By George Eybers
Introducing the concept of life-long learning is a massive undertaking for most organisations. It needs a major shift in culture, requiring commitment, careful implementation and ongoing support to be successful. GEORGE EYBERS, chairman of Skills2learn, says there are 12 basic steps to ensuring the success of an e-learning implementation.
Life-long learning is best served by on-demand e-learning, backed up by a blend of scheduled traditional and classroom training. This approach to training is often referred to as “blended learning”.
Perhaps the single most critical element of a successful e-learning programme implementation is to secure upper and middle management commitment, support and active participation.
While most employees acknowledge that improving their skills and knowledge is important for them as individuals and for their employer, this alone is not enough to bring about the necessary change in behaviour. Often, normal daily business takes priority and insufficient time is made available for training.
To counter this, management must demonstrate the programme’s critical importance to achievement of the company’s strategic objectives. Training that is aligned to strategic objectives will bring the highest return on investment for the organisation and reduce the need to hire external skills.
The second step is to form a team of people drawn from each department within the organisation (finance, operations, marketing, sales), ensuring it is truly representative of the whole company.
This group must be empowered by senior management to assume overall implementation responsibility.
The reason for such a multi-disciplined team is to ensure specific departmental priorities and problems are highlighted. Each team member is responsible for reporting back to management regarding implementation in his own area, giving feedback to staff and raising issues affecting the programme’s success.
Step three is to install and test software components of the e-learning programme: The learning management system (LMS), the enterprise intelligence system (EIS), and the e-learning courseware library.
The LMS monitors and manages all e-learning activities, supplying accurate and timely information to management for ongoing programme assessment and interventions.
The EIS takes information provided by the LMS and other employee details, such as that found in the HR system, and develops a host of additional employee-related data. This provides management with information required to optimise the organisation’s human resources in line with its strategic plan and objectives.
Employee information, once loaded into the LMS and EIS (step four), establishes the backbone of the e-learning process management system. Details of prior learning can also be loaded into the EIS. Taking into account the current situation, management can state as a strategic objective what skills staff in specific departments should have acquired at the end of a period.
Assessment testing is undertaken, followed by competency profiling. This identifies skills shortfalls resulting from comparisons of assessment test results and job requirement specifications. These are automatically logged into the LMS database.
Using the gap analysis, the LMS develops a student-specific study curriculum. The student is automatically assigned and gains entrance only to those courses specifically identified in the gap analysis. Ongoing specific learner information is automatically transmitted to the LMS.
Depending on management’s informational needs, additional employee information is logged in the EIS. This might include salary information and results of other learning activities, such as seminars and conferences.
Step five is to establish internal e-learning experts in each department, power users who know the system well and can be relied on to assist others when the need arises.
By doing this, the organisation begins to take on a degree of self-sufficiency and confidence in managing the programme.
In step six, the e-learning implementation project is launched to employees for the first time. The importance of the initiative must be stressed when it is introduced. A simple e-mail announcement is not good enough. The CEO should outline the strategic objectives behind the training programme.
This should be followed by a demonstration of the software by the implementation team, preferably to small groups of employees. One of the main objectives here is to alleviate any fear employees may have in being involved in the programme.
In step seven, the implementation team works with department managers to develop local level plans and timetables. Each individual must understand the plans for the group and specifically what role they will personally play in achieving the success and timing of the e-learning implementation.
The EIS determines at what skills level each employee is and what is required for them to reach the level they need to meet company strategic objectives. It then develops a curriculum for each employee, from the library of content.
In step eight, specific e-learning personnel appraisal objectives are developed and formalised with each employee. The employees should understand their own personal e-learning development programme and how they must go about achieving these objectives in the specified timeframes.
The appraisal process must be seen as positive, an investment by the company in the employee to ensure that their skill set matches the strategic long-term needs of the company.
Incentive programmes are developed and publicised to all employees in step nine. Incentives can help bring about the organisational behaviour modification required for the successful integration of e-learning.
They must take into account present organisational culture. They should also be motivational, for example, be related to increases or appeal to emotions such as status, ego, self-worth and peer acknowledgment.
Step 10 is the ongoing monitoring of EIS and LMS information. Specific management groups and/or managers will have access to certain portions of this large volume of information. By delegating certain responsibilities for specific individuals and/or groups, measures can be taken in the appropriate timeframes to optimise human potential.
Step 11 is employee feedback. This can be invaluable to both management and the implementation team in order to make appropriate mid-course corrections to the programme, consistent with employee perceptions.
Feedback should be solicited on both the content of the programme and the overall implementation.
In step 12, with the programme under way, management - using the information and power of the LMS/EIS - monitors system key variables and takes action where indicated to ensure there is ongoing progress.
One of these activities is the annual review of job specification requirements, with appropriate adjustments made and the cycle reinstated. Major changes in the strategic direction of the enterprise are reflected in modified job specification requirements.
Any organisation that follows these 12 steps to a blended learning implementation will increase its return on investment, and realise an edge over its competitors through the improved skills of its staff.
George Eybers, Skills2learn, (011) 666-0000, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rashmika Jeewa, FHC Strategic Communications, (011) 608-1228, email@example.com