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Planning, Implementing, and Evaluating E-Learning Initiatives

  • ID: 42763
  • Report
  • December 2002
  • 132 pages
  • American Productivity & Quality Center, APQC
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Distance learning has existed for a long time. Originally it was just a book in the mail. Later there were correspondence courses. When computers became available, educators were tempted by this new means to deliver education at a distance. Today, what was once an obscure sidebar to education has become big business. People now talk about e-learning, but they still mean distance education. At first, the value of the computer may seem to be its ability to deliver information anytime and anywhere, but its value in education is potentially much more important. When the flight simulator was invented, what was important about it was not its ability to be used in a remote location. Rather its value was founded in its ability to enable one to learn to fly without risk, to accumulate the experience but never to be harmed by the experience. It was the beginning of simulated experiential learning.

In schools today, experiential learning, or learning by doing, is hard to find because it is so hard to implement. The paradigm of a classroom of 30 students and one teacher does not lend itself to much interaction. No educator really believes that lecturing is the best means of education, but it is simply what is available in the classroom model. Attempts to simulate the classroom on a computer, therefore, are misguided. E-learning can change the paradigm of learning and transform the lecture model to an interactive model. Benjamin Franklin called for this in 1770 but he couldn’t find a way. John Dewey called for this in 1916 but he didn’t know how to do it. Now we have a way. The computer can supplement the classroom with simulated experiences that allow the student to learn by doing. This is why e-learning matters and other learning approaches will struggle in the future. The new medium allows for the delivery of a powerful new message.

Businesses have begun to create high-quality training and deliver it in this new medium. Putting all of a company’s training on a computer only seemed possible if the training was limited to questions and answers—to text followed by quizzes. But, as anyone who has crammed all night for an exam in high school and promptly forgotten the material the next day realizes, passing tests and real education are not the same thing. We want employees to learn to sell by selling, to learn to manage by managing, and to learn to help customers by helping customers. Once upon a time that is exactly how new employees were trained. They were hired and they learned on the job. When
training departments appeared on the scene, attempts were made to make what one needed to know on a job available in manuals and on tests. The idea is similar to the ideas practiced even now in schools. The premise is that telling people the facts of a situation can be a substitute for actually experiencing that situation. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth. Learning on the job became an anathema, and learning in classrooms became the norm. It is no wonder corporate America was frustrated.

With the appearance of the Internet, corporations began to believe in e-learning as a new model for training. The Internet is an instantaneous medium. It is meant for people who want to learn right now and they can’t wait. Yet, education does not lend itself to instant gratification. When you need to learn how to deal with a problematic customer, getting a little practice with a similar case might be a good idea, if you have the time. And, if you want to learn how to sell a product, you will likely have to dedicate many hours. In that case, you can wait a day to take a selling course, and Web delivery of such a course hardly matters. The real issue with learning on the Web is money. Online courses are cheaper to deliver. They are also cheaper to build, but only because people seem willing to settle for so much less. Training departments that were trying to improve training suddenly find themselves trying to deliver all their training online. The corollary of this expectation that all of a company’s training will be online is that the grand experiment of creating high-quality experiential training has been tabled. Faster and
cheaper rarely means better, neither in this arena nor any other.

When planning an e-learning initiative, one should focus on content rather than
delivery to maximize the educational advantages of eliminating classrooms. E-learning will dominate the learning arena when the virtual courses are interactive, engaging, authoritative, and relevant. A good course must motivate, enable inquiry, encourage reasoning, cause emotional impact, and most importantly, provide opportunities to practice. All of this is possible in e-learning.

STUDY PURPOSE

The purpose of the consortium learning forum was to identify and examine best
practices in planning, implementing, and evaluating e-learning initiatives. The goal of the forum was to identify any performance gaps or opportunities for improvement. This forum also affords organizations the opportunity to gain a better understanding of issues and challenges involved in planning, implementing, and evaluating e-learning initiatives. Twenty-two organizations participated in the consortium learning forum by attending a series of planning sessions, completing data-gathering surveys, and/or attending or hosting on-site interviews. Of those 22 organizations, 12 sponsored the study (“sponsors”). Eleven organizations, including one of the sponsor organizations,
were identified as having strong e-learning initiatives and were invited to participate in the study as benchmarking partners.

STUDY FOCUS

Drawing on input from Subject Matter Expert (SME) Roger Schank and secondary research literature, the APQC study team identified three key areas for research. These areas guided the design of the data collection instruments and were the basis on which findings have been developed. Brief descriptions of the three areas follow.

1. Planning the e-learning initiative
- Designing the transition from traditional training to e-learning
- Identifying the resources needed (e.g., financial and human)
- Determining instructional methods
- Anticipating and controlling organizational impact

2. Implementing the e-learning initiative
- Marketing and promoting the e-learning initiative
- Piloting the program

3. Evaluating the e-learning initiative
- Measuring the costs and benefits in the short and long term
- Measuring quality, including effectiveness and Kirkpatrick’s four levels
of evaluation
- Measuring service (availability and accessibility)
- Measuring speed (responsiveness)

FINDINGS

The findings of this study are reported in terms of the three categories of the study scope. Within these three categories, the following key findings have emerged.

1. Planning the e-learning initiative
- In best-practice organizations, learning strategies link to overall organizational strategies.
- E-learning initiatives in best-practice organizations receive strong, demonstrated support from senior-level executives and/or steering bodies.
- Best-practice organizations assess cultural and organizational readiness for
e-learning.
- Most best-practice organizations develop marketing and communication plans
for the e-learning initiative.

2. Implementing the e-learning initiative
- E-learning teams in best-practice organizations build strong relationships with other key business units within the organization.
- Best-practice organizations carefully assess both the need for technology and the technology available before adding new capabilities to their portfolio.
- Best-practice organizations develop a single, integrated learning portal for
professional development.
- E-learning initiatives in best-practice organizations are employee-focused.
- Best-practice organizations provide supportive learning environments for
employees.
- Best-practice organizations demonstrate a combination of delivery approaches
for e-learning solutions.

3. Evaluating the e-learning initiative
- Best-practice organizations employ a variety of measurement techniques to
evaluate the e-learning initiative.
- Best-practice organizations link evaluation activities to organizational strategies.

BENCHMARKING METHODOLOGY

The consortium learning forum methodology was developed in 1993 and serves as one of the premier methods for successful benchmarking in the world. It was recognized by the European Center for Total Quality Management in 1995 as
first among 10 leading benchmarking organizations’ models. It is an extremely
powerful tool for identifying best and innovative practices and for facilitating the actual transfer of these practices.

Phase 1: Plan
Phase 2: Collect
Phase 3: Analyze
Phase 4: Adapt

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- Sponsor and Partner Organizations

A listing of the sponsor organizations in this study, as well as the best-practice (“partner”) organizations that were benchmarked for their innovation and advancements using e-learning.

- Executive Summary

A bird’s-eye view of the study, presenting the key findings discovered and the methodology used throughout the course of the study. The findings are explored in detail in following sections.

- Study Findings

An in-depth look at the findings of this study. The findings are supported by quantitative data and qualitative examples of practices employed by the
partner organizations.

- Partner Organization Case Studies

Background information on the partner organizations as well as their innovative e-learning practices.

- Index
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