E-learning is about people, not just saving company money

E-learning will only prove beneficial to those companies
that put people ahead of cost savings. Remember, what works in a traditional
classroom is not necessarily going to work on a desktop in an isolated office

E-learning is thriving in the public sector, with the Government putting
technology at the heart of education.

In January, education secretary Charles Clarke announced that schools would
be given an extra £280m for e-learning credits to be spent on approved digital
resources listed on the Government’s new online resources catalogue, called
Curriculum Online.

The cash that is emerging from government coffers into e-learning isn’t just
restricted to local education authority and college budgets. Since December
2002, more than 250,000 UK police officers have been accessing the force’s
intranet, either with a CD-Rom or over the internet, learning about improving
diversity and community race relations.

Nevertheless, despite the advent of ‘anytime, anywhere’ training and its
virtues – gains in savings, efficiency and productivity, for example –
e-learning in the private sector just hasn’t had the same success as it has
experienced in the public sector.

According to The realities of corporate LMS 2003, new research from
e-learning market analyst and consultancy eLearnity, many corporates view
e-learning with suspicion. The most significant barriers to its roll-out, they
say, are cultural acceptance, level of usage, data quality and lack of internal

In my opinion, the root of this suspicion can be linked to two common
misconceptions: people tend to disregard the needs of the user, the most
important component of e-learning; and they see e-learning as a mere exercise
in cost saving. These are misguided and they are intrinsically connected.

How is it that the all-important user gets left out of the e-learning
equation? The problem is that traditional learning is too often replaced with
online training with little diligence. I’ve seen organisations implementing
e-learning material as if it were classroom-based: they set up a group of
employees in a lab with PCs and tell them to train there for four hours a week.
They are expected to just get on with it. There’s no live instructor, no
interaction among trainees – just a bunch of people in a room, using computers.

This approach fails to acknowledge that some employees find it hard to learn
in isolation. It also fails to help the practical learner overcome difficulties
such as IT illiteracy and unfamiliar terminology. Taking this approach to
e-learning will not only isolate the user, but will also give them the
impression that it is merely about downloading sophisticated programs.

It is important to understand that when it comes to e-learning, that what
works in a classroom is not necessarily going to work on a desktop. HR managers
should understand that some online courses might be inferior to traditional
classroom training. Teaching interpersonal skills or first aid are good

It is crucial not to view e-learning as a mere exercise in cost saving. This
undermines one of its biggest benefits – adding value to the business. It is
true that companies will save money by avoiding travel costs, lost work time
and scheduling conflicts. But at the same time, it is important to remember e-learning’s
other real benefits. It offers effective learning for individuals at a
convenient time and at the same time supports business objectives.

E-learning needs to be about aligning personal and corporate performance
along with driving up standards. It is also a powerful way of investing in
employees and ensuring they have the right knowledge to perform optimally.

Above all, e-learning is an excellent means of supporting the organisation’s
overall performance. To do this, HR managers need to identify the
organisation’s needs and understand the benefits they want to gain from the
technology. Having a plan in place to invest in employees and matching it to
your organisation’s business needs is the key.

Ultimately, getting the most out of e-learning requires the content to be
focused on supporting business goals as well as individual development needs.
Explore the potential benefits of e-learning rather than putting the emphasis
on cost savings. As aptly conveyed by Charles Clark, e-learning is "not
just about the kit, but about what you use it for and how you use it".


By Lisa Clark, Education services director, SAPUK

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