E-learning: overview

The word e-learning entered training jargon at the end of 20th century, replacing the expression Computer-Based Training (CBT).

This signified more than simply a name change for change’s sake: CBT was very much a pre-web creature, using packs of CD-Roms and hard-copy information, resulting in a single user-based resource.

The advent of the web made that approach largely obsolete and meant that learning content could be stored on servers, often remote, accessible from desktop computers via web links and later by wireless devices such as laptops and hand-held units. Advocates of mobile learning – itself a derivative of e-learning – believe there is still scope for growth in the use of mobile BlackBerry-like devices to access e-learning.

In recent years the arrival of Web 2.0 technology such as social media has made e-learning more content rich and interactive, with the result that audio-visual content and interactivity are now – or should be ­ the norm. Web 3.0, expected any time soon, should also have a major impact on e-learning.

According to the 2010 CIPD Learning and Development Survey, e-learning is used by 62% of UK organisations, up from 57% in 2008. The survey also found that 60% of employees at organisations providing e-learning had access to it but only 30% used it. Former CIPD learning and development (L&D) adviser Martyn Sloman says: “Simply making e-learning available will have no effect – it needs to be embedded in wider learning strategies.”

As a standalone training tool, e-learning has never been viewed with much affection by the in-house training and L&D function. Only 8% of those polled in the 2008 CIPD survey viewed e-learning as effective, while 95% said it was effective when combined with other forms of learning – the blended approach. In organisations using e-learning, it takes up about 12% of training time, a figure that respondents expect to rise to 27% by 2011-2012.

E-learning implementation can be a massive and complex undertaking, especially if it is to be organisation-wide. Minimum outlay will be 10s of thousands of pounds, maybe even millions, unless it is a short specific programme. It will probably need board-level approval and the involvement of key stakeholders such as the IT management team. It is not a decision for the L&D department alone.

Asked for the most important criteria to apply when selecting a supplier, Louise Woodley, education and skills personnel manager, Tesco, says: “Confidence, consistency and how their solution fits with the business.”

Consider, too, the access needs of your staff. Jayne Stokes, head of learning, Santander UK, says: “The key for online learning is access. Any contract would therefore have to include the flexibility to host solutions on both your internal learning management system, as well as enabling access to your workforce externally via their own home computers.”

Questions to ask before designing or buying an e-learning package:

  • What is it for?
  • Who is it for?
  • What technology will it require?
  • What is the budget available for it?
  • How will we know if it has worked?
  • Is e-learning being used elsewhere in the organisation (usually within the IT department)?
  • What impact will it have on wider training and L&D provision?
  • Do we need an e-learning project team?
  • If so, who should be on it?
  • What content do we want?


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