secret solution to getting my business is simple. This is what
I want. This is what every company I know wants.
I want a scalable,
interactive online learning environment, based on an open architecture
that can interconnect with a variety of databases, and is hosted
on a thin client. Through a secure learning portal, users can
access a variety of competency-based, collaborative synchronous
learning experiences which will positively impact the behavior
exhibited at work and can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a
week, around the world. Users also have access to asynchronous
computer-based training modules where they can target specific
developmental needs, which can be completed online or offline.
Testing and usability data is automatically recorded and archived
on a series of stacked files, which is easily integrated with
the enterprise resource planning (ERP) tool through a comprehensive
and customized learning management system (LMS). Several performance
support and knowledge management tools help engage users individually
and collectively to reinforce desired behavioral changes through
low bandwidth simulations and just in time, hi-touch coaching
opportunities. And, to complement the off-the-shelf packaged solutions,
I want something an end-to-end total service provider can easily
modify and create new environments to satisfy immediate distance
learning needs and show positive business results.
Got it? Uhh…yeah…okay.
Now where is it?
I have seen this
offered at many dog-and-pony shows from vendors I really had no
time to talk to and probably won’t remember in two days, but I
have yet to find a true sole-source provider. In times like these,
I hold to the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it
probably is.” I don’t trust the hype of the newest technology
vendor and strive not to get lost in the coolness of the newest
play in the elearning world, corporations have to invest the time
and thought to understand why they want to get involved, what
they will get from this experience, and the resources they need
to allocate. And hold true to our answers, should a dog or pony
walk into our building.
At Capital One,
we are in the middle of sorting out exactly what elearning has
to offer us. We have invested a lot of time in understanding what
constitutes successful professional development for all our associates
and the role technology can play in making that happen. The group
I work in concentrates mainly on developing so-called soft-skills
across the entire enterprise. We target behavioral change through
coaching, change management, and executive development programs.
Our basic learning philosophy dictates that every product or service
we offer includes each of the following components: information,
skill building, reinforcement, and data collection. Technology
can help in each area.
The problem is
that most elearning solutions sell themselves as complete soup-to-nuts
solutions, when they really only offer alternatives for one or
two necessary components for our curriculum. Our key to success
lies in integrating different best-of-breed packages to satisfy
learning and business needs. That means more work (due diligence)
for each of us as we piece together solid learning solutions.
I have yet to find that magic pill. If you have, let me know.
In the interim, here are the steps we’ve used to improve our results.
Step 1: Know thy (organizational)
with your culture. Our organizational culture has an interesting
dichotomyI call it the “technophobic Internet
generation.” The average age of employees in the company is mid-late
20s so people are hip to the Internet. But, with the increased
pace of industry changes and the flexible nature of most jobs,
success has traditionally required a huge commitment to hi-touch
interaction. People know how to work the machines; they just don't
trust them to have an impact in their own development. Without
the deep commitment of the audience, no elearning tool will succeed.
in order to make good decisions, you have to really understand
true business focus for your particular group, your primary goals,
and your basic philosophy about successful learning in your culture.
Do you provide individual/team skills training, competency
development, or performance consulting?
Are you trying to increase reach, decrease costs, enhance
quality, or improve operational efficiency?
What combinations of information, training, reinforcement,
and measurement work best for you?
look at your IT infrastructure. What is it? What will it look
like in the next 6-18 months? Are you ready to introduce and implement
new applications or are you just frustrating yourself and your
potential vendors? If you listen, you’ll learn that IT organizations
rarely say they can't do something. Heck, they are mostly made
up of engineers who love to make the impossible happen just for
kicks (and they usually can). Your challenge is to find out their
“hot” buttons in order to make elearning a possibility and a priority.
For instance, is security a big concern? What kinds of network
connections do you have? Is there a standard user configuration?
How many resources are needed to implement and then to maintain
(which is usually 2-3 times more than implementation) the chosen
able to articulate why elearning, as a concept, will help the
organization and let the IT staff handle the technological selections.
The first few meetings you attend with your IT folks and the vendor’s
technical people will seem like an aggressive spelling bee with
NASA-like schematic support. But the more you can educate yourself
about your IT infrastructure, the more leadership you can show
in directing these vendor meetings towards solving your specific
ability to articulate the issues you are trying to solve is also
very important for building support in the non-IT areas of the
company. Take time to understand why you are looking at elearning.
No magical phrase will de-mystify it, but a clear and concise
explanation of the measurable problems or opportunities it can
help solve can (and must) be done in less than one page of text.
Make sure your business partners understand what is in it for
them. If you hope to get their support and movement, you must
excel at translating vendor-speak into terms that makes sense
to your organization.
Step 2: Explore what is actually
the fringes and scan for depth: research. There is a lot out there.
I have a folder of over 100 excellent websites about the concepts
of elearning, and another 200 of companies who say they have the
solutions. Ignorance is a curable social affliction. Educate yourself
and then educate others in your organization.
help muddle through all the information out there, I suggest selectively
plugging into a few (and only a few) critical resources. If you
go with too many, you become paralyzed from action. Personally,
I recommend Brandon
Hall’s reports and newslettersvery
concise and informative, yet broad in topics. I also recommend
Communication’s TDFe-Net and Online Learning News. This free
information arrives through email every once in a while and provides
guidance from experts and peers to help you make decisions.
pick one or two conferences to attend. You want to make sure they
have both strong learning design theory workshops and a hands-on
technical exposition. I recommend Online
Learning and ASTD/SALT
TechKnowledge but prepare for the vendor flood. After attending
a few conferences, many more vendors will get your name and address.
Cold calls will begin and your mailbox will overflow with reams
of collateral. While helpful at first, it will become mundane
and require hard work to filter out the garbage. After a while,
courtesy call-backs will become dreaded, painful experiences.
And the players keep changing their names. It is hard to keep
track of who is who.
are some suggestions on how to deal with vendors:
Return the initial calls. Don't string them along. Be frank and
honest about your intentions, timeframes, and processes. If you
don't know, tell them.
Pick out the printed marketing materials with concepts that jump
out at you, and then throw the rest away. If you didn't like what
they had to say initially, you probably won't like it later either.
Keep a folder of websites and a list of contact names just
in case your needs change.
If they lead with technology, take a long, hard look at the underlying
learning principles. If they cannot articulate them in less than
five minutes, they probably don’t have them very well thought
If they lead with the learning principles, ask for a wide
variety of example implementations. Make sure they can prove (with
succinct data points) at least three things:
The typical business problems they
have actually helped to solve;
The types of business problems their
solutions are not necessarily designed to solve;
do participants like it? Do you like it? If you think the interface
is boring, the text is dry, or the content too longit
the vendors to help you build a business case for elearning. They
do this for a living and should have lots of good material to
help you. If they don't? Stay away from them.
Step 3: Marry steps 1 and 2
What kind of
solutions do you need and will they work together at the curriculum
level? You may find that you have very different needs, which
require a combination of solutions and vendors. A solution for
updating a sales force may be very different than satisfying legal
regulations around employment law. Improving the level of managerial
coaching is far different than improving skills around HTML coding.
At some point, however, these solutions have to link together
for you to analyze, report, manage, and maintain. This is where
most companies break down and purchase something off-the-shelf
that promises a total solution for all needs. Big mistake. This
action allows the technological package to dictate your options.
Eventually, unattended learning issues will burst through the
seams and create more problems to band-aid (which usually costs
more in the long run).
you have to ask yourself are: What role(s) are you and your group
willing to play? Do you want the ability to develop new products
or courses? Do you want the responsibility of hosting, administering,
and maintaining users or content? Is measurement a nice to have
or a need to have? The hidden implementation issues can bite you
in the butt, so go forward with a clear understanding of what
your core competency will be and what you need to complement it.
Step 4: Pick the vendor(s)
is an theory as old as business: “If you want what they sell,
you can get it cheap and fast (but it may or may not work for
your culture). If you want something special or tailored: you’ll
pay through the nose and expect delays.”
have opinions about almost every vendor out there. If you’d like
to know what I thinkreally thinkask. You can also learn about the vendors I have found
helpful by following the links on the sidebar.
Step 5: Use measurement as the
link for your solution(s)
business push for results means you need to measure. If you don’t
have a strong understanding and commitment to measuring impact
before elearning, no one technological solution will solve it
for you. If you collect a whole bunch of data around user pathways
and clicking patterns, but don’t know how or why you will use
this data, don’t collect it.
order for any learning management system to work, you have to
have the ability to integrate with good sources of data. Here
a strong ERP system comes into play. If you know which ERP system
your company uses, you can move forward. If you don’t, or if you
are waiting to implement one, this becomes a more involved issue
that includes many parts of the organization and is honestly beyond
the scope of elearning.
realize that technology fails now and then. What is your backup
plan for when servers are down, the Internet is slow, or your
intranet is experiencing problems? Can users access information,
training, or support tools online and offline? What implications
does this have to your ability to track and measure impact? One
company I have seen latelyExperient
Technologiesseems to offer a possible solution. In addition, they
claim to be able to integrate learning solutions through PDA technology,
which is a very intriguing distribution model in this increasingly
Final analysis – eLearning vs.
a while, you will see the pattern of innovation for the learning
profession. The new technology is the new fad until people discover
limitations. In the past, however, no learning tool has had the
power of influencing the actual living environment as much as
the computer and the Internet. eLearning is just a new iteration
of innovation, initially focused on distribution, but growing
to impact design, marketing and manufacturing areas of the industry’s
value chain. We have only started to see the tip of the iceberg
of how elearning can and will be integrated into corporate life
to produce clear business advantage.
mountain of promise has to be tempered with a measure of patience
and an investment of understanding. A sound learning model, which
relies on non-technological solutions, will always beat out across-the-board
application of the newest technology proclaimed the holy grail
of all learning situations. Stick to your selected pedagogical
model for learning and development. See elearning as a tool intertwined
in the learning process. Any elearning strategy will influence
your designs and your actions, but don't let it dictate them.
of the distance learning models I have found particularly powerful
is that of City University in Seattle. It has a nice blend of
multimedia distribution, instructional design, synchronous/asynchronous
collaboration, and coaching. It uses Internet technology with
CD-ROM multimedia distribution in order to circumvent bandwidth
and connection issues. Very simple, yet effective.
I’d like to see in the future is:
For training to address different learning styles within
the same solution;
Solid integration between elearning and non-tech components;
Lower bandwidth multimedia (or better ways to overcome bandwidth
eLearning solutions that have the capability of learning
within themselves (intelligent software for developing truly adaptable
you plan to really use elearning to make a difference in your
organization, you will have to grapple with these issues. This
work is not simple, easy, or as clear-cut as some vendors would
like you to think. Just make sure you do not unknowingly abdicate
your choices in the future with the decisions you make today.
is a Learning Innovation Consultant at Capital One. When not fending
off vendors, he's building a world class-learning environment
for Capital One's 17,000 employees. Currently, he is exploring
new ways to inspire and harness collaborative creativity using
technology within learning and development solutions. He welcomes
your commentstried, true, or indifferent at
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