Against any paradigm: eLearning is here to stay

Did you know that e-Learning has been called the key to the future electronic success of Latin America? …That’s how it was called by Denise Berger during the ninth international conference on Distance Education in January 2002. (www.cdlr.tamu.edu/)

Only in the United States, a huge growth in the e-Learning industry is expected from 2004 to 2007, when the market will achieve about $10.6 billion. Source: www.gordmackenzie.com

But, what does this growing force of e-Learning mean? What exactly is e-Learning and what does it represent for current companies? In the following paragraphs, answers will be given to these questions to show why e-Learning is a corporate training trend that came here to stay.

i-Lerning

Like other places around the world, in Latin American it is known as e-Learning and not as electronic or virtual learning. e-Learning is a type of virtual or distance learning that allows transferring knowledge based on technology, either the Internet, Intranet, or CD-ROM, for a more effective learning, either in real time through videoconference, for example, or at asynchronic time, like the CD-ROM courses.

The e-Learning boom started in the early 1990s. The first courses were disseminated by CD-ROM used for self-learning at a computer, thus the name of Computer-Based Training or CBT. Later, with the Internet boom, virtual learning became a component of online products that are now referred to as Web-Based Training or WBT. This concept includes all courses accessed in the Web either Internet or Intranet, as well as online management and real-time training tools.

The year 2000 was key to the success of most e-Learning vendors worldwide (See Chart 1). Just one year later, many vendors faced market difficulties in general and faded away; however, in 2002, the alliance between two e-Learning Giants such as Smart Force and SkillSoft marked the beginning of a new era in the industry: “The new company creates the first $100 million revenue vendor, with a deep pool of talented employees and a very real business model”. Kruse Kevin, The State of e-Learning (Source:www.elearningguru.com/)

The forecasts for the e-Learning industry foresee a steady future growth, a period of “Enlightenment,” in which more and more companies will depend on e-Learning to train their employees thus generating a competitive advantage that will allow them to achieve their strategic goals.

Graph 1: e-Learning Development Stages

Against Old Paradigms

Even though several studies have shown that the average retention rate based on traditional learning is about 58% while in the case of e-Learning it is higher, thus achieving 72.5 to 92.8%, there are still some barriers to virtual training. These barriers are almost always associated with presential training: some people are afraid of changing to a new methodology.

More than fear, it is about breaking old and sometimes very rooted paradigms. For instance, with e-Learning it is not necessary for a teacher to be in front of students so that they can learn; there is no need to attend “classes;” there is no need to leave the office or organize events at hotels to share experiences; expert knowledge can be obtained and transferred through electronic means…therefore, it is understandable that for conservatives this means a significant change. However, it is a challenge that should be faced to maintain competitive advantage.

Chart 1: Old and New Learning Paradigms

Traditional Courses e-Learning
 The approach is the teacher  The approach is the student
 More passive  More active
 Instructors impart knowledge  Teachers guide students and provide good learning practices
 Verbal communication, student participation  A greater percentage of students actively participate during online discussions
 Technology does not play a key role  Technology helps students explore resources and build their own ideas
 The major means is a lecture class based on written material  Technology can help instructors find a greater variety of learning styles

Impact on the modern company

Due to an emerging knowledge-based economy or a new adult-learning revolution, e-Learning is a reality for a modern company, either big or small; all companies have something in common: the need to empower employees in a fast and effective way for market survival.

Let’s see some examples: “Hall and LeCavalier (2000b) summarized some firms’ economic savings as a result of converting their traditional training delivery methods to e-learning. IBM saved US $200 million in 1999, providing five times the learning at one-third the cost of their previous methods. Using a blend of Web-based (80 percent) and classroom (20 percent) instruction, Ernst & Young reduced training costs by 35 percent while improving consistency and scalability. Rockwell Collins reduced training expenditures by 40% with only a 25 percent conversion rate to Web based training.” Strother Judith (April 2002) An Assessment of the effectiveness of e-Learning in Corporate Training Programs . International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning: 3, 1. www.icaap.org

With all the benefits from e-Learning, it is not difficult to imagine why more and more companies are adopting it every day as part of their business strategy.

“New organizational demands increase the interest in e-Learning. The need to find less expensive training methods has led many companies to explore the e-Learning alternative. The convenience for program users (at their own pace and at their workplace) and the attractiveness of multimedia are great advantages. The centralization of training through the Internet has allowed course users to receive a standard content. . e-Learning is often the least expensive and most convenient alternative.. e-Learning is a new and fascinating area which will have a significant impact on all professionals in the area. Moreover, it is fun to use and develop.” www.brandonhall.com

Chart 2: Main benefits of e-Learning for corporations

 Cost Reduction e-Learning minimizes the cost of opportunity associated with traditional training because it reduces the training time which translates in savings in man-hours. Furthermore, it leads to savings in logistics and traveling and increases training effectiveness. The most significant advantage is that there is a one-time investment and the system allows multiple training sessions at a fast pace thus generating a prompt return on investment.
 Improved Productivity e-Learning improves human resource productivity and business profitability. With more rapidly-trained and highly motivated personnel, there is an improvement in operational performance in less time, which will have an impact on profitability levels.
 Customization e-Learning takes into account each individual need focused on specific organizational requirements.
 Quality e-Learning produces instructional consistency because it involves the best industry and business practices and expert knowledge to recreate situations that allow students “to learn by doing.” Finally, this helps students face real-life experiences that will lead to an effective work performance.
 Standardization Every student takes a specific course that, thanks to technology, conveys exactly the same information thus eliminating variables such as instructor quality.
 Retention e-Learning offers a student-teacher ratio of 1 to 1 vis a vis 30 to 1 from traditional methods. This allows an improved concentration degree.
 Flexibility e-Learning provides a just-in-time content because it is available anywhere anytime (24/7/365). Therefore, users train themselves whenever and wherever it is convenient for them.
 Control e-Learning records and evaluates the learning level of each student and manages his/her training approach. Consequently, detailed performance and progress records are developed for training control and follow-up.