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Feature: Getting Started with E-Learning – Eight Questions To Think About

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From understanding the potential of e-learning to understanding how to measure its ROI, Dorman Woodall, director of Skillsoft Learning addresses the eight key questions to ask of your e-learning strategy.


The face of corporate learning has changed. It is no longer possible to develop your human capital with a single approach. Today’s corporate environment calls for out of the box thinking, incorporating the benefits of many types of learning to benefit your company’s single biggest investment – your people.

What is e-learning?
According to Elliott Masie, a well-known industry expert, e-learning is “the use of technology to design, deliver, select, administer, support and extend learning.” SkillSoft believes that the foundation of e-learning is based upon the adult learner’s active participation in problem-solving and critical thinking regarding a learning activity that the learner finds relevant and engaging.

Learning is not a one size fits all endeavour. Aside from the vast array of learning styles that make up your audience, learners most often seek information in an informal, casual manner. To address the needs of formal and informal learning, organisations must adopt a multi-modal learning strategy, providing employees a rich array of learning resources that encompass the full set of business needs, and delivering these resources in ways that provide maximum value at the point of demand.

What is informal learning and why is it important?
In-depth research by the U.S. Department of Labour shows that 70% of workplace learning occurs through informal learning processes driven by workers finding the information they need to do their jobs, and 30% of workplace learning occurs through formal learning planned and driven by the organisations that employ the workers.

Research by IDC shows that knowledge workers spend 15-30% of their time gathering information, but that these searches are successful less than 50% of the time. That is why it is essential for companies to provide for their employees’ ongoing needs to gather information efficiently, and to learn through formal and informal means.

What is the right "blend"?
The ideal blended learning model is one that integrates a wide range of functions that empower learners to participate in several formal and informal learning activities.

High-quality blended learning establishes a balance between the instructional advantages for the learner and the learning objective. A true blended solution includes online courses, online access to reference materials (books, white papers, etc.), instructor-led training, mentoring by seasoned experts and other information resources.

What kinds of problems/business issues can e-learning address?
Many organisations are realising that the cost of instructor-led training has risen higher than the training benefits it reaps, in many cases. Additionally, the onslaught of the globally dispersed work force has added a host of logistical issues to the already complicated problem of onsite training. How do you keep the training consistent across regions or even countries? How do you address your work force when language barriers come into play? E-learning has the power to tackle some of these issues, simply by its nature as a Web-based technology. A globally dispersed work force can view an e-learning course without having to travel. If your vendor of choice offers localised courses, your learners can view relevant courses in their native languages. E-learning is the ideal tool for “level-setting” employees at multiple locations with basic skills. It is often incorporated into new hire training to ensure that employees in various job roles have the information they need right from the start.

Many corporations find the need to create custom learning objects in order to meet the needs of their learners, whether that includes company-specific information, tasks or policies. Having the ability to easily create and modify company-mandated courses can allow your company to keep training up to date and relevant to your business as it evolves and changes.

E-learning has the ability to simplify the certification training process. Your e-learning provider should have the courses and supporting test preparation to ensure that your learners pass their certification exams on the first try. Mentors should be available to answer questions as they come up during the learning process.

What kinds of content should you provide?
First and foremost, it is important to set learning goals, mapped to your strategic corporate goals, ensuring that what you teach your work force will benefit your company. You should make a conscious effort to find content that applies to all levels and all functions within the employee base, ensuring that your learning investment is directly correlated to desired business outcomes.

Based upon the needs of your organisation, the educational goals should range from bringing new employees up to speed, to allowing established employees to develop new skills, to prepping staff for certification tests, if applicable.

It is also important to think about informal learning resources, and to find a learning partner that has the depth of informal content to meet your needs. Examples of this content include access to unabridged online books on a range of subjects including, live mentors to assist learners with questions and concise articles that learners can use as refreshers of previous learned skills or even as idea starters.

What technologies will you need?
There are many important components to the technology (learning management system) that delivers your e-learning courses and helps you manage your e-learning programs, including finding what you need easily, tracking/reporting on what learners have accomplished, compatibility with standards and customisation of the user interface.

The search functionality of the technology you choose has the ability to make or break a learner’s experience within moments. A powerful search engine will enable learners to find what they need quickly and easily, whether it is a course, a book or another informal learning asset. Additionally, the search should have the ability to return your custom content within the same integrated search result.

Tracking and reporting on learner progress and course completion is a critical part of the technology requirements. It is important to find comprehensive reporting options in order to allow administrators to easily monitor learning progress and to export e-learning results for use in external reporting and enterprise HR systems.

Today’s organisations require support for complex, blended learning environments that need to be adapted to meet your changing needs. Your learning management system should support integration of custom content, including courseware and other document types such as Microsoft Word or PDF files. Additionally, the system should include standard site customisations such as colour schemes, branding, organisation-specific tabs and a variety of other presentation and system options that allow you to tailor its look and behaviour.

What do you need to do to ensure success?
Finding the right e-learning partner is critical in a successful transition to e-learning. It is not enough to simply buy courses and provide them to your workforce. There are many aspects of the e-learning program that need to be managed and implemented in order to increase the success rate of your initiative. These include: program design, establishing program objectives and strategy, and defining success criteria; curriculum design, deciding on course selection based on competencies and training initiatives; technical planning, developing a deployment strategy; marketing and communication, determining target audiences, launching program, creating continuous promotions.

How will you measure success?
It might seem that measuring the success of an e-learning program is as simple as keeping accurate records of who took what course and what scores were achieved. However, measuring your program’s success against your corporate objectives is more difficult. It is important to work with a vendor that has a pre-defined way to measure and execute against ROI goals.

There are a few areas that your company can and should measure—cost savings against your current training program and operational or business improvements resulting from training that is strategically aligned with business goals. Business impact may be measured as monetary ROI or as process improvement.

It is through these measurements that your company can gauge the success of your learning program as a whole and more notably, how it measures against strategic corporate goals.

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