E-Learning and Today’s Changing Training Culture

As businesses compete to attract and retain today’s knowledge employees, they must provide continuous learning and development programs in order to ensure employees successfully fulfill the roles and responsibilities of their jobs. With the increase in global operations, volatile business relationships, rapidly evolving technology, ever-increasing competition, and the rise of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software systems, employers are seeking to integrate learning and training processes into their strategic organizational processes and business plans. When learning is a strategic advantage and weapon, traditional training methods such as lecture, demonstration, employee orientation, and personal development seminars are no longer the most effective methods for companies to provide employees with this knowledge. Instead, it is necessary for today’s businesses to implement alternative methods of training, specifically E-Learning.

E-Learning encompasses a broad range of business activities and technologies, including distance education, computer-based training (CBT), web-based training (WBT), Internet-based training (IBT), courseware delivery and online learning and testing.

Computer-based training (originating in the early ’80s) differs from traditional training methods, in that face-to-face interaction with a human trainer is not required[1]. The initial CBT was Programmed Instruction (PI), where participants would complete self-paced computer-based training modules. This method is highly effective for learning declarative knowledge. Information is presented and the participant demonstrates mastery of the information through answering questions or completing a test before proceeding to the next group of information.  More advanced forms of CBT include Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS), which not only coach the trainee but analyze mistakes and alter training strategies to address different trainee needs, interactive media which uses both video and sound to allow the training system to interact with the trainee, and virtual reality which uses equipment or simulators that allow the trainee to perceptually “experience” a situation[2].

Today CBT has evolved into training that takes place through a network, usually over the internet or intranet. E-training or e-learning represents the total integration of multimedia, instructor-led, and real-time training, in a human, collaborative environment[3]. A Learning Management System (LMS) is a framework or software system that is used to track, support, manage and measure the entire learning process. It includes not only the training components, but often offers report generating tools, and authoring capabilities. These systems can simultaneously educate employees, customers, suppliers and partners about new policies, services and products[4].

There are two different categories of e-learning: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous e-learning is similar to a classroom in that there is a set time for the instructor and students to connect via video, audio streaming or chat room. This format is often used, in part, for online and distance college or university courses that are offered worldwide. Asynchronous e-learning allows a student to access a prepackaged course at any time, working at their own pace[5].

In 1999, corporate America alone spent $63 billion on educating and training its workforce[6]. Today, the figure is closer to $100 billion[7], with e-learning accounting for the fastest-growing fragment of the market. This technology has made its way into training for management, sales, marketing, customer service, and professional development. Last year alone, 70 million people received training and education on the Internet.

There are numerous advantages to the implementation of e-learning. E-learning offers real-time learning and application of critical knowledge. By providing employees with “training at their fingertips”, up to date information can be accessed immediately from one’s desktop.  E-Learning changes the focus of training from traditional instructor-centric to learner-centric training. Training is tailored to the learners’ professional responsibilities, capabilities, job requirements, career goals, current knowledge, and personal preferences, allowing them to access only the information they need and no more (learning on demand). The training can be customized to the student’s learning style, based on their aptitude for left-brain or right-brain, solitary or collaborative, holistic or analytic, and visual, auditory or kinesthetic learning[8]. Additionally, multiple learning methods, such as video clips, images, animation, charts, and audio can be utilized.

Research shows that the number one reason for the loss of key employees is that they feel their company hasn’t invested sufficient resources for their professional development[9]. With today’s shortage of skilled workers, companies cannot afford to lose their most important asset—knowledge workers. By allowing employees to constantly evolve with the company and in turn develop and hone their own skills, organizations stand a much better chance at retaining those employees. Additionally, by making employees responsible for their own learning, they are empowered to manage and implement their own learning and development plans, which is crucial for individual growth and retention of employees.
Next, e-Learning allows training to be augmented with content and ideas provided by some of the leading professionals in the world. Individuals may use collaboration, via joint problem-solving, discussion groups, forums, and chat rooms to share ideas and real-world experience[10].

CBT can be quite costly to develop, therefore, customized e-training may run anywhere from several hundred thousand to several million dollars[11]. However, costs associated with coordinating travel, resources, materials, and classrooms for traditional training can be avoided with e-training. Globally available virtual classrooms can provide simultaneous instruction in different languages across different time zones. Not to mention that it is up to 30% faster than classroom training[12], and much less intrusive to the daily work duties of the company and learner.

It is possible to effectively measure knowledge gain and retention with e-training. Many studies indicate that students forget as much as 50% of material within a week of attending the training. It has been demonstrated that web-based training has increased mastery of a topic by 15-25%over traditional classroom-based training[13]. Companies are able to establish systems that can track progress, report results, and specify additional subject matter for continued success. Students can receive instantaneous feedback on their performance, and training records can be generated and updated automatically[14].

Aside from the high price tag associated with e-learning technologies, there are several other challenges that must be addressed prior to the successful implementation of this technology. Many organizations still lack the network capabilities required for this type of training. While most packages require only a browser and an internet connection, optional additions, like audio or video may require high bandwidth. Security and firewalls may also be issues.[15]

Another concern is that students may get frustrated and lose faith in technology. It is important that the training program is implemented to a pilot group initially to ensure that all the “bugs” are out of the system before employees are expected to use it. If a link doesn’t work, a video clip fails to play or the instructions on what to do next don’t make sense, students are likely to get frustrated if there is nowhere to turn for answers. Research suggests that most people hesitate to ask a question a second time if they’re still confused after the response to their first question[16]. Therefore, course content must be free from areas of potential confusion, and “real-time” help should be made available.

Another challenge facing e-learning is the tendency to isolate students physically, which can have negative effects on team building and sociability[17]. Students who thrive in social situations, and have an aptitude for verbal expression may suffer in the e-learning environment.

The key to the successful implementation of e-training is obtaining just the right amount of knowledge, at just the right time and in just the right setting[18]. Today’s hectic business environment doesn’t allow employees to walk away from the task at hand to attend training. Thus “just-in-time” training that allows individuals to learn continuously while still performing their job is the wave of the future.

An example of this kind of learning would be an employee working on an assembly line when their machine breaks down. Instead of shutting down the machine, the employee connects to a subject matter expert or a diagnostic software system that walks them through the process of repairing the machine, by means of videoconferencing.

Companies that have successfully implemented E-Training include Ford Credit and Ford Motor Company, where they converted portions of classroom-based technical training into technology-delivered training, cutting training time by 85% and realizing a savings of almost $25 million per course[19].

In conclusion, e-learning appears to be the future of training. Increasing training customization while containing costs, as well as improving communication and a sense of community will allow employees to get the most out of their e-learning experience[20], and allow employers to get the most out of their employees.

[1] Blanchard, Nick P. and James W. Thacker. Effective Training Systems, Strategies, and Practices 2nd Ed. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. Page 243.

[2] Ibid, Page 297-299.

[3] Brockbank, Bray J. “E-Learning and the E-Workforce.” The CEO Refresher… brain food for business! 2001.

[4] Krell, Eric. “The Ivy League of Online Learning.” Business Finance. September 2001.

[5] “What is E-Learning?” Darwin Magazine. May 2001.

[6] Brockbank, Bray J. “E-Learning and the E-Workforce.” The CEO Refresher… brain food for business! 2001.

[7] Glidewell, Larry P. “E-Training: The Truth is Out There.” Larry P. Expert-Zine. 2000.

[8] Bucqueroux, Bonnie. “Economical Employee Training.” Web Techniques. January 2002.

[9] Brockbank, Bray J. “E-Learning and the E-Workforce.” The CEO Refresher… brain food for business! 2001.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Krell, Eric. “The Ivy League of Online Learning.” Business Finance. September 2001.

[12] Glidewell, Larry P. “E-Training: The Truth is Out There.” Larry P. Expert-Zine. 2000.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Brockbank, Bray J. “E-Learning and the E-Workforce.” The CEO Refresher… brain food for business! 2001.

[15] Doran, Al., CHRP. “Feature.” HR Professional. June/July 2001.

[16] Bucqueroux, Bonnie. “Economical Employee Training.” Web Techniques. January 2002.

[17] “What is E-Learning?” Darwin Magazine. May 2001.

[18] Cummings, Elaine M. “Re-learning e-learning.” Darwin Magazine. September 2001.

[19] Glidewell, Larry P. “E-Training: The Truth is Out There.” Larry P. Expert-Zine. 2000

[20] Bucqueroux, Bonnie. “Economical Employee Training.” Web Techniques. January 2002.