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Who’s Driving E-Learning?


In this article, Rodney Thomas, CEO of Academy Internet discusses which part of an organisation should 'own' e-learning.

It's 1999 all over again. Once more, exhibitions floors heave with anxious-faced types clutching promotional bags full of vendor literature, rushing from stand to stand in search of someone who can give them a single nugget of useful information that doesn't come with a hefty price tag attached. Once again there is huge pressure to make vital decisions about your organisation's future based on inadequate information, in a field so new that no-one is really sure whether the whole thing isn't just colossal hype.

Back then, it was the Internet tying people in knots. This time around, with the job titles tending towards the training manager, HR director end of things – we're talking e-learning.

The e-learning market is at an interesting stage, heavily supply-driven, but with the supplier market still fragmented. The nearest thing to 500-pound gorilla status that the industry currently boasts would be the vendors of big, expensive, all-singing-all-dancing Learning Management Systems such as Docent and Saba. Understandably, in this situation, wholly impartial information about e-learning is fairly thin on the ground.

This would not be such an insurmountable problem, were it not for the fact that coming to terms with the technology implications of e-learning is NOT the biggest challenge that organisations wishing to benefit from it face. Much larger, in the scale of things, looms the problem of organisational change.

To get a handle on the scale of this, you have to look at the way that training is currently organised. While certain programmes happen at corporate level, it’s actually very rare to find all the training that an organisation undertakes being budgeted and controlled centrally. Generally, departments such as IT will have their own training allocations, with department heads making decisions about who goes on what course, which suppliers are used, and so forth.

One of the great strengths of e-learning - and a sizeable reason for bothering with it in the first place - is the ability it offers to measure and control levels of knowledge and training need across an organisation. 'Each and every one of your employees trained according to need, in their place of work, on a just-in-time-basis' (I'm quoting from our brochure). Obviously, a certain degree of centralisation is implied here. In fact a lot of centralisation is implied here.

Which begs the question, who is going to 'own' e-learning within an organisation? The answer seems obvious: Human Resources. But we're looking at a major IT implementation - does the average HR director have the experience and knowledge to see that through? Conversely, would the IT director have the necessary HR knowledge to do the job effectively? To complicate matters, there is the Knowledge Management (KM) issue.

Current thinking in KM suggests that a surprising amount of the knowledge a company needs already exists within the organisation - it's just that nobody knows how or where to put their hands on it. KM wonks argue that huge efficiencies can be created by integrating an organisation's learning and e-learning initiatives with its information management.

So into this picture of the IT Director and the HR director slugging it out for control of the Learning Management System, we introduce a third party - the Information Officer - and he's not just going to be holding coats. Marketing is bound to get involved, because Marketing always wants to play with the shiniest, newest gadgets (it was Marketing who ended up getting the Website, remember?). And since the best that can be hoped for an e-learning project, money-wise - for all this talk of tumbling costs - is a benefit somewhere in year two, the Finance Director is going to want to have a say. We have the potential for a major turf war.

People, it doesn't have to be his way. A recent report on e-learning adoption made the following three - highly sensible, in my view - recommendation for any organisation starting on the e-learning path: start small, focus on combining online and classroom learning (blended learning, if you want a handy buzzword) and, most importantly, make the business case for the learning clear. The 'top team' are going to have to co-operate on e-learning if it's going to happen at all.

The really important thing to remember is that technology is the easy part. As with motor cars - it's drivers, not machines, who win races.

Rodney Thomas is Founder and CEO of Academy Internet, who provide e-business training and consulting - including a suite of e-learning services.


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