A CLO colleague of mine recently asked me what he should be discussing with his group in this giant Midwestern firm about e-learning. It's the standard "What is hype and what is real?" question. He knew I have been an early advocate and full-time researcher on e-learning since 1993. Here are five solid points I told him he could live by:
1. E-learning is for real, and it's here to stay.
If a training officer does not know this and believe this, he or she is out of the loop and behind the times. One hundred percent of major companies and most mid-size companies use e-learning. Too many CLOs are not aware of the extent of it. Anything new and complex can be intimidating, but it takes investing time to learn about the technology.
Action item: grab your calendar and schedule in time to get further up to speed. It could be a staff meeting, focused Web surfing, calling a peer, ordering a book or calling vendors for an overview.
2. You need an e-learning strategy for your organization and for your career.
That strategy should include: blended learning to enhance traditional classroom training; where to place your bet on a major leap-ahead with technology, such as automated e-learning modules for call-center staff and how to reach not only employees but also channel partners, suppliers and customers with e-learning. Include a strategy for creating, managing, delivering and tracking online learning.
An organization that is not taking advantage of e-learning is slipping away from the leaders and can't stay competitive. As industry leaders benefit from cost savings, delivery flexibility, faster large-scale roll-outs and worldwide distribution, your group will feel the heat.
Action item: Plan a strategy development session, as an off-site session with your staff, across a series of staff meetings or as a complement to an existing enterprise training strategy document.
3. LMSs drive the industry.
For the first time there is a big-ticket item in training, the LMS. This has lead to a lot of R&D spending on systems that automate training administration, delivery of online content and tracking of who took what and how they did. Greater benefits will emerge as further integration occurs, incorporating performance management, business analytics, ROI and talent management.
The bad news about LMSs is that the big sticker has drawn people and business practices of dubious business ethics. Claims often exceed a system's actual capabilities. Although analysts are paid to separate the wheat from the chaff, some analysts actually charge a hidden fee from vendors to have their system included in an "independent" research report. Buyer beware indeed.
4. You don't have to buy an LMS today. (But you should when you can.)
You can offer a substantial amount of e-learning, create your own content, purchase off-the-shelf courses and make it all available online without buying or upgrading an LMS. Don't let that stop your team. But having a current LMS is a best practice, so put together that business case.
5. The world of learning benefits directly from new technologies.
Simulations. Podcasts. Blogs. New technologies open new possibilities for training as well. There are many forms of e-learning - such as SME-authored content, live e-learning, converted PowerPoint, simulations of all types - and new ways it can be delivered, such as by e-mail, through an LMS, in a live online session, in a podcast or as modules on a PDA.
In the 1990s, authoring e-learning was harder because it required training and special software. Now, anyone can develop training using PowerPoint conversion tools. Simulation tools allow a creator to fill in the blanks to create simulations for people-skills training.
What will emerge tomorrow?
My colleague, the CLO who asked about e-learning, still isn't fully engaging the power and flexibility of e-learning. It is time to overcome the hesitancies, learn enough to be comfortable with the systems, tools and courses, and make the jump.
Brandon Hall, Ph.D. has been a leading commentator on e-learning since 1993 and is CEO and lead researcher at Brandon Hall Research, Inc., an independent research firm in Sunnyvale, Calif. Brandon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.