Welcome to e-learning, now brace yourself

Technology has infiltrated the training world at a dizzying pace and it doesn’t look like it’s letting up anytime soon. Whatever you call it — e-learning, online training, technology-based training, technology-enhanced learning — it’s here to stay.

According to research from the International Data Corporation Canada (IDC Canada), the Canadian corporate market for e-learning will reach almost $900 million by 2004. In a recent survey, 79 per cent of business leaders said they believe continuous learning is critical to success and 50 per cent of their organizations have included e-learning courses in their training curriculum.

But, while developers continue to saturate the market with programs and products, HR and training professionals are still trying to get a handle on the techno-takeover of the training industry.

Cost is cited as the number one reason for holding back on introducing or moving forward with online training. According to the Conference Board of Canada’s survey Keen for the Screen, start-up costs and maintaining these technologies are barriers to implementing and using learning technologies. Time commitment was another factor. Committing staff to develop, monitor and deliver this training is vital to the success of e-learning programs but, again, this requires a budget.

But don’t despair — the benefits are too appealing.

According to the Conference Board survey, the top three reasons cited by employers for using learning technologies are:

•improved just-in-time learning;

•increased and improved employee control over learning; and

•long-term cost-effectiveness.

Appealing yes, but not a “silver bullet” for all training, said Brooke Broadbent, an Ottawa-based e-learning consultant.

“E-learning is a major intervention in training. It’s revolutionary but, there’s a tendency to look for a silver bullet, simple solution and it’s not,” said Broadbent, adding that organizations are realizing that the best approach is a mix of all types of learning strategies.

At the end of the day, while e-learning can be effective, technology can’t replace that critical human component of training. That’s why most employers are complimenting e-learning solutions with in-class training or facilitators. It’s also meant that trainers are also being trained so they can effectively deliver online courses.

SIDEBAR
Use of technology below projections

Although e-learning is viewed as the wave of the future, the rate of adoption has been slower than predicted. The Conference Board of Canada’s Training and Development Outlook 2001 reports that while there has been a dramatic increase in the use of technology for training over the past decade, previous projections on its use were optimistic.

For example, 1998 survey respondents estimated that by the year 2000 approximately 76 per cent of their organizations would use Internet technology for training; however, the actual Internet usage reported in 2000 (38 per cent) falls significantly short of the estimate.

Similarly, in 1998 organizations predicted that by 2000 about 23 per cent of all training (in terms of hours) would be delivered using various learning technologies (e.g., Internet, intranet, CD-ROM, teleconference) versus traditional classroom instruction or other delivery methods.

Again, at 13 per cent, the actual percentage of all training delivered via learning technologies in 2000 was below projections. The American Society for Training and Development’s T&D survey results have largely demonstrated the same pattern of overestimating organizational use of technology for training.

There are several reasons for the relatively slow adoption of learning technologies. The Conference Board reports the top three barriers as:

•the cost of developing and purchasing learning technologies;

•the time required to develop learning technology programs; and

•the lack of appropriate training content available in learning technology formats.

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