Finding Competitive Advantage in Training

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Injecting e-Learning into the Corporate Training Program - The opportunity to improve employee knowledge and capabilities through e-Learning ranges from the most senior executive to the newest hire. This is due to the unprecedented reach of the web, its minimal cost, and its increasing ability to deliver the highest quality content - including video – to end users. Few areas of business are better suited than HR training and Professional Development to leverage the Internet. The nature and needs of corporate training matches the strengths of the web almost perfectly. For example, training involves delivering content to many people who are often in dispersed locations while the web is an increasingly reliable, powerful, ubiquitous and low cost media.

The opportunity to improve employee knowledge and capabilities through e-Learning ranges from the most senior executive to the newest hire. This is due to the unprecedented reach of the web, its minimal cost, and its increasing ability to deliver the highest quality content - including video – to end users.

According to Interactive Media Strategies, over 90% of all businesses in the US are connected to the web. As a result, in the eyes of users, the Internet has moved from novelty to utility, perceived more like electricity than an item found in a Sharper Image catalog. This is a good development for corporations: companies can now more deeply integrate web services as a productivity tool for their employees, something not easily achievable when the web was full of mystery and intrigue.

Few areas of business are better suited than HR training and Professional Development to leverage the Internet. The nature and needs of corporate training matches the strengths of the web almost perfectly. For example, training involves delivering content to many people who are often in dispersed locations while the web is an increasingly reliable, powerful, ubiquitous and low cost media.

In 2005, for the first time, e-Learning tools as a web service are easily available at affordable prices for non-technical users. Such availability enables HR and management to rethink and improve traditional training programs. In doing so, management can increase the quality of training by making it more engaging, more interactive, more uniform, and better tracked. Training becomes a strategic weapon as each employee’s knowledge base grows improving the company’s overall competitiveness.

Better professional training also improves employee morale. Training is a highly visible personal benefit, one that will motivate the individual employee. Domino’s CEO David Brandon considers training so important to and for the employee that it offsets paying them top salary dollar: “If we had paid everybody 20% more, we might have bought a little more loyalty, but that’s not a long term solution.” Instead, he believes the way to bolster culture is coaching them to create a better workplace.

Retooling - Augmenting the Classroom with a Virtual School: Blended Learning

By integrating a web-based platform for training and learning, a company opens up a door to dramatically improving its traditional classroom. How? Let’s explore the question by considering web-based content (courseware, assessment, and polling) and web-based video conferencing.

Optimizing the Balance: Self Study versus Face to Face Learning

Not all information and training needs to be delivered in an expensive corporate conference room, under the eye of an expensive trainer, and by pulling employees from their important front-line responsibilities.

Instead, an organization might use e-Learning to deliver new product training to its employees (e.g., sales force), while continuing to use the classroom for soft skills training (e.g., how to deliver the sales pitch by role playing). Alternatively, a company might start a training module in the classroom and use e-Learning for real time updates and ongoing assessment.

Regardless of the approach, blended learning maximizes the productivity of the training program by optimizing the balance between self study and face to face interaction.

Anytime/Anywhere

Access to online information and training enables employees to fill their downtime with valuable training. The key word here is “their”. Instead of conforming schedules to training seminars that may not be convenient or easily accessible geographically, employees can access the same material at their own convenience.

They can even access live training – in real time or via playback. With the rapid improvement of Internet infrastructure, even video conferencing at high resolution can take place on a computer with a 56K or better web connection. Employees do not sacrifice quality by studying through the company’s online program.

Digital Delivery – Eliminating Costs #1

Implicit in the benefits listed above are the business savings e-Learning provides. For example, a blended training program reduces the number of hours employees spend in the classroom. This in turn reduces travel costs and facility charges related to a physical classroom, not to mention hotel and lodging, the mini-bar, etc. Furthermore, the indirect costs of pulling employees from the field, such as lost sales opportunities, may be even higher than the direct costs of the classroom.

Digital Delivery – Eliminating Costs #2

The direct and indirect costs of offline materials, printed documents and classroom aids are also important. Consider the paper, the cost of an employee to make copies, the binding, and the coordination to make sure the trainees each have their copies – let alone the need to receive them by FedEx ahead of time. And then there's always that someone who forgets his or her package at the field office so the whole process starts again.

Improving the Quality of Training Material

Paper-based content has another drawback in the two dimensional quality of a text and image presentation. In light of the numerous studies illustrating the positive correlation between information retention and dynamic content, digital learning clearly offers the potential to deliver higher impact materials to learners, and the immediate opportunity for these learners to remember what they are studying. At the same time, program creators may also enjoy the experience of creating dynamic programs instead of static text on paper lessons.

Real Time Information

E-Learning programs can be updated immediately and simultaneously delivered worldwide. For companies operating in environments with changing rules, regulations, product information, and so on, such immediacy is another benefit web-based learning has over traditional offline courses. Even CDs need to be reprinted and reissued with those associated costs of printing and production. Then there exists the problem of old materials and the erroneous information they contain not being disposed. With online programs, once the new material replaces the old, the old is not accessible.

Another example of real-time benefits through e-Learning involves feedback. Following the completion of a test or skills assessment, employees immediately receive scores and an understanding of where they need to improve. The advantage of this is that results are in the context of studying, in contrast to the traditional method of submitting the assessment and receiving a score out of context 10 days later.

Personalized and Customized

E-Learning programs can be personalized and customized to reflect the unique strengths and weaknesses of each employee in ways not possible in the traditional classroom. For example, assessment of employees’ knowledge or skills will yield different areas to improve by employee. The online module can tag or highlight problem areas for the employee and direct them to specific skill building exercises for improvement.

As a result, e-Learning delivers the right information to the right person, the right way and right away, all at the right time

Customer Care

Training and education extends beyond the organization. In fact, nearly 50% of business owners responding to an Accenture survey indicated that better information delivery to customers would improve sales.

For example, one bridge between the internal and external world of a company could be that an organization's sales team can view the information they need when and where they need it most, and then provide customer access to this relevant information as well.

Such external access – a corporate extranet - reduces costs by eliminating on-site visits for product demonstrations where an online manual would do the trick.

Creating a Competitive Advantage

The value of internal training and education ultimately lies in better serving the customer and beating the competition. As mentioned, e-Learning alone can touch external customers directly by providing them with information they need on an anytime/anywhere basis.

It also touches customers indirectly. For example, a sales reps can visit clients because they do not need to make a stressful decision between such a visit and returning to headquarters for continuing education.

Yet the most profound and enduring improvements will be found in the deliberate and sure increase in overall employee knowledge and understanding of your business. It will occur because an employee has the best information at his or her fingertips, anytime/anywhere. It will occur because each employee’s specific shortcomings are addressed and improved. It will occur because employees are aligned in their understanding of your company and of your customers.

Finally, each employee will see a new level of training quality for his or her own professional and personal improvement through e-Learning. In turn, they will be motivated to serve the company well.

In competitive markets, there exist few variables that any one organization can leverage for long before they are also adopted by the competition. Your work force, however, is one that can be. From 2005 and going forward, the power of the web at its very low cost eliminates most of the remaining barriers to fine tuning your work force for an enduring competitive edge.

About Distance Learning, Inc.

DLI is an independent software company that designs, develops and delivers cost-effective applications for e-learning and training. Its complete solution suite includes software and professional services for the corporate, academic and government markets.

For additional information, contact Marion Rath via email at mrath@dli.com, by telephone at 212 353 0022 ext.28, or by mail at Distance Learning, Inc., 135 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Visit the ScribeStudio Web site, at http://www.ScribeStudio.com, the Press Room at http://www.dli.com/about/news.jsp and our corporate Web site at http://www.dli.com.

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Stephen Cervieri
DLI
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