Skill Building Minus the Frustration | Article

Man on computerAs little as five years ago, when you needed to train employees, there were three basic options for doing it–sit the employee down with a video, partner that employee with a more experienced employee, or put a group of them in front of an instructor. Those weren’t terrible ways to train employees, but they weren’t the most effective.

Today, the Internet gives training new meaning, new interaction and new power by leveraging the flexibility of e-Learning.

“In the past, we could spend $350,000 flying the sales force in for training, and by the time they all got here, everything would be outdated,” says Linda Wallace, vice president of global learning services for Costa Mesa, California-based FileNET.

To get the education out to learners, FileNET turned to Centra Software to provide the technology to train employees and customers about FileNET’s products and services. “My challenge is to get the education out to anyone who needs knowledge of our product,” says Wallace. “An additional challenge is getting it out fast enough, and traditional learning is not working.”

Now, with e-Learning in place, the sales force can attend a training session from anywhere, and everyone gets the information necessary on a timely basis. “We’ve saved over $500,000 in training and productivity since we put e-Learning in place,” says Wallace.

But it requires a lot of work.

Always Ask: What Am I Trying To Solve?

“One big thing you need to do when implementing e-Learning is to conduct a needs analysis,” she says. “You can’t just buy the technology because you think it’s what you need.” That kind of “build it and they will come” approach won’t work. “Figure out what your requirements are and then solve a problem with your e-Learning program. You have to come up with your best practices, and then pilot and test everything–don’t just take the supplier’s word on it.”

Chris Reed, Centra’s vice president of corporate strategy, suggests approaching e-Learning from a bigger perspective. “What are you trying to solve?” he asks. “Then have a business imperative in place to reach that solution.”

Despite the challenges involved with putting e-Learning programs into place, it works, Wallace reports. “We found we reach more people than we expected to reach.” And those people are learning more. “If you can’t apply the information you’re learning right away, you lose about 20 percent of it. With e-Learning, we dribble the information out for an hour-and-a-half, once a week, and now our employees get 100 percent of that information.”

Another advocate of e-Learning is Friskies Europe, a division of Switzerland-based Nestle. “We were an early starter in e-Learning,” says Ian Shaw, communications and development manager-Europe. Nestle introduced e-Learning in 1998 and had thousands using it very quickly. But employees only used it for six months or so.

That’s because the e-Learning courseware that Friskies Europe chose had a limited lifespan, says Shaw. It wasn’t until Nestle asked Friskies Europe to participate in a pilot for a global e-Learning solution during 2000 that Friskies found the right e-Learning formula.

Blend e-Learning With Traditional Methods

“In the pilot, we set up e-Learning to last a life time,” says Shaw. “To work, you have to integrate e-Learning into the way you do business and blend it with other types of learning.”

For example, Friskies Europe turned to McGraw Hill’s Lifetime Learning division for e-Learning solutions that blended electronic and traditional learning methods. “We opted to use McGraw Hill because the content was useful and we could adapt it to our culture quickly. In addition, you can’t just wave a magic wand and expect people to start using e-Learning. McGraw Hill uses workbooks that can be printed and that helps people to make the transition from printed learning materials to e-Learning,” says Shaw.

As a result of turning e-Learning into a lifelong process, integrating it into existing business processes, and easing the transition from traditional learning to e-Learning, Friskies Europe has seen a lot of benefits from the pilot program. “e-Learning creates a level playing field,” says Shaw. “By the time everyone comes into a classroom, they all have the same level of knowledge. Instead of three-day courses, we can spread them over 100 days, and people learn more. And there’s definitely a cost benefit.”

But those benefits don’t come without challenges, and one of the biggest challenges is the need for change management. “It’s a change program, and often people don’t realize how big a change,” says Shaw.

Find an Executive to Champion Your Cause

To make the program a success, Shaw recommends having a senior manager as a sponsor. “You have to train the HR people to guide others on what to use, and you have to have champions to build interest in everyone,” he adds.

Wallace agrees executive support is also essential for making e-Learning part of an organization. “You have to find executive sponsors and get them to buy into the program,” she says. “In doing so, you gain the support to make the program work.”

Dave Upton, vice president of sales and marketing for McGraw Hill, agrees with Shaw. “This isn’t a field of dreams,” he says. “Put a plan in place and make sure that everyone is involved.”

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • e-Learning is flexible, making it more effective and more powerful than traditional learning.
  • e-Learning alone won’t be successful. However, when e-Learning is combined with other methods of learning, it creates a more complete, and therefore more effective educational system.
  • To be effective, e-Learning should be integrated into existing business practices and workflow.
  • Having executive sponsorship and champions to support e-Learning programs makes them more successful than just putting the technology in place and forgetting about the program.


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