Organizations today are in a continuous state of evolution. There is consistent learning, interacting, and implementation of new solutions to organizational challenges. This means that in order for organizations to succeed they must find ways to share their collective wisdom, preferably in real-time. The remedy most turn to is technology. Specifically, organizations are finding creative ways to include eLearning, or electronic learning, into their overall business and training processes (Ambrose & Ogilvie, 2010).
Technology allows organizations to be innovative in their approach to training. Corporations in general spent an estimated $92.5 billion on training last year (Capdeferro & Romero, 2012). More than half of this figure is in eLearning content demand. eLearning by definition includes all forms of electronic supported education and teaching (Roy, 2010). Organizations have been incorporating eLearning into business practice since the 1990s. This was spurred by changes in the higher education field (Chieh-Peng et. al., 2010). Organizations were able to emulate the positive success of colleges and universities using distance learning to reach more students. It was quickly learned that best practices in eLearning in higher education could also translate well for other industries (Roy, 2010).
Two primary forces have helped create the shift to eLearning among organizations -- the accelerated pace of business itself and information creation and the shift in organizational information needs (Ambrose & Ogilvie, 2010). Today there are new considerations for corporate learning including the need for a faster transfer of knowledge among workers, a need to shorter trainings with more readily available content, and a need to lower overall costs to the organization (Roy, 2010).
Economic growth and societal changes have also put greater demands on training. As brought out by Guile, during the1990s organizations moved from looking at eLearning as "will we?" To "how will we?" (2002). The September 11th tragedy and other events also increased the focus on eLearning (Roy, 2010). Reduced budgets and the inability or unwillingness of people to travel caused many organizations to start looking at digital collaboration as core mechanisms for conducting business. In addition, talent shortages in some industries have led to an emphasis on skill sets and the hiring and training of personnel (Sloman & Reynolds, 2003). There is greater interest today in training current employees for expanded roles. Thus, organizations today have new views about learning and development, and look to eLearning to assist with everything from recruiting, performance evaluation, leadership development, and cross training (Guile, 2002).
Today nearly every organization has some form of eLearning for employees allowing them access to knowledge they need to carry out their positions, reference information and get the support they need to perform well (Brecht, 2012). Simulations and online exercises also allow employees to learn from one another and practice with their newfound knowledge. This leads to an enhanced learning experience. eLearning can also act as a valuable community builder and help overcome geographic barriers for organizations with team members in different physical locations (Sloman & Reynolds, 2003). Thus, cost and training complexity are two organizational challenges that can be lessened by leveraging eLearning.
This paper explores how organizations can successfully implement eLearning into their overall business practices. It identifies important considerations for management as they attempt to push for adoption of eLearning within the organization, including working through cultural resistance at both the organizational and learner levels. This paper will also examine best practices, learning transfer and considerations for organizations in terms of eLearning design, implementation, evaluation and assessment.
Introducing eLearning & Overcoming Objections
eLearning in the form of web sites, online tutorials, company portals and learning management systems are all very common today among organizations (Ambrose & Ogilvie, 2010). The virtual classroom can be accessed 24/7 with very little cost or complication. However, the initial introduction of eLearning into some organizational cultures can be difficult. A poll conducted by Forrester Research identified three common obstacles to launching a successful eLearning strategy: lack of interactivity (56%), cultural resistance (41%) and lack of bandwidth or resources (36%) (Roy, 2010).
Perhaps the most important, and often overlooked, challenge can reside with the organization's workforce. The human side of eLearning implementation is often the key factor in success or failure (Capdeferro & Romero, 2012). This is because while technology can just be upgraded or replaced, changing human perceptions and attitudes is much more difficult. The learner must be able to see the value and benefit of change in the work process, which includes learning through technical platforms. The more significant the change, the more significant human resistance can be (Chieh-Peng et. al., 2010).
To overcome this challenge, organizations should understand the motivators that cause people to embrace or resist change (Leimbach & Emde, 2011). There are a number of cultural issues that can impact eLearning adoption in organizations. For instance, the previously accepted use of computers within an organization can be a barrier in some cases. Perhaps an organization has an unwritten policy restricting computer usage on the job to work tasks only. This might have been put in place to prevent employees from web surfing all day, visiting inappropriate websites, or spending excessive amounts of time on email or social media sites such as Facebook. A sudden directive to embrace a new corporate intranet or use the web for training purposes could be perceived as unrelated to actual job function and confuse the formerly understood rules. Employees would have to change their behavior which will inevitably have ripple effects on organizational culture (Capdeferro & Romero, 2012). The rollout of an eLearning initiative in such an environment may have a rocky start. Other challenges could be that eLearning is viewed as unnecessary. Members of the organization may not see a need for any change. In addition, some may not be fans of technology or lack the skills and experience with computers to truly feel comfortable. Thus, culture and perception mean are top considerations for any organization moving to eLearning.
Senior leaders and human resource managers must always stress eLearning benefits. A top down approach can be beneficial. Middle managers can communicate the value of eLearning further down the line (Skillsoft, 2004). For example, mid-level managers can use eLearning to deliver up-to-date content to their teams, along with more individualized feedback and performance support. Training materials can be quickly edited and communicated when policies and procedures change. In addition, eLearning content can be accessed in varying forms. Employees who prefer to print materials often can, depending on the eLearning platform. Similarly, employees who are more technically savvy can quickly reference information through FAQs or searchable knowledge databases if they prefer. Also, content can be developed in multi-language versions to better support organizational diversity and ensure a consistent message is shared with all.
Sometimes it is the senior leaders and executives that need convincing (Roy, 2010). They may have major concerns over the investment required to institute an eLearning solution which is usually a substantial development expense. This requires many budget discussions. For instance, some may feel that the existing technology can accomplish the training goals. There can be push back and demands for justification for additional tech expenditures (Ambrose & Ogilvie, 2010). To overcome these objections, it helps when eLearning advocates speak in terms of operational and business advantages, return on investment, and overall cost savings.
Making a strong financial case that demonstrates return on investment is critical. Research suggests that eLearning tends to be less expensive than classroom training if an organization has many learners who are spread widely geographically and if the content needs to be repeated several times (Brecht, 2012). For example, adopting eLearning means that costs for instructor salaries, meeting space rentals, travel, lodging, and meals and catering may be eliminated. eLearning can also reduce employee time away from the office and therefore positively impact productivity.
Training and development positives include the fact that learning times can be reduced by as much as 60% and that knowledge retention has been estimated to increase up to 25% over traditional training methods (Guile, 2002). Self-paced, asynchronous eLearning can mean more consistent delivery of content when expert knowledge automated. Important knowledge can be more easily communicated and captured for future use. Quality eLearning systems typically also allow for proof of completion which is an essential element of training initiatives. These are all benefits worthy of being noted.
Learner obstacles are more ambiguous. Many people keep opinions about work culture and changes in organizational practice to themselves. Organizations who wish to be successful in rolling out eLearning across the enterprise have to look for signs of employee resistance or discomfort with learning new methods and using new tools, or expressed preferences for learning through social interaction or direct access to experts (Crowley, 2002). When there is evidence of this in an organization, management should communicate the learner advantages of eLearning which include the ability to complete training from home or after work hours at their own convenience, self-pacing to reduce anxiety and stress often encountered in classroom settings, and the many…