Are your employees ready for e-learning?

E-learning may be the hottest thing in training but are your employees ready for it?

Without answering that question, many organizations are jumping blindfolded onto the e-learning bandwagon — and heading for disaster.

That’s because a major indicator of success of e-learning is organizational culture. Does the organization encourage people to learn? Do supervisors try to learn things on their own? Do any policies and procedures make it hard for learners to spend time taking Web-based courses?

“(The HR department) has to ensure the organization is ready for e-learning. They have to feel confident that they’ve assessed their learning needs,” said Debbie Murray, research associate and author of the Conference Board of Canada’s e-learning study Keen for the Screen.

Other trend spotters agree that checking the waters before jumping in is key.

Sheila Paxton, executive vice-president of Colorado-based Frontline Group, said that while having the right technology is important to e-learning, having a supportive culture and a structured system in place to deliver it is even more critical.

Take this example. A consulting firm began implementing an online learning program for its employees, mainly consultants, expecting high user rates. Unfortunately, management was disappointed with the low number of employees who actually took the time to do the courses. It’s not that they hadn’t promoted the courses effectively but rather the company didn’t have policies in place to support employee participation. According to employment contracts, 90 per cent of consultants’ time had to be billable hours, leaving very little time to take an online course.

“Of course it didn’t work in this case. How could it have?” said Paxton.

Based on her research, Paxton said e-learning requires a culture that develops and nurtures self-guided learning. Without it, employers can expect high rates of e-dropout.

“Unfortunately, the biggest mistake companies make when moving to e-learning is failing to prepare their employees to become self-directed learners. Technology is an important tool but in order to effectively transition to e-learning, there needs to be a system in place so that employees have a reason to take the courses,” said Paxton.

Along with organizational culture, Paxton said a structured approach means taking the following into consideration:

•Learner motivation: Do employees understand what they are being asked to learn and do they understand the goals?

•Supervisory support: Do learners have e-learning coaches and are supervisors able to help learners apply their new skills?

•Marketing and promotion: Are there channels to make learners aware of all learning resources and is it consistent and repeated?

•Logistics: Do learners know how to access courses and do they have places in the workplace to take Web-based training?

•Rewards and recognition: Are there incentives for learners to take courses and are people recognized for their accomplishments when they complete courses?

•Physical environment: Are there policies that allow for quiet, separate areas for Web-based learning and is it easy for learners to access the necessary equipment?

“It’s the refusal to approach e-learning with a systematic approach that results in failure of e-learning,” said Paxton.

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