More questions than answers

must focus on the future and recognise the challenges ahead to ensure
e-learning’s success, says Professor David Birchall

has been little said about the real issues and challenges organisations face in

– particularly, issues around the realisation of sustainable business benefits
over the longer term.

study of early applications of e-learning* has scratched beneath the glossy
veneer by reporting the experiences and insights of people involved in making
e-learning happen. Compared to initial predictions, the scale and complexity of
challenges it presents have been largely miscalculated, and those responsible
for training and development are facing a steep learning curve.

basic restriction to e-learning’s development is in the nature of information
and communications technology (ICT), which remains fragmented in many

potential is recognised by organisations not only using asynchronous, but also
increasingly trialling synchronous technologies. The more successful projects
have adopted a design philosophy of ‘fit for purpose’ and made appropriate use
of technology recognising the user’s needs.

transformation of training and development through ICT depends upon integrated
decision-making crossing strategy formulation, operations management,
information systems, knowledge management and training and development itself.

of information content and personalised learning process will become
increasingly important as a means of ensuring cost-effective solutions that
motivate the learner. Real economies of scale often depend upon global delivery
– but problems of language, culture and differences in local practices have to
be tackled.

areas such as informal learning, communities of practice and networked learning
will all increase to support the growing number of knowledge workers. The role
for training and development departments in all of this is unclear as yet.

the business case for investment in e-learning will continue to be a central
challenge. Many of its benefits are intangible and difficult to quantify, and
the situation is not helped by the relatively unsophisticated evaluation of
e-learning and ICT-based training. Without improved evaluation of the impact of
e-learning on the bottom line, senior management may remain unconvinced of the
business benefits.

examining training needs for sustaining competitiveness, organisations should
look to future-orientated management tools such as scenarios, roadmapping and
future proofing. These provoke managerial debate and action over future
investment decisions across the firm’s business domains.

David Birchall is director of educational technologies at Henley Management
*Forthcoming e-learning report from Henley Management College, to be published

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