E-Learning and Use of Technology in Training

By Noe, R.A.

Edited by Paul Ducham

TECHNOLOGY AND COLLABORATION

Technology allows digital collaboration to occur. Digital collaboration is the use of technology to enhance and extend employees’ abilities to work together regardless of their geographic proximity. Digital collaboration includes electronic messaging systems, electronic meeting systems, online communities of learning organized by subject where employees can access interactive discussion areas and share training content and Web links, and document-handling systems with collaboration technologies that allow interpersonal interaction. For example, at www.buzzsaw.com, contractors, suppliers, and engineers can buy and sell products and services as well as exchange blueprints, designs, and other data to cut building time. Digital collaboration requires a computer, but collaborative applications for handheld devices and personal digital assistants are becoming available that will allow employees to collaborate anytime or anywhere. Digital collaboration can be synchronous or asynchronous. In synchronous communication, trainers, experts, and learners interact with each other live and in real time the same way they would in face-toface classroom instruction. Technologies such as video teleconferencing and live online courses (virtual classrooms) make synchronous communication possible. Asynchronous communication refers to non–real-time interactions. That is, persons are not online and cannot communicate with each other without a time delay, but learners can still access information resources when they desire them. E-mail, self-paced courses on the Web or on CD-ROM, discussion groups, and virtual libraries allow asynchronous communication.

The Shoney’s and Captain D’s restaurant chains have more than 350 restaurants in more than 20 states. Over 8,000 employees each year must be trained on the basics of the operational parts of the business, including how to make french fries, hush puppies, and coleslaw. Also, each year 600 new managers must be trained in business issues and backoffice operations of the restaurants. The biggest challenge that Shoney’s faced was how to consistently train geographically dispersed employees. Shoney’s solution was to implement OneTouch, a live integrated video and two-way voice and data application that combines synchronous video, voice, and data and live Web pages so that team members can interact with trainers. OneTouch can be delivered to desktop PCs as well as to warehouses and repair bays. Desktop systems can be positioned in any appropriate locations in the restaurant. Individuals or a group of employees can gather around the PC for training. The training modules include topics such as Orientation, Kitchen, and Dining Room. Each module is interactive. Topics are introduced and are followed up by quizzes to ensure that learning occurs. For example, the coleslaw program shows trainees what the coleslaw ingredients are and where they can be found in the restaurant. The coleslaw program includes a video that trainees can watch and refer to as they practice. After they practice, they have to complete a quiz, and their manager has to verify that they completed the topic before they move on to the next program. The training is consistent and easy to update. The program also allows kitchen and counter staff to learn each other’s skills, which gives Shoney’s flexibility in its staffing (e.g., counter employees who know how to cook).

TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

The Internet is primarily responsible for creating our revolution in learning. Internet technology has permitted the development of electronic networks that integrate voice, video, and data connections among learners, instructors, and experts. Figure 8.1 shows three different types of learning environments. Learning used to be a very linear process. That is, instructors presented information to the learners; practice and applications then occurred after instruction was completed (see the classroom learning environment in Figure 8.1). Traditionally, the learning environment included only the instructor or trainer and the learners. The trainer was responsible for delivering content, answering questions, and testing learning. Trainees played a passive role in learning. Communication on course content was one-way: from the instructor to the learner. Experts and resource materials were separate from the learning environment. Contact with resource materials and experts beyond the instructor and course materials assigned for the course required learners to go outside the formal learning environment. Also, learners had to wait to access resource materials and experts until instruction was completed. Interaction among learners occurred primarily outside the training room and tended to be limited to those who worked in the same geographic area.

Technology has allowed learning to become a more dynamic process. As shown on the right side of Figure 8.1, the learning environment can be expanded to include greater interaction between learners and the training content as well as between learners and the instructor. The trainer may help design the instruction, but the instruction is primarily delivered to the learners through technology such as online learning, simulations, or iPods. The instructor becomes more of a coach and resource person to answer students’ questions and is less involved in delivery of training content. Learning occurs primarily through communicating with other learners, working on virtual team projects, participating in games, listening, exchanging ideas, interacting with experts (engineers, managers, etc.), and discovering ideas and applications using hyperlinks that take the learner to other Web sites. Experts and resource materials may be part of the learning environment. While learners interact with the training content through exercises, applications, and simulations, they can discuss what they are learning with other learners or access experts or resource materials available on the Internet. Training delivery and administration (e.g., tracking learner progress) is all done by the computer. In the blended learning environment, shown at the bottom of Figure 8.1, trainees have access to a blended training curriculum that consists of both online and classroom instruction. Collaboration can occur between learners, between learners and instructors, and between learners and experts. Although new technologies allow for the creation of a dynamic learning environment, it is important to include collaboration, active learner involvement, and access to other resources in the design and development of the training program. Use of new technology requires building these capabilities into the training program. For example, Web 2.0 refers to user-created social networking features on the Internet, including blogs, wikis, and Twitter. Qualcomm’s initiative, Learning 2.0, involves the use of Web 2.0 technologies such as social bookmarking/tagging, blogs, and tools similar to those found on Facebook and YouTube to build relationships between trainees and between trainees and training content.

Technology has enabled training to be delivered to different geographical locations, to accompany trainees whether they are at work or at home (mobile technology), and to be completed online using a personal computer. Many of the training methods discussed in this chapter have these features. For example, online learning, or e-learning, includes instruction and delivery of training using the Internet or Web. Distance learning typically involves videoconferencing and/or computers for delivery of instruction from a trainer to trainees who are not in the same location as the trainer. Mobile technologies allow training to be delivered through iPods, personal data assistants (PDAs), and handheld computers that allow trainees to tune in to training programs at any time or place.

Web-based training and e-learning support virtual reality, animation, interactions, communications among trainees and real-time audio and video. As Figure 8.2 shows, there are six levels of technology-based training. The difference between the highest and lowest levels is that at the higher levels, technology methods allow learning to become more job-related and directly meet a business need. For example, employees can access expert systems while they work. The simplest level facilitates communications among trainers and trainees. More complex uses of technology involve the actual delivery of training, and trainees are very actively involved in learning. Sound, automation, and video are used in Web-based training. In addition, trainees are linked to other resources on the Web. They are also required to share information with other trainees and to deposit knowledge and their insights from the training (such as potential applications of the training content) into a database that is accessible to other company employees. At the highest level—electronic performance support systems—employees receive training on an asneeded basis while they perform their jobs.

Fig-8.1

 

Figure 8.2

DVD

A personal computer enables animation, video clips, and graphics to be integrated into a training session. Also, the user can interact with the training material through use of a joystick or touch-screen monitor. CD-ROMs and DVDs utilize a laser to read text, graphics, audio, and video off an aluminum disk. A laser disk uses a laser to provide high-quality video and sound. A laser disk can be used alone (as a source of video) or as part of a computer-based instruction delivery system.

For example, at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a newly hired security guard learns the layout of the facility by using a computer, television, monitor, joystick, and video disk. The new hire can tour the trash-compactor facility, examine the components on a panel of electrical controls, ride elevators, and listen to colleagues discuss machinery, equipment, and high-radiation areas that the new hire should be aware of. With more than 77,000 photos on the laser disk, the new security guard can travel at normal walking speed, look upward or downward, quickly change location, and store images for future reference.

Chiquita, the fresh fruit company, needed to help employees understand how they could contribute to the company’s business goals through a new performance management system, Perform to Grow. Although e-learning modules were developed to help employees learn how to practice the tools and steps within the Perform to Grow system, offices in Central America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe did not have the technology that was available in the North American and European offices. As a result, Chiquita burned the e-learning modules and tool kit onto CD-ROMs for distribution to employees in those locations.

INTERACTIVE VIDEO

Interactive video combines the advantages of video and computer-based instruction. Instruction is provided one-on-one to trainees via a monitor connected to a keyboard. Trainees use the keyboard or touch the monitor to interact with the program. Interactive video is used to teach technical procedures and interpersonal skills. The training program may be stored on a videodisk or CD.

Apple Computer’s and Federal Express’s experiences with CD-ROMs provide good examples of how a CD-ROM can provide greater accessibility to consistent training as well as facilitate learning. Apple Computer’s managers wanted access to training, but their busy schedules made it difficult for them to leave their jobs to attend training sessions. As a result of this need for an alternative to classroom instruction, Apple connected CD-ROM drives to all its computers. CD-ROM training programs were created for the managers. One CD-ROM–based program covered basics of employment law, offering both narrated text and video. The CD-ROM also allowed the manager to access reference materials included on the CD, such as a list of legal interview questions and demonstrations of violations of law (e.g., sexual harassment).

Federal Express’s 25-disk interactive video curriculum includes courses related to customer etiquette, defensive driving, and delivery procedures. As Federal Express discovered, interactive video has many advantages. First, training is individualized. Employees control what aspects of the training program they view. They can skip ahead when they feel competent, or they can review topics. Second, employees receive immediate feedback concerning their performance. Third, training is accessible on a 24-hour basis regardless of employees’ work schedules. From the employer’s standpoint, the high cost of developing interactive video programs and purchasing the equipment was offset by the reduction in instructor costs and travel costs related to a central training location. At Federal Express, interactive video has made it possible to train 35,000 customer-contact employees in 650 locations nationwide, saving the company millions of dollars. Without interactive video, Federal Express could not deliver consistent high-quality training.

ONLINE LEARNING

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.

TABLE 8.3

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.

Fig-8.3

NEEDS ASSESSMENT

The information technology department needs to be involved in the design of any Webbased program to ensure that the technology capabilities of the company network are understood, to guarantee that trainees can get access to the browsers and connections they need to participate in e-learning and utilize all of the tools (e.g., e-mail, chat rooms, hyperlinks) that may accompany it, and to get technical support when needed. Online tutorials may be needed to acquaint trainees with the capabilities of the e-learning system and how to navigate through the Web. The Needs Assessment determines the company’s resources for training and the tasks to be trained for, and it analyzes the employees who may need training. The needs assessment process for Web-based training or any other type of online learning should include a technology assessment (as part of the Organizational Analysis) and an assessment of the skills that users need for online training (Person Analysis). Needs assessment also includes getting management to support online learning.

Grant Thornton, a global accounting, tax, and business advisory firm, created Grant Thornton University (GTU), one place for all of its employees’ training needs. Through GTU, employees can register for any course, whether it is classroom-based or online, and have access to more than 1,000 hours of self-paced live Webcasts and virtual classroom courses. To ensure that GTU was successful, the company investigated its business learning needs and the best delivery method for each topic (a needs assessment). Learning paths are broken down by competencies and skill requirements and are related to job performance. For example, if employees receive performance feedback suggesting that they need to improve their teamwork skills, managers can identify an appropriate course by position and required competencies. A combination of self-paced lessons and live virtual classroom is the optimal instructional method. The self-paced lessons deliver content, and the live training is used for question-and-answer sessions and case studies. Live training also provides trainees with the opportunity to interact with peers and course experts. To obtain support for GTU, the company’s chief learning officer invited managers to participate in a virtual kickoff from their desktop personal computers. The kickoff covered the strategic goals of the initiative, showed managers how the technology worked, and let them sample various content.

DESIGN

E-learning should be designed to mimimize content or work that is not related to the learning objectives. Extraneous content or work may take up trainees’ limited cognitive processing resources, resulting in less learning. Table 8.7 provides several design principles that should be considered in the design of e-learning. These design principles are based on research regarding multimedia learning— that is, learning that involves words (whether printed or audio text) and pictures (charts, diagrams, photographs, animation, or video). Remember that just putting text online isn’t necessarily an effective way to learn. Repurposing refers to directly translating an instructorled face-to-face training program to an online format. Online learning that involves merely repurposing an ineffective training program will still result in ineffective training. Unfortunately, in their haste to develop online learning, many companies are repurposing bad training. The best e-learning uses the advantages of the Internet in combination with the principles of a good learning environment. Effective online learning takes advantage of the Web’s dynamic nature and ability to use many positive learning features, including linking to other training sites and content through the use of hyperlinks, providing learner control, and allowing the trainee to collaborate with other learners. Effective online learning uses video, sound, text, and graphics to hold learners’ attention. Effective online learning provides trainees with meaningful content related to realistic on-the-job activities, relevant examples, and the ability to apply content to work problems and issues. Also, trainees have opportunities to practice and receive feedback through the use of problems, exercises, assignments, and tests.

To ensure that materials are not confusing or overwhelming to the learner, online learning content needs to be properly arranged. Materials in online learning need to be organized in small, meaningful modules of information. Each module should relate to one idea or concept. The modules should be connected in a way that encourages the learner to be actively involved in learning. Active involvement may include asking trainees to find resources on the Internet, try quizzes or games, make choices between alternative actions, or compare what they know to the knowledge of an expert or model. Objectives, videos, practice exercises, links to material that elaborates on the module content, and tests should be accessible within each module. The modules should be linked in an arrangement that makes sense, such as by importance or by the order in which content has to be learned (prerequisites). Trainees can choose to skip over material that they are familiar with or that they are competent in, based on a test of the content, or they can return to modules they need more practice in.

One of the Web’s major potential advantages is that it gives learners control. Learner control refers to the ability of trainees to actively learn though self-pacing, exercises, exploring links to other material, and conversations with other trainees and experts. That is, online learning allows activities typically led by the instructor (presentation, visuals, slides) or trainees (discussion, questions) as well as group interaction (discussion of application of training content) to be incorporated into training without trainees or the instructor having to be physically present in a training room. Simply providing learner control does not ensure that trainees will use all the features provided by online learning (e.g., practice exercises). Companies must communicate the importance and meaningfulness of the training content for employees’ jobs and must hold employees accountable for completing the training.

Research provides several recommendations for maximizing the benefits of learner control. Training programs should not allow trainees to control the amount of feedback they receive because they may rely too much on the feedback, reducing their long-term retention of the training material. The program should offer practice on each topic repeatedly throughout the program so that trainees will not forget topics they have already completed. The program should provide practice to trainees using different examples to help transfer of training content (skills, knowledge) not only to the full range of situations that trainees may encounter on the job but also to unexpected situations. Trainees should be allowed to control the sequence in which they receive instruction but not be able to skip practice.

Online learning blurs the distinction between training and work. Expectations that trainees will be motivated and able to complete Web-based training during breaks in their normal workday or on their personal time are unrealistic. Companies need to ensure that employees are given time and space for e-learning to occur. That is, employees need dedicated time, protected from work tasks, for learning to occur. As with other training programs, employees need to understand why they should attend e-learning and the benefits they will receive so as to enhance their motivation to learn. Accurate communications about the content and types of learning activities in e-learning courses need to be provided to employees. Managers need to give employees time in their schedules, and employees need to schedule “training time” to complete training and avoid interruptions that can interfere with learning. Some companies are moving away from their initial expectation that online learning can be completed at the employee’s desktop without time away from the job; instead they are setting up learning labs for online learning to occur without the distractions of the workplace. “Chunking,” or using one- to two-hour training modules, helps trainees learn and retain more than they might in a standard full-day or half-day training class. Training can also be more easily integrated into the typical workday. Trainees can devote one to two hours to a learning session from their office and then return to their work responsibilities. Using formative evaluation of prototypes of Web training can be helpful in identifying the appropriate length and time of modules. End users (managers, potential trainees) should be involved in a formative evaluation to ensure that music, graphics, icons, animation, video, and other features facilitate rather than interfere with learning. Also, end users need to test the content, the navigator, or the site map to guarantee that they can easily move through the learning module and access resources and links to other Web sites as needed.

TABLE 8.7

Principles for Designing E-Learning

Instruction includes relevant visuals and words.

Text is aligned close to visuals.

Complex visuals are explained by audio or text rather than by both text and audio that narrates the text.

Extraneous visuals, words, and sounds are omitted.

Learners are socially engaged through conversational language agents.

Key concepts are explained prior to the full process or task associated with the concepts.

Content is presented in short sequences over which learners have control.

Activities and exercises that mimic the context of the job are provided.

Explanations are provided for learner responses to quizzes and exercises.

Exercises are distributed within and among the module(s) rather than in a single place.

TECHNOLOGY FOR COLLABORATION

Technology limitations and preferences need to be taken into account. Web-based training must be designed for the bandwidth that is available. Bandwidth refers to the number of bytes and bits (information) that can travel between computers per second. Graphics, photos, animation, and video in courses can be slow to download and can “crash” the system. Online learning courses should be designed for the available bandwidth on the company’s system. Bandwidth can be increased by upgrading access speed on the users’ computers, buying and installing faster servers and switches (computer hardware) on the company’s network, or encouraging trainees to access the Web when demand is not high. Soon bandwidth may not be an issue because computer servers will be able to transfer more data faster, personal computers will have greater processing speed, and cables and wireless communications systems that carry data will have greater capacity. Online learning should also try to build in interactivity without requiring the use of plug-ins. Plug-ins refer to additional software that needs to be loaded on the computer to listen to sound or watch video. Plug-ins can be expensive because they may require the company to pay licensing fees. Plug-ins also can affect how the computer processes tasks. If trainees experience repeated technology problems (such as slow download times, network downtimes, or plugin difficulties), they are likely to lose patience and be reluctant to participate in online learning.

Learning often occurs as a result of interaction or sharing between employees. Employees learn by informal, unstructured contact with experts and peers. Collaboration can involve an exchange among two or more trainees or among the trainer or other experts. Some of the more common ways that trainees can collaborate in online learning are shown in Table 8.8. Berlitz International’s worldwide learning system uses communication technology to enhance and reinforce employee learning. When language instructors take a course, they have to access an electronic bulletin board in order to answer three posted questions and give three new ones. Berlitz uses its communications technology to enhance communications, encourage information sharing, and create a sense of online community. Berlitz employees share ideas in online live chats, threaded discussions, or electronic bulletin boards, giving e-learners the opportunity to meet classmates online to discuss assignments, ask instructors questions, or participate in virtual roundtables. Employees can share ideas and experiences—an important way to learn from others.

Hyperlinks are links that allow a trainee to access other Web sites that include printed materials as well as communications links to experts, trainers, and other learners. Owens Corning’s learning resource home page has hyperlinks to all available forms of training information, including CD-ROM, Web-based, and trainer-led programs. The site supports online course registration and allows tests to be sent to trainees, scored, and used to register trainees in appropriate courses.

Research suggests that the reason some employees fail to complete online learning and prefer instructor-led face-to-face instruction over online learning is that they want to be able to learn and network with their peers. Effective online learning connects trainees and facilitates interaction and sharing through the use of chat rooms, e-mail, electronic bulletin boards, and discussion groups. Other methods for learner interaction and sharing include having trainees participate in collaborative online projects and receive tutoring, coaching, and mentoring by experts. Online learning also should provide a link between the trainees and the “instructor,” who can answer questions, provide additional learning resources, and stimulate discussion between trainees on topics such as potential applications of the training content and common learning problems.

Given the work demands that employees face, trainees need incentives to complete online learning. Some companies present cash awards and merchandise to employees who pass online competency tests that show they have completed and learned online course content. Other companies use certification programs to ensure that online courses are completed. For example, at Symbol Technologies, a manufacturer of handheld bar-code scanners and computers, sales trainees must complete online courses to be certified as salespersons. If they don’t complete the training, they can’t continue into other training programs needed to be a successful salesperson. Aventis Pharma AG, a pharmaceutical company, has simply eliminated other training options such as classroom learning. If employees want training, their only option is online learning.

Learning portals are Web sites or online learning centers that provide, via e-commerce transactions, access to training courses, services, and online learning communities from many sources. Learning portals provide not only one-stop shopping for a variety of training programs from different vendors but also access to online classes. Learning portals may also offer services to track employees’ enrollment and progress in training programs. They were initially set up with the idea that an individual purchaser (an employee or other “customer”) could purchase training using a credit card. The characteristics of learning portals vary. Some allow users to pay, register, and attend courses online; others offer access only to classroom training programs at colleges or universities. In addition to instruction, some sites provide mentors who can tutor students as well as discussion groups where students can communicate with each other. W. R. Grace, a specialty chemicals company, uses its online learning center to support employee development, to link learning to performance and talent management, and to improve communications. The learning center is organized around a set of core competencies that define the knowledge, skills, and abilities all employees are expected to achieve. A search option is provided so that employees can explore and access resources relevant to a specific topic. The learning center includes training sessions, recommended readings, a rental library (providing videotapes and CD-ROMs for self-paced learning), and a strategy guide (providing quick ideas and learning assignments to develop a competency). Every six weeks the learning center sends an electronic newsletter to every employee’s personal computer. The newsletter keeps employees up to date on the latest learning center offerings, reports on how employees are effectively using the learning center, and encourages employees to use the center. Ford Motor Company has developed the Ford Learning Network (FLN), which includes 48,000 twenty-minute pieces of information using different media. The FLN has more than 400,000 titles, including 1,500 online courses, 800 classroom courses, 1,900 e-books, and numerous internal resources from Web sites, journals, and industry periodicals. The learning can occur when the employee needs it or as a refresher that can be accessed at the employee’s convenience. Ford is adding an automated survey tool that tracks the value of training received to see how training is being used and applied on the job. Ford also hopes that the network can make it possible for novices to gain access to expert employee information. For example, the knowledge and skills of experts in braking systems can be made available throughout the company. Ford’s goal is to capture the intellectual property of in-house experts via video and other media and to make that information searchable on the FLN.

Table-8.8

VIRTUAL REALITY

Virtual reality is a computer-based technology that provides trainees with a threedimensional learning experience. Virtual reality allows simulations to become even more realistic. Using specialized equipment or viewing the virtual model on the computer screen, trainees move through the simulated environment and interact with its components. 76 Technology is used to stimulate multiple senses of the trainee. Devices relay information from the environment to the senses. For example, audio interfaces, gloves that provide a sense of touch, treadmills, or motion platforms are used to create a realistic, artificial environment. Devices also communicate information about the trainee’s movements to a computer. These devices allow the trainee to experience presence (the perception of actually being in a particular environment). Presence is influenced by the amount of sensory information available to the trainee, control over sensors in the environment, and the trainees’ ability to modify the environment.

For example, Motorola uses virtual reality in its advanced manufacturing courses for employees learning to run the Pager Robotic Assembly facility. Employees are fitted with a head-mount display that allows them to view the virtual world, which includes the actual lab space, robots, tools, and assembly operation. Trainees hear and see the actual sounds and sights as if they were using the real equipment. Also, the equipment responds to the employees’ actions (e.g., turning on a switch or moving a dial).

One advantage of virtual reality is that it allows trainees to practice dangerous tasks without putting themselves or others in danger. Research suggests that virtual reality training is likely to have the greatest impact on complex tasks or tasks that involve extensive use of visual cues. The virtual reality environment can be virtually identical to the actual work environment. Another potential advantage relates to the cognitive processing required by the learner. The use of such a realistic environment in training may make more memory available for learning. Memory that was previously used to convert one- or twodimensional training scenarios into three-dimensional space can now be used for processing information.

Obstacles to developing effective virtual reality training include poor equipment that results in a reduced sense of presence (e.g., poor tactile feedback and inappropriate time lags between sensing and responding to trainees’ actions). Poor presence may result in the trainee experiencing vomiting, dizziness, and headaches (simulator sickness) because senses are distorted.

VIRTUAL WORLDS

Second Life is a computer-based, simulated online virtual world that includes a threedimensional representation of the real world and a place to host learning programs or experiences. In Second Life, trainees use an avatar to interact with each other in classrooms, “webinars” (Web-based seminars), simulations, or role-play exercises. The virtual world of Second Life allows for learning to be real without being dangerous or risky for patients, employees, or customers. Second Life allows employees to learn alone, with their peers, or in teams. Second Life can be used to create virtual classrooms but its strength is its ability to create virtual reality simulations that actively involve the learner, such as putting the trainee’s avatar in a realistic role play in which it has to deal with an upset customer. Stapoil, a Norwegian oil company, has an oil platform in Second Life that allows trainees to walk around it. Stapoil uses the oil platform for safety training. It catches fire and employees have to find lifeboats to safely exit the platform.

Employees at Silicon Image learn about making silicon chips in Second Life by exploring a virtual world that represents a corporate campus and interacting with avatars. Employees can visit the company’s departments while watching videos and slide shows explaining what type of work is done within each unit. British Petroleum uses Second Life to train new gas station employees in the safety features of gasoline storage tanks and piping systems. BP’s virtual world includes three-dimensional replicas of the tank and pipe systems at a gas station. Trainees are able to see the underground storage tanks and piping systems and observe how safety devices control gasoline flow—something they could never do in real life.

Besides Second Life, ProtoSphere, Forterra, and Virtual Heroes are other providers of virtual worlds. Paidera, a technology company that provides English-as-second-language training, uses Forterra to teach English. Trainees create avatars and then enter the virtual world to practice language skills in real situations. Trainees are placed in a virtual environment, such as talking to a cab driver or ordering food at a restaurant, that requires use of their language skills. The cost to rent space from a virtual-world program’s campus within a public space is $200–$300 per day; it costs $1,000 to $2,000 for a customized simulation within the space. Leased space in a virtual world can range from $5,000 to $100,000 annually, depending on the size and type of the space leased ($10,000–$20,000 is required for a private space on a public server or a private, customized island).

Advantages of Virtual Worlds

There are several advantages of using a virtual world for training. The virtual environment can imitate an actual workplace such as a lab, processing plant, or hospital emergency room, allowing trainees to both practice their skills without harming products or patients and at the same time see the real-life consequences of their actions and decisions. It also provides a place to meet with trainers, managers, or other employees who can serve as teachers. Virtual worlds also can be useful for teaching interpersonal skills such as time management, communications, leadership, and working under pressure. Teamwork exercises and group problem solving are possible because avatars can be created to simulate other trainees or other trainees can simultaneously be involved in the simulation. Second Life and other virtual worlds motivate learners by making learning fun and interactive. Second Life also can enhance transfer of training because the virtual world used for training can replicate the real-life work environment (identical elements). Second Life can be used for e-learning, collaboration, and meetings. As with other technology-based training methods, it is an especially effective way for employees who are not in the same location or country to have access to training.

Disadvantages of Virtual Worlds

Despite the seemingly unlimited potential for training and development in virtual worlds such as Second Life, this method also has significant disadvantages. Research suggests that disadvantages include lack of ease of use for first-time users; the potential risk of a difficult keyboard and mouse interface, which can demotivate learners; the high investment of time and money required for programming content; and the lack of evidence supporting its effectiveness for learning. The novelty of experiences in a three-dimensional virtual world such as Second Life and the appearance of the avatars may help trainees recall the experience, but they may also interfere with retention and transfer of the training content to the job.

EXPERT SYSTEMS

Expert systems refer to technology (usually software) that organizes and applies the knowledge of human experts to specific problems. Expert systems have three elements:

1. A knowledge base that contains facts, figures, and rules about a specific subject.

2. A decision-making capability that, imitating an expert’s reasoning ability, draws conclusions from those facts and figures to solve problems and answer questions.

3. A user interface that gathers and gives information to the person using the system.

Expert systems are used as a support tool that employees refer to when they have problems or decisions they feel exceed their current knowledge and skills. For example, a large international food processor uses an expert system called Performer, which is designed to provide training and support to its plant operators. One problem the company was facing was determining why potato chips were being scorched in the fryer operation. An operator solved the problem using Performer. He selected the Troubleshooting menu, then Product Texture/Flavor, then Off Oil Flavor. The program listed probable causes, beginning with high oxidation during frying. The operator chose that cause, and the system recommended adjusting the cooking line’s oil flush, providing detailed steps for that procedure. Following those steps resolved the problem.

Although expert systems are discussed as a technology that supports training, expert systems can also be used as a delivery mechanism. Expert systems can be used to train employees in the decision rules of the experts. For example, a financial company dramatically increased the portfolio of products that it offered to customers. The sales force needed to be prepared to introduce these products to clients and to make sales. The company developed an expert system to capture the sales processes used by top sales performers. This Web-based expert system allowed salespersons to access information on each financial product, alerted salespersons to information they needed from the customer, and used expert logic to identify opportunities to introduce new products to customers based on data entered by the salesperson (the expert system matches general client characteristics with specific customer characteristics).

Expert systems can deliver both high quality and lower costs. By using the decision processes of experts, the system enables many people to arrive at decisions that reflect experts’ knowledge. An expert system helps avoid the errors that can result from fatigue and decision biases. The efficiencies of an expert system can be realized if it can be operated by fewer or less skilled (and likely less costly) employees than the company would otherwise require.

GROUPWARE

Groupware (electronic meeting software) is a special type of software application that enables multiple users to track, share, and organize information and to work on the same document simultaneously. A groupware system combines such elements as e-mail, document management, and an electronic bulletin board. Popular brands of groupware are Lotus Notes and Domino.

Companies have been using groupware to improve business processes such as sales and account management and to improve meeting effectiveness as well as to identify and share knowledge in the organization. Vernon Carus Limited, based in Preston, England, manufactures infection control and wound health care products. With a subsidiary company in Malta, the organization employs approximately 400 people. Business managers at Vernon Carus were acutely aware of the need to capture more accurate data on customer interactions and to present a stronger brand image. The 40-strong field sales team, the face of the company, had largely stopped using the corporate e-mail system, complaining that it was unreliable. Also, the company had no way to capture or share Customer Data among teams or with the head office. Vernon Carus installed Lotus software so as to make the same information available to everyone; as a result, the company was better able to react and adapt to customer needs.

Many companies are creating their own intranets. Intranets are cheaper and simpler to use than groupware programs but pose potential security problems because of the difficulty of keeping persons out of the network.

ELECTRONIC PERFORMANCE SUPPORT SYSTEMS

An electronic performance support system (EPSS) is an electronic infrastructure that captures, stores, and distributes individual and corporate knowledge assets throughout an organization to enable individuals to achieve required levels of performance in the fastest possible time and with a minimum of support from other people. An EPSS includes all the software needed to support the work of individuals (not just one or two specific software applications). It integrates knowledge assets into the interface of the software tools rather than separating them as add-on components. For example, company policy information may be presented in a dialog box message rather than in a separate online document. The typical EPSS includes:

• An “assistant” to automate tasks and lighten the work load.

• A “librarian” to provide task-specific information.

• A “teacher” to guide the user through the process step by step.

• An “advisor” to provide expert advice.

EPSS can also be used as a substitute for training. Microsoft’s Office software has “wizards,” a help function that recognizes the task that the user is starting to perform (e.g., writing a letter) and offers information related to that task. At Reuters, the news and financial information company, employees who deal with orders for financial systems information and data needed a way to get their questions answered on an as-needed basis because they did not have time to attend training sessions. Typical questions included how to register financial traders to access Reuters’s information and systems and how to coordinate installation of Reuters’s technology on the trading floor. Reuters purchased an EPSS that provides employees with help tabs on their computer screens as they perform tasks. The help tabs provide answers to questions about the steps required to complete different processes such as user registration.

To use EPSS as a substitute for training, trainers must determine whether problems and tasks require employees to actually acquire knowledge, skill, or ability (learned capability) and whether periodic assistance through an EPSS is sufficient.

INTERACTIVE VOICE TECHNOLOGY

Interactive voice technology uses a conventional personal computer to create an automated phone response system. This technology is especially useful for benefits administration. For example, at Hannaford Brothers—a supermarket chain spread through the northeastern United States—the human resource department installed an interactive voice response system that allows employees to get information on their retirement accounts, stock purchases, and benefit plans by using the push buttons on their phones. Employees can also directly enroll in training programs and speak to a human resource representative if they have questions. As a result of the technology, the company has been able to reduce its human resource staff and more quickly serve employees’ benefit needs.

IMAGING

Imaging refers to scanning documents, storing them electronically, and retrieving them. Imaging is particularly useful because paper files take a large volume of space and are difficult to access. Training records can be scanned and stored in a database for access at a later date. Some software applications allow the user to scan documents based on key words such as job history, education, and experience. This is a valuable feature when answering managers’ and other customers’ questions regarding employees’ training and skills. For example, inquiries such as “I need an engineer to take an expatriate assignment in France. Do we have any engineers who speak French?” can be easily and quickly answered by scanning training databases. Imaging can also help a training department better serve its customers by reducing the time needed to locate a file or service a phone inquiry from an employee, providing the ability for employee training records to be shared simultaneously, eliminating the need to refile, and reducing the physical space needed to store training records.

TRAINING SOFTWARE APPLICATIONS

Training software applications can be used to track information related to training administration (e.g., course enrollments, tuition reimbursement summaries, and training costs), employee skills, employees’ training activities, online learning, and transfer of training. Important database elements for training administration include training courses completed, certified skills, and educational experience. Georgia Power uses a database system that tracks internal training classes, available classroom space, instructor availability, costs, and the salaries of training class members. Table 8.11 shows a screen illustrating an employee’s training activity. Some applications provide cost information that can be used by managers to determine which departments are exceeding their training budgets. This information can be used to reallocate training dollars during the next budget period. Other databases give access to summaries of journal articles, legal cases, and books to help professional employees such as engineers and lawyers keep up to date.

Software applications can be useful for decision making. Companies are showing increased interest in skills databases that can be used to track employee talent and identify skill shortages. These databases keep track of the skills and credentials of each employee, such as prior jobs, training, technical certification, geographical and cultural experiences, spoken languages, and career interests. Managers and trainers can use the database to identify strengths and weaknesses of the company’s work force. Using skill inventories, managers can determine which employees need training and can suggest training programs to them that are appropriate for their job and skill levels. Skill inventories are also useful for identifying employees who are qualified for promotions and transfers. Finally, they can also be useful for helping managers quickly build employee teams with the necessary skills to respond to customer needs, product changes, international assignments, or work problems. Dell used its database to locate a sales executive who could work in China. The database helped identify a sales manager who was finishing an assignment in Australia, had experience working in the Asia-Pacific region, and had the skills needed for the job. Geisinger Health Systems has been tracking which training courses employees have completed. Now the company is interested in software that can forecast potential skill gaps due to retirements.

Software known as authoring tools can also be useful for developing online learning programs. Authoring tools are used to create presentations, surveys, quizzes, animation, and graphics and to provide sound, video, and text for online learning. One authoring tool is Macromedia Flash MX 2004, which can be used for creating customized e-learning. Software is also available to help trainees transfer training. For example, ActionPlan Mapper helps trainees enter their action plans into an online database that can be accessed by their manager and trainer. Participants receive automatic e-mail reminders asking them to create reports on their use of training content at work.

Table-8.11

WHY LMS

Tracking the learning activity in a business is important for human capital management. Human capital management integrates training with all aspects of the human resource function (e.g., performance evaluation, human resource planning) to determine how training dollars are spent and how training expenses translate into business dollars for the company. The major reasons that companies adopt an LMS are to centralize management of learning activities, track regulatory compliance, measure training usage, and measure employee performance. Thirty-eight percent of companies report integrating an LMS with human resource information systems.

LMSs are also important for companies to be able to track the number of employees who have completed courses that are required to meet state, federal, or professional regulations (compliance training). These courses cover a wide range of topics including financial integrity, health and safety, environmental protection, and employee rights. For example, various regulations mandate that companies be able to prove that employees have completed courses in sexual harassment or defensive driving. Employees from a variety of for-profit businesses, including financial services, oil refining, and pharmaceuticals, as well as employees in nonprofit organizations such as government agencies and hospitals have to complete certain required courses. The Gunderson Lutheran Health System includes hospitals, community clinics, nursing homes, home care, pharmacies, ambulances, mental health services, and vision centers. Employees are required to take courses to comply with national standards on protecting patient privacy as well as courses related to providing a safe and healthy work environment. Gunderson developed an LMS that includes all mandatory compliance courses as well as other courses. Employees can access courses on the LMS through computers located at their desks, in computer labs, or at health sciences libraries. Gunderson has realized many benefits from the LMS. The LMS has been useful in reducing the time employees spend on compliance courses (for example, safety courses now take 20 minutes compared to the two hours required for classroom training). The online courses provide employees with flexibility to fit learning into their schedules. For example, nurses can leave their online course to visit patients and then return to continue learning right where they left off. The online courses offer more interactivity through the use of exercises, assessments, and role plays than did the classroom training, and such interactivity holds employees’ interest. Finally, since the LMS was developed, the demand for learning has increased: Departments want more classroom courses to be converted to online courses.

An LMS can help companies understand the strengths and weaknesses of their employees, including where talent gaps exist. Also, an LMS can be linked to other human resource systems, such as performance management or employee development systems, to identify learning opportunities for employees to strengthen their performance weaknesses. Turner Construction has a competency model that divides jobs into nine job families and divides the families into job levels (senior management, administrative/clerical, and management). Employees receive an online performance evaluation of their skills based on their job family and level. The performance management system links to the company’s LMS. The LMS analyzes the employees’ skill weaknesses and provides recommendations of courses that can improve those skills. The LMS system allows Turner Construction to identify skill gaps for entire levels, job families, or business units. The results can be used to identify where to spend monies allocated for training to develop new courses.

DEVELOP LMS

How does a company go about developing an LMS? First, senior management needs to be convinced that an LMS will benefit employees, improve business functions, and contribute to overall business strategies and goals. At Glaxo-SmithKline, a research-based pharmaceutical and health care company, most training takes place on the LMS. Training covers important areas such as reporting of adverse medical events with patients, medicine safety, and management certification of business ethics. Providing around-the-clock access to learning and certification along with securing and providing access to training records and certification data is considered critical to the business. The CEO of CitiGroup, a financial services company, plans to use the company’s LMS to provide ethics training for all employees, part of the CEO’s plan to restore respect in the company. The LMS at United Airlines has given the company the tools it needs to help boost the company’s readiness for change and transformation. The company’s training and learning function has obtained more visibility and recognition of its ability to partner with the business units through technology that supports performance improvement.

Second, a company that wants to develop an LMS must have an e-learning culture that supports online learning and encourages employee participation. Third, the online learning environment needs to be under the control of the learner. Learners require not just choices in what and when to learn but also involvement in learning (practice, feedback, appeals to multiple senses).

To maximize its effectiveness, an LMS should be integrated with human resource systems. The interfaces between the systems will provide basic employee information such as business unit, geographic location, and job title. Information about which courses employees have completed should also be stored in the LMS. To develop an LMS for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a group known as Strategic Human Resources, which is responsible for establishing human resource policy across the IRS, has developed a partnership with IRS business units and technology staff. In meeting with business units to identify their training needs, the Strategic Human Resources unit determined that the LMS needed to support content from different sources, including e-learning courses purchased from vendors as well as those developed internally, and needed to integrate with the IRS’s existing information technology infrastructure. E-learning courses and classroom instruction all have to be managed through a single system. Strategic Human Resources has had to implement specific requirements, standards, and specifications for e-learning administration, scheduling, enrollment, and product development and design. The LMS developed by the Strategic Human Resources unit is being implemented in three phases. Phase 1 involves building the technology infrastructure and establishing product development standards and policies. Phase 2 requires the organization of learning and knowledge content for accessibility by the LMS. In Phase 3 the IRS will integrate learning with actual work performance, enabling employees to access training as they need it.