now accustomed to using them at work and at home. Delivering dynamic and compelling e-learning content through a portal helps ensure that people using the portal in their day-to-day work will use it.

Semantics Aside
With increasing industry dialogue regarding the integration of the two disciplines, some proponents have begun to debate whether e-learning is part of knowledge management or vice versa. It really doesn't matter. In both cases, companies are using information-delivery mechanisms to disseminate information for consumption by employees, partners and customers. The more important point is that companies can now maximise all of their knowledge assets and learning experiences to increase their competitiveness and retain valuable employees.


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