#553  Innovative Leader                 Volume 11, Number 5        May 2002

e-Learning, the Emerging Juggernaut
by Bray J. Brockbank

Mr. Brockbank is a business and technology integrations consultant for Learnframe.  bbrockbank@learnframe.com

Today, more than ever, small business owners, entrepreneurs, executives and managers face the ever-growing challenge of not only recognizing when change is coming, but where it's coming from, and how it will affect their business operations. As they recognize these trends, they must also know how to proactively manage change and its resulting effects. Some visionary leaders are quick to recognize the emergence of new markets, transformation of older markets, and dissolution of failing markets. But quite often, a paradoxical change occurs that will alter the way the business world operates - pushing executives out along with their golden parachutes.

In addition to facing the challenge of recognizing change, business leaders must also know how to attract, train and retain today’s knowledge worker. In the past, this has been perceived as an expense to organizations, a "liability" if you will, rather than a necessity. How can business leaders "attract, train and retain" their employees and show a substantial return on investment (ROI)?

Emergence of the Juggernaut

Very few emerging markets or industries can accurately be classified as "juggernaut" in size, scope or effect. Today, the emerging juggernaut is e-Learning. If analysts and current trends prove correct, e-Learning will establish itself as the "juggernaut" of corporate training and development.

Over the past three years, I have had the opportunity to work with many owners, executives, senior managers, business leaders and investors, when the subject of e-Learning comes up, few seem confident, comfortable, or even knowledgeable about the subject. Some even question its relevance to the knowledge organization.

e-Learning, as a whole, represents a wide range of organizational activities and technologies, including distance education, computer-based training, web-based training, Internet-based training, courseware delivery and online learning and testing. e-Learning represents the total integration of multimedia, instructor-led, and real-time training - in a human, collaborative, environment.

Knowing how to get started in purchasing or creating an organization-wide e-Learning program for employees requires an understanding of new learning models, methodologies and technologies. As with most educational institutions, business organizations are muddled with learning models, methodologies, and processes created in times of information scarcity.

e-Learning and Return on Investment

Today, the business world has three very fundamental concerns and weaknesses: attracting, training, and retaining its intellectual capital. It's an ever-growing, difficult task to train and retain the knowledge workers of the world– the workforces of the new millennium are now "free agents" and job hoppers at a whim. What they offer is portable knowledge. I propose a simple, long-term solution to these three business concerns and weaknesses – e-Learning.

What began simply as information technology training has made its way into management, sales, marketing, product management, customer service, and professional development. This multimedia approach to training is quickly migrating to the Web. The e-Learning market, in a Merrill Lynch research report, is estimated to grow annually at 54 percent, from $9.4 billion in 1999 to $53.3 billion in 2003. Other analyst and research reports estimate much higher dollar figures. Either way, the pie is growing rapidly. When looking at the overall, $2 trillion annual worldwide educational and training budget, the e-Learning value figure will undoubtedly be much, much larger.

e-Learning is essentially the ‘e-commerce’ of knowledge. Today the global emergence of knowledge e-commerce is on the horizon. In the final analysis, e-Learning offers ten significant ROI features to the business world and its workforce.

1. Real-time learning.
e-Learning offers real-time learning and application of critical knowledge. Knowledge will no longer need to be taken from the shelf of the training department, brushed off, and reviewed. e-Learning is immediate and provides up-to-date information. Just as the Internet has revolutionized information accessibility, so e-Learning begins to revolutionize global workforce training and development.

2. Learner-centric training.
e-Learning changes the focus of training from traditional instructor-centric to learner-centric training. This is how training and learning should be done. e-Learning is tailored to the learners’ professional responsibilities and capabilities, creating relevant application to their immediate and future needs. A learner and his needs should be the sole focus and goal of any training or educational program.

3. Attract, train and retain.
The most important asset in an organization is its’ knowledge workers. The shortage of skilled workers is global. Research shows that the number one reason for loss of key employees is that they feel their organization hasn't invested sufficient resources for their professional development. e-Learning not only addresses the workers' need to develop new knowledge and skills, but also provides learning-on-demand.

4. Personalized individual training.
An effective e-Learning system learns about its users and tailors its offerings to their learning style, job requirements, career goals, current knowledge, and personal preferences. The system is adaptive and personal. This is all accomplished through “small chunks” or “bites” of learning granules and objects labeled so systems can automatically create and deliver individualized learning experiences. Accomplished with a one-on-one, instructor-trainer ratio.

5. Ownership and Empowerment.
e-Learners are responsible for their own learning. e-Learning empowers them to manage and implement their own learning and development plans. Ownership of learning is crucial for individual growth and retention of employees. Empowerment creates learner ownership and direction – leading to powerful learning and growth potential. e-Learning gives the e-learner the ability to measure their progress and assess their ‘gap’ in desired skills.

6. Simulation.
We learn by seeing and doing. e-Learning introduces a truly innovative way of simulating each learning experience or event with content and ideas provided by some of the leading professionals in the world. Simulation also introduces the required, ‘interactive’ part of learning – interaction and participation with a local or global audience.

7. Collaboration.
This is accomplished through either joint problem-solving or discussion among study groups through forums, discussion groups and chat rooms. Collaboration is one critical component to effective learning – opening the path to broader thought and innovative processes through the sharing of ideas and experience. Bottom line, collaboration unleashes the learner’s creative and innovative thought process – leading to new ideas, products, and services.

8. Anytime and anywhere.
One difficult and costly process of traditional training is coordinating travel, resources, materials, classroom settings, or seminar training for a global workforce. No longer is it necessary to dedicate critical resources to plan, coordinate and manage travel, reservations, rentals, and equipment for each learner and event. The reality of training in a virtual information classroom, across continents, is now possible – anytime, anywhere.

9. Cost effective.
Costs can be applied to each learner, and results can be measured against the incurred costs. More importantly, e-Learning is less intrusive to the daily work duties and schedule of the organization and learner, saving time and money through less interruption of the learner’s regularly scheduled duties. This cost effective training is tangible ROI – immediately recognized by the organization.

10. Quantifiable ROI.
e-Learning can be effectively measured in terms of knowledge gain and retention. This is proving to be the true "sell-point" of e-Learning. Organizations, through the use of a learning management system, are now able to establish systems that can track progress, report results, and specify additional subject matter for continued success – all within seconds of the user’s query. This is the point where both organizational management and employees will see measurable ROI.

e-Learning offers organizations the ability to address and manage the monumental task of hiring, training, and retention of the new knowledge worker. It also shows which organizations are serious about attracting, training, and retaining their global workforce.

Organizational Hurdles

Last year, it’s estimated that over 70 million people received training and education on the Internet. Soon, training for nearly every job in the world will be available over the Internet. The real change in organizational practice will be the recognition, acceptance and acknowledgement that the knowledge of each employee represents organizational (intellectual) capital. Each employee has competitive knowledge – representing one strand of the organization’s competitive DNA.

In fact, I believe it is the competitive advantage organizations neglect most often. Speed, connectivity, and intangible value (knowledge) have made e-Learning the primary choice for creating and maintaining a competitive advantage in an ever-changing, competitive, knowledge world.

Organizations face two hurdles in managing and understanding their knowledge workforce: knowledge isn’t static and neither is the knowledge workforce. First, knowledge, such as ‘best practices’ can and will become obsolete – some knowledge has little or no shelf life at all. Second, knowledge is not only Internet mobile, but mobile with each employee.

Questions: How does an organization not only retain – but satisfy its workforce? How does an organization replace a key employee? Once the organization has replaced the employee, how does it know if its gained or lost knowledge through the acquisition and transition? What type of metrics can be used to measure the knowledge loss-gain ratio? Answer: Look to e-Learning to provide such metrics and answers in the very near future.

John T. Chambers, President and CEO of Cisco Systems, stated, "The next big killer application for the Internet is going to be education. Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail look like a rounding error."

The clock is ticking on the traditional employee training and retention model. Behold, the e-Learning juggernaut cometh.

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