The Internet is a widely used tool for communications, a method for sending and receiving communications quickly and inexpensively, and a way to locate and gather resources such as software and reports. To gain access to the Internet, you need a personal computer with a direct connection via an existing network or a modem to dial into the Internet. Educational institutions, government agencies, and commercial service providers such as Microsoft and America Online provide access to the Internet.
Employees can communicate with managers nearby or across the globe, can leave messages or documents, and can gain access to “rooms” designated for conversation on certain topics (the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example). Various newsgroups, bulletin boards, and discussion groups are dedicated to areas of interest. There you can read, post, and respond to messages and articles. Internet sites can have home pages—mailboxes that identify the person or company and contain text, images, sounds, or even video.
The World Wide Web (WWW) is a user-friendly service on the Internet. The Web provides browser software (e.g., Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape) that enables you to explore the Web. Besides browser software, you also need a search engine (e.g., Yahoo, Google) to find information on topics of your choice. Every home page on the Web has a uniform resource locator (URL), or Web address.
The Internet is a valuable source of information on a wide range of topics. The inside of the front cover of this book provides Internet and Web site addresses related to training topics. For example, one manager at Hydro Quebec, a large Canadian utility, used the Internet to research topics related to TQM and business Process Reengineering. When the company wanted information on diversity and women’s issues, the manager logged onto a Cornell University Web site and quickly downloaded two dozen reports on the topic. When the company needed to develop a satisfaction survey, the manager used the Internet to identify similar-sized companies that had conducted comprehensive surveys. Within one day, 30 human resource professionals, including managers at Federal Express and United Parcel Service, responded. The Hydro Quebec manager has also networked with human resource managers at Motorola, IBM, and other companies.
Online learning, or e-learning, refers to instruction and delivery of training by computer online through the Internet or the Web. Online learning includes Web-based training, distance learning, and virtual classrooms; it may involve a CD-ROM. Online learning can include task-based support, simulation-based training, distance learning, and learning portals. There are three important characteristics of online learning. First, online learning involves electronic networks that enable information and instruction to be delivered, shared, and updated instantly. Second, online learning is delivered to the trainee using computers with Internet technology. Third, it focuses on learning solutions that go beyond traditional training by including the delivery of information and tools that improve performance.
Internet-based, or Web-based, training refers to training that is delivered on public or private computer networks and displayed by a Web browser. Intranet-based training refers to training that uses the company’s own computer network. The training programs are accessible only to the company’s employees, not to the general public. Both Internet-based and intranet-based training are stored in a computer and accessed using a computer network. The two types of training use similar technologies. The major difference is that access to the intranet is restricted to a company’s employees. For example, Amdahl Corporation (a mainframe computer manufacturer) has set up an intranet. Employees use Netscape to browse the Web along with a company-developed Web browser. Every department at Amdahl has its own Web home page. The home page describes what services the department provides. Many employees also have their own personal home pages. The training department home page includes a list of courses offered by the training department. The manufacturing department gives employees access to technical manuals via the intranet.
Potential Features of Online Learning
In online learning it is possible to enable learners to interact with the training content and other learners and to decide how they want to learn. Figure 8.3 shows the possible features that can be built into online learning. These features include content, collaboration and sharing, links to resources, learner control, delivery, and administration. It is important to note that not all these features are incorporated into online learning methods. One reason is that certain methods make it difficult to incorporate some of these features. For example, distance learning that involves teleconferencing may limit the amount of collaboration between trainees and the instructor. Also, in distance learning, trainees do not have control over the content, practice, and speed of learning. Another reason why a feature may not be incorporated is that the designers may have chosen not to include it. Although e-learning can include all the features to facilitate learning that are shown in Figure 8.3, it may fall short of its potential because, for example, program developers do not include opportunities for trainees to collaborate. As Figure 8.3 shows, not only can online learning provide the trainee with content, but it also can give learners the ability to control what they learn, the speed at which they progress through the program, how much they practice, and even when they learn. In addition, online learning can allow learners to collaborate or interact with other trainees and experts and can provide links to other learning resources such as reference materials, company Web sites, and other training programs. Text, video, graphics, and sound can be used to present course content. Online learning may also include various aspects of training administration such as course enrollment, testing and evaluating trainees, and monitoring of trainees’ learning progress.
Advantages of Online Learning
The possible features that can be built into online learning give it potential advantages over other training methods. The advantages of e-learning are shown in Table 8.3. E-learning initiatives are designed to contribute to a company’s strategic business objectives. E-learning supports company initiatives such as expanding the number of customers, initiating new ways to carry out business such as e-business, and speeding the development of new products or services. E-learning may involve a larger audience than traditional training programs that focus on employees. E-learning may involve partners, suppliers, vendors, and potential customers. For example, Lucent Technologies, which designs and delivers communications network technologies, has devoted significant resources to ensure that customers and business partners have access to e-learning. Training affects customer satisfaction with Lucent’s products and solutions. It also influences employees’ ability to sell to and service customers. Product training courses that deal with installing, repairing, and operating Lucent equipment are available to customers on the company’s Web site. Users can take the courses, register and pay for the classes, and track their progress. Lucent also provides training to its business partners, who are required to be certified in Lucent’s products before they can receive special discounts. As Lucent increases its electronically delivered courses, the company is also trying to increase the percentage of learners who take courses online. Today, about half the users attend classroom-based training.
E-learning allows training to be delivered faster and to more employees in a shorter period of time. Ritz Camera Centers uses an e-learning program to help keep its employees up to date on product information and enhance their selling skills. E-learning was selected because the company needed a systematic way to reach all associates quickly with materials that could be easily managed and updated. Ritz Camera employees can access short training courses online on a wide variety of technologies and brands. Each module provides insight into product features, competitive differences, and benefits. Training modules are created monthly and can stay live for up to a year based on product cycles. The modules feature training assessments in the form of a quiz that employees must complete successfully. In addition, Ritz can track employees’ participation through a Web portal.
E-learning offers training to geographically dispersed employees at their own locations, reducing travel costs associated with bringing trainees to a central location. This is one reason why online learning is the second most popular approach to training (after print-based materials) for small businesses. For small businesses, online learning helps reduce travel costs related to bringing employees to a central location for training and gives employees flexibility as they try to fit training into their work schedules. Golden Harvest Seeds Inc. found that its sales training program for 250 employees and 2,000 independent crop-seed dealers was not well attended and the training sessions took too much valuable work time. To overcome the attendance problem and increase training effectiveness, Golden Harvest hired a company to produce and post online videos for teaching salespersons how to sell Golden Harvest seeds. Golden Harvest found that employees were watching the videos, sales and the demand for more courses increased, and training costs per person were reduced from over $175 to less than $100.
In another example, Nike was challenged to design a training program for retailers with stores throughout the country and high levels of staff turnover. Nike wanted a program to deliver information in short time periods to make it easier for salespeople to learn but not keep them off the sales floor. Nike developed the Sports Knowledge Underground, which looks like a subway map in which different stations represent different product training. For example, the Apparel Union Station branches off to the apparel technologies line, the running products line, and the Nike Pro products line. Each segment lasts no more than five minutes and gives the salesperson the needed product knowledge. Salespersons are tested at the end of the training and are asked for feedback about the program, which is sent to the e-learning program developers. The program is currently used by more than 20,000 sales associates, and more are expected to complete the training as it becomes available in more stores. The program appears to be having a positive impact on the business—stores that have the program have seen a 4 percent increase in sales.
Some companies have training requirements that all employees have to complete for the company to meet quality or legal requirements. Online learning allows more employees to gain access to these types of programs in a quicker time period than if face-to-face instruction is used. For example, financial services companies are often challenged to keep their global employees up to date on constant changes in products, policies, and government regulations. Face-to-face training is not timely or cost-efficient. As a result, Capital One, Wachovia, and Wells Fargo are using e-learning for training and for tracking and documenting which employees have been trained. E-learning allows retailers, to track every employee’s course performance and match it with his or her sales performance. Product lines are tied to specific certificate tracks. To sell those products, employees must first complete the learning for that track and pass the certification exam. The more training employees take, the more products they can sell. At Continental Airlines, e-learning modules have been especially helpful for bringing staff up to speed on new security regulations. “It’s hard to have someone away from their job for a whole day,” says Jennifer Boubel, senior manager of airport services training for Continental Airlines. “This way, they can spend 30 minutes here and 45 minutes there to complete the modules.”
E-learning is also easy to update, thanks to user-friendly authoring languages such as HTML. Changes can be made on the server that stores the e-learning program. Employees worldwide can access the updated program. The administrative features of e-learning make training management a more efficient, paperless process. For example, CCH developed Shared Learning, an online administration module that allows companies to monitor employees’ completion of e-learning. It tracks how many times employees complete the same class and how much time employees spend per class, and it bookmarks the point at which trainees leave an online class so they can enter the program at the place they left it when they again begin training.
Effectiveness of Online Learning
Is e-learning effective for all types of Learning outcomes and trainees? Both research and company experiences suggest that e-learning is effective for a wide range of outcomes, including knowledge, skills, and behaviors. Table 8.4 shows some of the research results regarding the effectiveness of online learning compared to other training methods. Online learning may be most effective for training that emphasizes cognitive outcomes such as declarative and procedural knowledge. Online learning may facilitate greater social interaction between trainees than face-to-face learning methods because other trainees are equally accessible or more accessible than the instructor and there are more methods available that allow learners to interact, such as e-mail, group projects, whiteboards, wiki documents, and chat rooms. Also, trainees may be more motivated to participate because they avoid feelings of inadequacy and low self-confidence, which can hinder participation in faceto- face learning. Delaware North Companies (DNC), a hospitality and food services company based in Buffalo, New York, provides hospitality and food services to national parks, stadiums, and airports. DNC delivers self-paced interactive training via the Web, followed by virtual classes. At DNC, soft skills, such as managing a team, effective communication techniques, delegation, empowerment, and conflict resolution, have been identified as best for online training. Functional and technical skills have been found to be best suited for on-the-job training.
Despite the increasing popularity of online learning, many companies such as Home Depot Inc., Recreational Equipment Inc., and Qwest Communications International still prefer face-to-face training methods for teaching skills for complex jobs involving selling and repairing equipment. Online learning is used to train employees when their job requires them to use a standard set of facts or procedures. For example, Recreational Equipment Inc., uses role playing between new employees and trainers who simulate a wide range of customer behaviors, helping them understand the difference between customers who want a specific product and customers who want to discuss different product choices. Qwest Communications estimates that 80 percent of training in its network department is completed face-to-face, compared to 20 percent online. To learn how to fix and install equipment, the company believes employees must have hands-on experience that is similar to what they will encounter working in homes and commercial locations. Online learning may be valuable, but it is insufficient for teaching complex analytical, conceptual, and interpersonal skills. This may be because online learning lacks communication richness, some online learners may be reluctant to interact with other learners, and, although online learning increases accessibility to training, employees with busy work schedules have a greater opportunity to more easily delay, fail to complete, or poorly perform on learning activities. Later we discuss how online learning can be combined with face-to-face instruction, known as blended learning, to take advantage of the strengths of both methods. Learning can be enhanced by combining face-to-face instruction and e-learning because learners are more engaged; the use of video, graphics, sound, and text is combined with active learning experiences such as cases, Role Plays, and simulations. Also, blended learning provides opportunities for learners to practice, ask questions, and interact with other learners and peers both face-to-face and online.
Table 8.5 lists factors that have limited companies’ use of e-learning. Approximately onethird of the companies participating in a survey reported that significant factors in not using e-learning were that it cost too much, that employees were not motivated to learn online, and that management had not bought into the idea of e-learning. Twenty-five percent of the companies reported that their use of e-learning was limited because employees lacked intranet access and the company lacked evidence showing e-learning’s return on investment. The following sections discuss some ways to overcome these problems.
Advantages of E-Learning
It supports the company’s business strategy and objectives.
It is accessible at any time and any place.
The audience can include employees and managers as well as vendors, customers, and clients.
Training can be delivered to geographically dispersed employees.
Training can be delivered faster and to more employees in a shorter period of time. Updating is easy.
Practice, feedback, objectives, assessment, and other positive features of a learning environment can be built into the program. Learning is enhanced through use of multiple media (sound, text, video, graphics) and trainee interaction.
Paperwork related to training management (enrollment, assessment, etc.) can be eliminated.
It can link learners to other content, experts, and peers.
TABLE 8.4 Research Results Regarding the Effectiveness of Online Learning
• Online instruction is more effective than face-to-face classroom instruction for teaching declarative knowledge (cognitive knowledge assessed using written tests designed to measure whether trainees remember concepts presented in training).
• Web-based instruction and classroom instruction are equally effective in teaching procedural knowledge (the ability of learners to perform the skills taught in training).
• Learners are equally satisfied with Web-based and classroom instruction.
• Web-based instruction appears to be more effective than classroom instruction (1) when learners are provided with control over content, sequence, and pace, (2) in long courses, and (3) when learners are able to practice the content and receive feedback.
• Web-based instruction and classroom instruction are equally effective when similar instructional methods are used (for example, both approaches use video, practice assignments, and learning tests).
• The employees who learn most from online learning are those who complete more of the available practice opportunities and take more time to complete the training.
• E-learning is not effective for all learners, especially those with low computer self-efficacy.