E-learning is not all about adding value

We are all aware of the e-commerce frenzy which, true to form for the IT industry, over-promises and under-delivers. Remember, the paperless office promise years ago. Worse still, Amazon.com is losing hundreds of millions of dollars, yet the markets still refuse to acknowledge that the number of "hits" on a web site does not necessarily lead to profits. Falling share prices indicate that confidence is shaken but the steam has not gone out of this revolution yet.

The same frenzied activity is spilling over into "e-learning". Interestingly, it is called e-learning not e-training. We all know that the emphasis should be on learning and not the number of training days.

But what value, exactly, does the "e" bring to learning? You might try looking for the answer in a report by the Campaign for Learning, the DTI, DfEE and the Further Education Development Agency entitled The Future of Corporate Learning. According to this the future is corporate universities and e-learning or, that is what the 12 case study organisations are doing.

If you are thinking of following suit, it suggests that a key issue to consider is "how does the structure you have in mind directly add value to your business strategy?" This is the question all training and development – sorry, "learning" departments – should be asking.

So how well do the organisations cited answer this question? We need to look at their "impact" measures which – Motorola delivered "77,000 days of training", BT generated "lots of enquiries", BA managed to "rationalise the number of courses offered" and M&G saw "4,200 user sessions and 113,000 page views from 500 people in eight months".

As someone who has had to produce hard, business case proposals for on-line delivery of training, I know there is no automatic assumption that e-learning delivers any outputs. Even a case for delivering inputs more efficiently is not as easily proven as you might think. In fact the "e" itself has very little to do with learning.

Effective individual and organisational learning demands a lot more thought, time and attention than the e-revolution offers. Getting the context right for on-line learning is the key, and stupid measures only drive stupid behaviour.

The overall impression of this document is to leave you with a serious question about what constitutes best practice. Included is Xerox’s "New Learning Imperative" and I ask myself is this the same Xerox that is carrying an $18bn debt, and in danger of filing for bankruptcy? Actually, there are two clear lessons here – be very careful who you choose to learn from and make sure whatever you learn really adds value.

By Paul Kearns, Senior partner at Personnel Works

For a copy of Paul Kearn’s book, Maximising your ROI in Training, go to www.business-minds.com

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