eLearning in survival mode

Repositioning eLearning

On the first day of eLearning Guild's eLearning Producer conference, Damien Faughan, Charles Schwab's Director of Infrastructure & Technology, gave a presentation on eLearning in the Post 'New Economy' Business Climate: How to Successfully Re-position eLearning.

Most people who make presentations describe a world without flaws. Everything works, everyone's simpatico, it's smooth sailing, objectives are met, and the boss is happy. Back in the real world, we've endured a lengthy recession, layoffs, disenchantment with anything dot.com-ish, and retrenching. Damien Faughan is the first person I've heard tell the truth about what should happen to eLearning in an economic downturn. I'm a Schwab customer and I respect them even more because they have folks like this fellow who faces reality and makes good decisions in response to a rapidly changing business climate.

What to do with eLearning when the economy heads south

Damien spoke about the preoccupation with 'cool' technology that puts coolness ahead of business benefits.  This "technolust" has manifested itself in the appearance of every kind of eLearning product -- few of which really served a real business purpose.  At the end of the day, all learning needs to be strategic and transformational, learner-centered and focused on contributing to the business.

Lessons Learned

What differentiated this presentation was the candor with which presenter extracted lessons learned from real life.  Learning professionals need to think like business people when business conditions change.  We can't remain married to learning solutions when business environment changes.    

Among the lessons:

  • Compulsory eLearning (Financial Services is heavily regulated) works but not without intervention -- so you have to create a lot more "instructional hooks" and a robust LMS.
  • Open catalogs of generic courses will bomb, consistent with ASTD research; very few eligible employees sign up for open catalog offerings (the exception being technology employees)
  • When eLearning courses are elective, drop-out rates are high.
  • Workers ask for classes and don't always see online learning as a preferred learning medium (i.e. there's a gap between what learners want and what they get).  We have to help learners understand how they learn.


Many things have changed:

  • Consolidation.  Business units can no longer afford to replicate corporate wide learning offerings -- it's too expensive, it's disconnected and ultimately confuses the learner when each business unit has its own brand.
  • Blended learning is the way to go.  Standalone eLearning products are too risky.
  • Even in a large company, one LMS should be sufficient -- it's rare that a business unit has a specific learning need that requires a LMS!  Many large companies have consolidated LMS's as the technology has matured.
  • The Corporate University is not very effective for business learning in an eLearning world.  Adult learning requires a more robust paradigm.
  • Learning needs to be transparen - i.e. not dependent on an organization or an activity, but a process built into many different systems and environments.
  • LCMS technology is still primitive. RLOs require a really sophisticated training organization. Usually they don't work. Having purchased and installed an LCMS it's authoring rules proved way too complex to ever support rapid instructional design and development.
  • Last year Damien went home from eLearning Guild event a zealot for Reusable Learning Objects. After two-three months, most of the zeal evaporated as the reality hit home: (1) RLO's is a difficult concept to sell (b) complex object models can really slow development and (c) the technology is not available to really support this work.  So, RLO's are simply not worth the time/effort.
  • In development, less 'design' and more templates. Templates are the way to go--but may make creative design talent feel underutilized.

Executive management should be engaged as sponsors of learning initiatives. They need to understand the role of learning and the appropriate use of various learning modalities. One of the ways this is accomplished is to create a Learning & Development Committee or a Curriculum Council comprised of executives who review and sponsors each new initiative.

A new vision

The learning/eLearning function must focus on:

  • Facilitating learning
  • Leveraging business connections
  • Being strategic (transformational)
  • Understanding the business and the appetite for different learning modalities
  • Connecting eLearning and performance
  • Working with HR
  • Marrying eLearning to innovation
  • Articulating the relationship between business drivers and learning products/offerings

In the past, T&D employees needed to be able to deliver stand-up classes, manage vendors, design, assess & evaluate. The new vision requires new skills, such as:

  • Business analysis
  • Relationship management
  • Writing and information design
  • Content development
  • Managing high-profile business sponsors
  • Outsourcing management
  • Change management

 Recap of How/What to Reposition

  • Involve senior business leaders
  • Focus on strategic/transformational products
  • Be clear about business drivers
  • Focus on blended solutions
  • Dump poor solutions (LCMS, catalogs, etc)
  • Reinforce the link with performance
  • Build your advocate network (e.g. HR, etc)
  • Review and upgrade skillsets
  • Forget about confusing ROI models
  • Implement standards where they make sense

Posted by Jay Cross at November 20, 2003 12:43 AM | TrackBack

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