Licence to learn

The uptake of e-learning is slower than many people predicted. For many companies, the e-learning options available are just too...

The uptake of e-learning is slower than many people predicted. For many companies, the e-learning options available are just too confusing

Click2learn completed research in June 2001 analysing which UK companies were using e-learning and examining the importance placed upon learning, training and human resources within leading UK corporations. The research found that few companies in the UK have embraced e-learning as an integral part of their training programmes.

EBR recently attended a Click2learn roundtable, whose participants included editor of IT Training Donna Murphy and e-learning director of the Institute of IT Training Clive Shepherd, among others. The roundtable sought to highlight the reasons why e-learning adoption by UK companies has been so disappointing. Among the questions posed was: "Has e-learning failed to convince board directors of its merits? Are employees really viewed as a company's greatest asset? Who is responsible for implementing e-learning projects?

Click2learn's research uncovered that British companies are merely paying lip service to e-learning. There is a gap between a strong awareness that learning is important in an organisation and companies taking action to make it a priority at board level. This is partly associated with a lack of action from human resources departments and partly because many organisations are still unaware of what e-learning can actually do.

"For IT-based training, e-learning has good penetration, but for soft skills it is hardly ever used," said Jon Buttriss, director of marketing development at e-learning company NETg. "E-learning is viewed as a personnel issue when it should be about communication."

Professor Anne Jones, founder and chief executive of Lifelong Learning Systems, believes e-learning is more than a communication issue; it is a strategic business one. Jones said that if it is to be viewed as a strategic decision, it needs to be discussed at board level.

According to Shepherd, the best way to get the board to buy in to e-learning is to demonstrate the business benefits. He said the board wants assurance that people will be trained and accredited by a certain date and that board members need to know what makes e-learning commercially viable.

But it is still unclear which department should be responsible for the implementation of e-learning strategies, which leaves most e-learning suppliers unclear about who to approach in a company. "There is the view that if we want to be successful, we should not approach HR. Instead, we should go through the financial route," said Buttriss.

Although most HR professionals seem convinced by e-learning, the roundtable attendees also found them reluctant to make changes to company processes. "We need to give HR professionals the facts - to prove that e-learning can provide ROI," said Buttriss.

E-learning could ultimately be responsible for elevating HR directors to chief learning officers in the way that e-business directors were elevated through the implementation of CRM and ERP. But there may need to be some staff changes before this can happen. "You need a new breed of people that understand strategy, HR and technology, and they are very hard to find," said Jones.

HR is just part of the jigsaw. If e-learning is to have any success, HR has to work in conjunction with the IT and project management teams, according to Joe Pelissier, consultant director of sales at Click2learn.

It seems unlikely that e-learning will take off in the short term, although the roundtable attendees were optimistic for its future. "Businesses need to realise they are knowledge-driven," said Jones. "We are probably two years away from achieving this.

"If a recession hits it could actually be an enabler because e-learning is viewed as a cost-saver. Still, it would be wrong to get rid of collaborative learning," said Jones.

Progress will depend on how well informed companies are. "We need more transparency. There is currently too much confusion, which is then aggravated by suppliers. All people want is honest advice," concluded Murphy.

Roundtable attendees

Professor Anne Jones, founder and CEO, Lifelong Learning Systems

Clive Shepherd, e-learning director, Institute of IT Training

Jon Buttriss, director of marketing development, NETg

Donna Murphy, editor, IT Training

Joe Pelissier, consultant director of sales, Click2learn

Stephen Bennett, VP Europe, Click2learn

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