On-line learning faces an uphill struggle

Training specialists are battling with unsupportive managers to establish the new skills delivery methods according to our recent survey. Stephanie Sparrow analyses the findings

Lack of commitment from senior managers is a major barrier to the effective delivery of on-line learning. So say training departments in their response to a national survey conducted by Training magazine and Xebec McGraw-Hill.

The survey, Corporate Foundations for E-Learning Success, which appeared in our June edition, looked at the implementation of on-line learning and its impact on trainers.

Responses show the type of challenges that on-line learning presents. Training sessions will become shorter, more focused and often just-in-time in nature. This means that trainers will need to develop new key skills, including their ability to integrate on- and off-line training activities, coaching and facilitation.

Trainers are enthusiastic about the challenge, with 69 per cent feeling that it will add to their role, but there are also concerns. They are worried about a reduced opportunity to share learning and about the practical side: trainers are anxious about the increased technical knowledge required and also the difficulty in selecting suppliers.

This anxiety is also reflected in the lack of confidence about their new roles. Very few training departments and teams seem to feel that they are fully competent in their new roles as on-line trainers (5 per cent) although 30 per cent did feel that they were making substantial progress.


Use of intranets


So how is training delivered and what systems did the respondents have in place?

Corporate intranets are making their mark, as 78 per cent of you now have one, but this is not matched by their use for training.

Of those of you who have a corporate intranet or web browser to access corporate information and documentation just over a quarter, or 28 per cent, currently use it to deliver on-line training. Another quarter currently do not use their intranet to deliver training but plan to within one year, and in the longer term, 23 per cent of those with an intranet state that they plan to use it for training delivery within three years.

This leaves the final 24 per cent of respondents who do not use their intranet for on-line training and has no plans to do so. And so from the survey results it looks like interactive learning delivered by CD-Rom will continue to have a large presence in the foreseeable future.

Those who do use the intranet primarily see it as a means to deliver IT or technical skills training, as 66 per cent has said.

Other popular areas for intranets are corporate issues such as health and safety, induction and equal opportunities and soft skills.


Using the Internet


Eighteen per cent of respondents said that their organisation uses the Internet as a means of delivering training to its employees, and these people are primarily in the communications, education and consultancy sectors.

In the future, 42 per cent say that they plan to use the Internet for training delivery within three years, but 38 per cent state that they have no plans to do so.


Future plans


Those who already use the intranet to deliver training have set their sights on using it for management skills and professional development, with 27 per cent indicating that they will be delivering this skill area over their intranets in the near future. This was closely followed by customer care and personal skills.


Culture problems


Cultural aspects of the business appear to be the main issues in preventing the effective delivery of on-line training.

For those who have an intranet but do not necessarily use it for training, the greatest issue preventing effective delivery of e-learning is "interruptions at the desktop" at 40 per cent.


Other top issues are:


  • Poor implementation of on-line learning

  • Lack of commitment by senior management.

However, response to the survey also suggests that getting actual uptake of training by users is more difficult than expected once on-line is implemented. Issues such as ineffective internal marketing, employee resistance to on-line training and trainer resistance to on-line training, and lack of line management support are more important issues to those with on-line experience. Less important factors are cost and that "on-line training is not part of the business strategy".


Intranet success


When asked how successful training over their intranet is now, 39 per cent said that it was quite successful or very successful. This is a decrease compared to other research conducted by Xebec McGraw- Hill since 1998,when in that year 51 per cent stated the same.

But there is optimism for the future, with 77 per cent stating that they felt on-line learning will be quite or very successful, compared to previous research which put this at 68 per cent in 1998 for example.


Key drivers


Of those organisations that already used their intranet to deliver training or plan to within three years, 58 per cent stated that the training director or manager was or would be a key driver in the implementation process.

Other key players were in order:


  • IT director/manager

  • Human resources/personnel director

  • End user

  • Trainer

Implementation


When asked what the main barriers are that prevent successful implementation of on-line learning the top answer was an overwhelming lack of commitment by senior management by 43 per cent.

The second biggest barrier was cost and third poor planning of the implementation process.

And for those organisations that currently use their intranet to deliver training, lack of commitment from senior management is still the main barrier at 42 per cent although it is closely followed by poor planning of the implementation process at 41 per cent.


Learning portals


The survey showed a lack of awareness of the potential benefits of learning portals. For example, when asked, "What are your plans for using portals as part of your training strategy?" 44 per cent said that they had no plans to use one and 33 per cent said that they did not know what type of portal they may use.


Impact of on-line training


Nearly all the respondents(93 per cent) agree that intranets will make training more accessible.

There is also a strong feeling that training will in the future be taken in shorter, more focussed sessions (83 per cent) and 64 per cent felt that the just-in time approach to learning will be important.

More than three-quarters felt that learning would be applied more immediately in the workplace, presumably because of the training style (just-in-time and short focused session), course content and design of on-line learning.

Responses indicate that training will be linked more closely to the success of the organisation and be focused on increasing core competencies.

Although training will be more accessible, 57 per cent of respondents disagree with the statement that training "will be taken more seriously". This could be because of the impact of the just-in-time and self-development approach to learning, which is culturally quite different from traditional training approaches.


Role of the trainer


The most important skill option for trainers to develop is "the ability to integrate on-line and off-line training activities", as indicated by 30 per cent of the respondents.

Other key skills were, in order:


  • Coaching skills

  • Facilitation

  • Authoring skills (but only at 12 per cent)

But for those trainers who currently use their intranet to deliver training coaching skills become significantly more important, with 53 per cent indicating that it is the most important key skill.


Effects of on-line


More than two-thirds of respondents felt that on-line learning would add value to the role of the trainer within an organisation.

As little as 8 per cent felt that it would undermine their role. And of those who already use the intranet to deliver training, 79 per cent felt that on-line learning would add value to the role of the trainer within the organisation.


Ready for change?


Of those organisations that already use their intranet to deliver training, only five per cent felt that their training department and team was fully competent for their new roles.

Half felt that they were making some progress towards their new roles. And of those organisations planning to use on-line learning within the next three years, 27 per cent stated that their training department had little awareness of their potentially changing roles and only 12 per cent were making substantial progress.

Of those organisations that used their intranet for on-line delivery of training and that were fully competent in their new roles, 60 per cent indicated that they felt this training was very successful and of those organisations that had made substantial progress, 33 per cent still felt that it was not very successful.


Main concerns


When all trainers who answered the survey were asked what their main personal concerns resulting from the survey were, 47 per cent stated that the reduced opportunity to share learning was their main concern, followed by increased technical knowledge.

Those trainers whose organisations currently use their intranet to deliver training are more concerned about the increased level of technical knowledge required (42 per cent) and the decreased importance of personal elements of the role. Technical issues are of more importance to experienced practitioners than to those who have yet to tackle the realities of implementation.

Concerns about evaluation are looming large. Experienced on-line trainers are worried about the inability to evaluate the effectiveness of the training with 26 per cent stating it is a concern, compared to 21 per cent for all trainers.


Future forecasts


Neither employers nor training providers think that the future of learning lies solely with e-learning, according to a separate survey out this month.

A national survey by Campaign for Learning in partnership with KPMG, UfI and Peter Honey Learning has looked at attitudes to e-learning.

In this survey, three-quarters of employers do not think that training in their organisation will one day be delivered wholly through e-learning. More or less the same number of providers (77 per cent) disagree with the statement that their organisation "will one day deliver all its learning provision through e-learning".

Opinion is also divided over whether e-learning is more cost-effective than other forms of learning. Employers take a fairly positive view, with nearly half (46 per cent) agreeing that it is more cost-effective, only a small minority disagreeing, but nearly as many undecided.

There are also some reservations in this survey about the effectiveness of e-learning and 14 per cent of providers and 23 per cent of employers believe that it is not as effective as face-to-face teaching.

Nearly a quarter of providers (23 per cent) think that the lack of interaction between teachers and learners is a disadvantage and one in 10 of employers think that e-learning during work time is not conducive to effective learning.

The Campaign for Learning believes that this reaction may be related to the finding in the Xebec McGraw-Hill survey that the greatest issue preventing effective delivery of e-learning among those who have an intranet is "interruptions at the desktop".

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