Nearly 20 years after it began to gain traction, eLearning continues to grow at a steady rate. Business and industry convergence, globalization, and demands for business and human capital performance all continue to propel the eLearning industry forward.
There are, of course, both evolutionary and revolutionary changes that affect both the availability and accessibility of eLearning delivery. The ability of internal training departments to produce sometimes excellent eLearning products has increased dramatically as well. This has changed the focus of many established eLearning vendors from one that was vendor centric to one that is partnership oriented. Organizations which previously relied heavily on vendors for their technical and development needs, now prioritize their external spending dollars on impactful training that may be beyond their internal capabilities, or to meet needs that may overwhelm limited internal resources. One study several years ago by the Chapman Alliance found that, depending on the level of interactivity organizations spend on average $10,000 up to $50,000 to develop one hour of online courseware internally (including analysis, design, storyboarding, authoring, reviews, testing, and fielding). The impact of this resource requirement should not be underestimated by either the learning department or by organizational leaders.
Despite its cost, the return on investment for most courseware is well documented. However, the cost of development whether by a vendor or internally, is still no small investment. Yet, many organizations still do not have an integrated strategy for developing and managing their eLearning programs. This goes beyond the requirement to meet regulatory and compliance guidelines, which are nonetheless increasingly training drivers. A true strategy is one that can be communicated clearly to senior management and defended in terms of its contributions and value to the organization. An integrated strategy should contain some or even all the following components:
• Links eLearning goals with organizational strategies
• Ensures compliance and recordkeeping
• Decreases time to market
• Reduces product and customer support costs
• Decreases time to competence (onboarding)
• Increases employee performance in critical tasks
• Contains technical and procedural specifications (including user support)
• Identifies goals and how results will be quantified
Additionally, the strategy should contain provisions for ongoing stakeholder involvement, including senior management, division and/or group leaders and information technology. This will ensure needed oversight, as well as visibility of the program.
The following are additional considerations for several of these key components.
LINK ELEARNING GOALS WITH ORGANIZATIONAL STRATEGIES
Training efforts are frequently questioned—do they add value to the organization or are they simply a cost? By linking the eLearning strategy to organizational strategy, you ensure the ultimate success of the entire eLearning program.
In order to link the eLearning goals with organizational goals, look at the organization’s overall strategy. It is probable that your organization is dealing with one or more of these pressures:
• Global employees
• Global competition
• Speed to market with new products
• An effort to implement cost savings
• The exponential rate of change in technology
• Demand for exemplary customer service
• Demand for high quality goods and services
ENSURE SUPPORT FROM TOP MANAGEMENT
Without support from top management, an eLearning program will probably not survive. eLearning programs require significant resources for development, and the support and the cooperation of multiple departments within the organization. If the support from top management isn’t there, it needs to be developed. Aligning your eLearning strategy with business goals can be an important first step in gaining support from top management.
Do your homework to ensure that the eLearning program meets management’s expectations and needs. Prepare a project plan that includes both a short and mid-range budget and a schedule, as well as any unusual resource needs and the assumptions that were used to develop the plan
ENSURE COMPLIANCE AND RECORDKEEPING
With the implementation of Sarbannes-Oxley in 2002, and later the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, compliance with the many and changing requirements has become increasingly important. Required training and recordkeeping for many, if not most large organizations include corporate governance practices, ethics, financial processes and banking. eLearning is well suited to both deliver training and maintain training records. However, when deciding on the standards for design and development of online courses, ensure that the courseware meets all standards for guaranteeing the integrity and accuracy of training results– for example In pharmaceuticals, 21CFR 11 is a set of requirements governing the use of electronic records and signatures. For financial services, SEC 17a-4 governs records required to be made by stock exchange members, brokers, and dealers regarding client records and communications. The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) applies to all health plans, healthcare providers, prescription drug card sponsors, and others who handle individually identifiable health information. Its provisions cover patient privacy but also include requirements for the integrity and availability of electronic patient data. All of these require various levels of training and recordkeeping to ensure the organization has met its obligations for creating and maintaining awareness of its compliance policies and procedures.
EXPONENTIAL CHANGE IN TECHNOLOGY
This component refers to two considerations. The first is meeting business challenges involved in implementing new technology. eLearning is ideal for quickly bringing technology users to competence when implementing new software, processes and procedures. It can be particularly important when combining organizations– especially in events such as mergers when there is a need to rapidly assimilate a new workforce.
The second consideration refers to internal technology which consists of two environments affecting eLearning. One is the authoring environment, or the hardware and software that is required to create the eLearning course. Before selecting an authoring software, check with your IT department to make certain that it is consistent with company standards, such as programming language, and browsers and plug-ins that are supported.
The other environment is the delivery environment—the hardware and software that is needed to actually take an online course. Some of the issues to consider are:
• What are the minimum system requirements of the viewing equipment?
• What are the hardware and software platform requirements?
• What browsers will be used? Will there be multiple versions and which ones will be supported?
• Will any type of plug-ins be required, and if so, how will users obtain the plug-ins?
• What is the available bandwidth for end users?
If your organization does not currently maintain standards or guidelines for training materials and written documentation, this would be an excellent time to begin establishing those standards. Your guidelines should include:
• Style guidelines for headings, numbers, names, punctuation, and capitalization
• Corporate identity
• Graphics guidelines
• Screen designs
Additionally, it is critical to include your IT department early in the development of an eLearning strategy. Often IT is not included until the actual implementation and this can lead to failures in supporting and maintaining the eLearning program. You will need to partner with IT because your eLearning initiative may require:
• Software installation
• Server space
• Application development
• Ongoing support
• Legacy system interface
• Help Desk Services
This was an extremely abbreviated discussion of the components and merits of creating an eLearning strategy. There are many considerations that were only touched on. Additional details you may want to include in your strategy may be such things as governance procedures (e.g. how departments may submit program requirements, budgeting considerations and decision making processes); internal marketing strategies to promote course use and completion; and ROI processes and calculations. Despite its brevity hopefully this discussion will be useful as you review your existing strategy, or set about creating one that fits your organization’s needs.