Finding the right blend

E-learning and other computer-based training packages are starting to make
an appearance in many organisations, but most are not throwing out the
traditional methods just yet. Dom Panucci profiles four companies’ training
preferences

The advent of e-learning has provided businesses with the opportunity to use
more flexible forms of training. Individuals can now study at their own pace
and even in their own time, with the e-learning content being downloaded from a
corporate network or website to be viewed as and when it is required.

E-learning will not meet all requirements and the classroom training that
has proved a mainstay for most organisations will not be swept away by this
technology. Certain skillsets, such as leadership and project management,
cannot be taught properly via a purely electronic format. However, e-learning
has proved highly effective when it comes to just-in- time learning and as a
pre-cursor to preparing people for classroom tuition. As Paul McKelvie,
director of learning at ScottishPower, points out: "E-learning won’t teach
you how to be a good interviewer, but it will remind you how to do an
interview."

The jury is still out on how soon organisations can expect a return on
investment from e-learning. Many are still wary of committing themselves after
initial disappointments and high drop-out rates turned many organisations off
e-learning first time around. Often this was due to poor implementation of
e-learning systems, which were purchased in the belief that they would bring
instant cost-savings – reducing, if not eradicating, expensive classroom-based
training that took staff away from their real jobs for days at a time. But a
rationalisation of the number of e-learning providers, combined with a more
methodical approach to e-learning from training managers, means it has more
chance of succeeding.

Additionally, training professionals are having to align training closely
with an organisation’s business needs, so making a business case for e-learning
provides a stronger foundation on which to build a strategy than the bandwagon
approach of a few years ago.

The number of e-learning success stories is increasing. Cisco Systems, the
company that provides much of the networking technology behind the internet,
claims it has reduced its training bill by some 40 per cent (see opposite).

Similarly, when it comes to specific training projects, e-learning can
massively reduce outlay. Cable & Wireless Regional paid less than £150,000
for an e-learning solution for new product training, from learning solutions
provider Fuel, that it believes would have cost it up to £2.6m in traditional
education costs.

The key to successful training is getting the right blend between e-learning
and traditional training methods. No longer do training managers feel that ‘e’
means wiping out the classroom component and as the following four case studies
prove, the two can happily co-exist and more often than not, feed off each
other.

Jim Moore, employee development manager
Cap Gemini Ernst & Young
IT services and consulting
Employees: 56,500 worldwide

CGE&Y’s requirement: To use distance/flexible learning to provide its
consultants with the ability to learn any time and anywhere. It wants to build
a learning network that consultants can draw upon to acquire the information
they need with a few clicks of a mouse. As subjects evolve, consultants simply
plug into the network, to ensure competency in all areas says CGE&Y.

Approach: CGE&Y makes use of a range of e-learning and other distance
learning delivered via its intranet and extranets. Jim Moore, employee
development manager at the company describes it as a classic e-learning model.
"It involves little user interaction and allows 24-7 access to resources
for self-paced learning," he explains. CGE&Y is also developing a
delivery mechanism where a trainer presents to people virtually at their desks,
with these events booked for an arranged time and a set number of learners.

Overall, the organisation takes a blended approach to its learning, and this
includes mentoring and coaching. Mentoring is typically used for technical
teaching, with virtual support provided through chatrooms.

Classroom training takes the form of trainees using identical software on
individual desktops, as well as a library of e-books. Employees can register
their training preferences by completing a questionnaire.

So far so good? Staff no longer have to travel to a particular location to
receive training which minimises negative impact on productivity. Moore also
says that employees regard being able to learn in their own time as a useful
aspect of their career development process. There are even instances where
CGE&Y employees download the e-learning course from the company’s corporate
network and view the material on a notebook PC while travelling home by train.

Technical staff, in particular, are keen on this practice. CGE&Y
recommends employees spend no more than one hour at each e-learning session in
order to maximise the effectiveness of the training. Moore maintains that
blended learning techniques are the way forward, but adds that improvements in
bandwidth and quality of communications over the internet may yet cut into
areas which are currently the preserve of the classroom.

Paul McKelvie, director of learning
ScottishPower
UK energy utility
Employees: 15,000+

ScottishPower’s requirement: To develop an open learning strategy for the
workforce, following expansion from its Scottish base into England and the US.
The learning strategy not only encourages employees to undertake role-specific
education for their current job, but also vocational and aspirational training
to help them move on to a new career path. It even goes as far as providing
access to more leisure-based learning activities, such as a new language.

Approach: E-learning forms a key channel for delivering the education, but
traditional classroom-based methods are still used. E-learning is used to
deliver as much of the knowledge-based aspect of training as possible. Paul
McKelvie, director of learning at ScottishPower, believes that basing a learning
strategy solely around e-learning would be na‹ve although it makes sense when
there is a financial imperative or a clear need.

"You have to be aware of what technology-based training can do and what
it can’t," he says. "Sometimes we use technology, sometimes we
don’t."

There are also some areas where e-learning alone will not suffice. One
example is health and safety training, where web-based methods are used for
thetheory, with the practical application of the knowledge delivered by
trainers in person. This has reduced the training from three days to
one-and-a-half. NETg, a Thomson Learning company, is ScottishPower’s preferred
e-learning supplier.

So far so good? Some resistance to e-learning has been encountered from
employees. Realising there is an element of fear with new technology,
ScottishPower is tackling this by offering employees a grounding in basic
computer and online skills. McKelvie sees this as critical in ensuring its
take-up. Looking ahead, ScottishPower’s US operation is developing learning
kiosks in dedicated centres to provide further access to learning and personal
development.

Brian Hambling, technical director
Imago QA
Software testing consultancy
Employees: 120 consultants

Imago QA’s requirement: As a provider of software testing services to
business, Imago QA has a double training responsibility, covering both staff
and customer training. It needs to adopt a flexible approach to training
because if end-user training is solely based on the classroom model, the cost
would be prohibitively high, says technical director Brian Hambling. Specific
requirements include compliance training with accredited certification schemes.

Skill transfers also represent important secondary sales to end-user
companies, as well as leading towards certification schemes, in particular the
British Computer Society’s Information System Examination Board. Between 20-30
of these certification schemes have been developed, according to Hambling.

Approach: Imago has used technical e-learning programmes from e-learning
provider BlueU. It offers a range of courseware accessible online via the
internet and employees have the opportunity to either study in the workplace,
or at home. This policy ensures that training takes place outside billable
hours wherever possible. Training in areas such as management skills, financial
background and leadership are still done in a classroom environment.

So far so good? The BlueU service has proved useful and has added value to
Imago’s operations, says Hambling. But while it offers flexibility, it cannot
meet all Imago’s needs and does not cover certain specific training
requirements.

Hambling also says that some courses remain unfinished with the learners
tending to lose interest – a common problem with e-learning. As for using it as
an external training option for customers, Hambling says that IT companies can
often be less enthusiastic about e-learning than companies operating in other
sectors.

Rob Lisanti, training operations and delivery manager
Cisco Systems
Employees: 38,000 globally

Cisco’s requirement: To put in place a single, internet-based e-learning
platform through which all training can be accessed. Cisco needs to train not
only its employees but also its business partners and customers spread across
Europe, the Middle East, Japan, Asia Pacific and the US. It has to deal with
rapid technological change when it comes to system engineering knowledge and
engineers can spend up to 40 per cent of their time researching and updating
their technical knowledge. Cisco had a rudimentary learning management system
(LMS) in place, but it was not robust enough to handle its growing needs.

Approach: Cisco migrated its legacy training applications to the Saba
Enterprise Edition Systems LMS to form a single gateway for all its training –
as well as accessing e-learning courses, employees, partners and customers can
browse the full range of training available, including classroom-based and
blended solutions.

"Much of the core training may be delivered through classroom-based events
and it is typical for product and technology updates to be disseminated through
e-based solutions such as IP TV, video-on-demand and White Papers," says
Cisco’s training operations and delivery manager Rob Lisanti. "A blended
solution that uses classroom and e-learning is often the best solution."

The original infrastructure was made up of lots of different products from
different vendors and the migration has taken place gradually since 1998. The
system assigns, tracks and manages personalised learning plans and
certification programmes. In two years, Cisco logged 380,000 through its LMS.

So far so good? Cisco claims e-learning has helped reduce training costs by
some 40 to 60 per cent, but the main strength of the system, believes Lisanti,
is the global access it gives users to browse all training by Cisco. "The
true power is that users can sign up, particularly for e-learning offerings and
take training that would otherwise have taken them weeks to locate and
complete," says Lisanti. He says Cisco is committed to making the most of
the benefits the internet brings to training, but still sees a place for
classroom-based learning. "But certainly the emphasis on the full five-day
residential class is declining," he adds.

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