-2. What does the Internet have to do with e-learning?

- The Internet provides a delivery infrastructure that

enables e-learning to be effective in the business world.

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The Internet makes all the difference. Since the Internet is changing almost everything about modern life, we shouldn't be too surprised that it's changing how people learn in the workplace. (I am using "Internet" here in the broad sense of "anything accessible from a Web browser like Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer". While there is certainly an important difference between the public Internet, a corporate intranet, extended extranets, and so on, in a sense, it's all the "Net.")

- The Internet connects almost everyone, or at least everyone in the business world. In most businesses today, the computer connected to the Internet is as a common as the telephone.

If the training course is on the Internet, you don't have to print thousands of CDs or print hundreds of copies of class materials (and have them get lost or delayed in transit) in order to get training to your employees. And the most up-to-date version of the training course can always be available when it's right there on the Web.

- The Internet is a virtually free distribution system. In the old days, the cost of transmitting (or "delivering") technology-based training was a significant chunk of the overall cost— you'd first have to set up your own private network, which was a complicated and costly undertaking, only attempted by the brave at heart.

But most businesses now have already connected their employees to the Internet for other reasons—so the incremental cost of using it for training can be almost nothing. (Of course, if you have instructor-led classes, the instructor is still a cost, but not the travel expenses for the instructor, who doesn't need to travel anymore.)

And we can safely expect that the Internet will continue to transform learning, just as it continues to transform business as a whole, well into the foreseeable future.

-3. How can your company benefit from e-learning?

E-learning can help your business so that:

- Employees can learn without traveling to class—the training is delivered right to their computer. This means that you can save on travel costs and that employees don't have to be away from work for extended periods of time.

- Employees can learn at their own convenience—many e-learning courses don't have rigid start and end times. Many people can learn much better when they can learn at a convenient time.

- Employees can sometimes learn in ways that are more effective than what they see in the traditional company classroom. Many people can learn better when the material to be learned is in bite-size pieces, or spread over several weeks instead of packed into a couple of intensive days. - Companies can get more bang for their education buck—especially when you can reduce existing expenses associated with going to class, and you structure e-learning to take advantage of its strengths.

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In the business world, learning is not an end in itself. "Learning for learning's sake" is good for an academic institution, but in the business world learning is a means to an end. That end is the improved performance of the workforce. And that improved performance should directly correlate to a more competitive company.

You should get excited about e-learning only to the extent that you can clearly see how it can improve your business. So, what's there to get excited about from a business perspective? Here are some things:

- Cost savings. Companies regularly work to drive down costs in today's increasingly competitive economy, and they find that existing education costs can be dramatically reduced with e-learning, especially as travel costs to classroom courses are eliminated.

- Learning quality. E-learning can be more flexible (learning at a convenient time, learning spread over weeks, etc) and can even provide a higher quality of learning. Many students learn

Training magazine reports that corporations can save 50 to 70 percent of their overall training costs by replacing traditional training with e-learning.

A WR Hambrecht & Co. study says that $500 million was spent on Internet training in 1999, and is expected to reach $7 billion in 2002. And projections from there go straight through the roof.

IBM achieved $375M in benefits from its use of e-learning in 2001

More than 33 percent of IBM's own employee training is done via e-learning much better and retain the learning much longer when permitted to learn at their own pace. And many students find that learning a little each day can be more effective than the week-long classroom approach.

- Rapid training rollout. With accelerated product cycles, you can't wait to roll out training over a matter of months. E-learning can often be delivered quickly across the organization so that all the people who need training can get it in the shortened timeframe.

- Coping with shortened knowledge lifecycles. In the old days, an employee could be expected to use skills or knowledge for decades. Today, however, knowledge and skills can go out of date in a matter of months. High-tech firms are not surprised when engineers and programmers are expected to learn fundamentally new skills every couple of years.

Most businesspeople are first attracted to e-learning by the promise of reduced costs. Training magazine reports that companies can save between 50 and 70 percent when they replace instructor-led training with e-learning. Most of the hard savings in the short term are in travel and living costs.

In short, e-learning can let you do these two things:

1. You can replace learning events that are already taking place in a classroom setting or at least as a face-to-face presentation. You can replace a costly series of classroom courses with a sequence of e-learning courses or events.

2. You can create new learning opportunities; you can do training that is almost impossible to do when everyone has to gather face to face. You can, for example, train a group of new managers in bite-size chunks over a year's time even if the managers are widely distributed in locations around the world.

But e-learning isn't a magic token that will automatically improve your business if you simply touch it. Like any business tool, it needs to be used with some skill and judgment. It's possible to implement e-learning poorly—and lose the promised benefits—if you're not paying close attention to how you're going about it. To do it right, the training material needs to be well crafted. The students need to be motivated to use the e-learning. And the training needs to be easily accessible.

You don't use a screwdriver to hammer a nail, even if the price of the screwdriver is a third of the cost of that of a hammer.

 
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