Question: How should companies get started with e-learning?

Janis Morariu: Companies that are getting started in the right way are making the investment in a very strong e-learning strategy. The e-learning strategy is not built around the technology, but around the business. Companies that lead with the strategy instead of the technology actually make better decisions with regard to the technology. They also consider the processes and resources that need to be in place to support the change in the way they'll be doing business. They are changing not only their training approaches and infrastructure, but their whole corporate culture and the way that people learn and work together.

I'm working with a large petroleum company right now who wants to convert all their instructor-led training to e-learning. They had a committee that was working on this for a number of months. My team is now helping them lay out in a scenario-based way what it really means to have people in their organization take e-learning courses, basic as well as more in-depth courses with a lot of teamwork and problem-solving going on. We've actually walked them through what it looks and feels like. They've recognized from this approach that they are going to have to change a lot about their corporate culture—it's not just about the technologies and infrastructure that they need to put in place.

They'll be supporting people in a whole different way from the time that they first come in the door to years later when they are experts in the company. Their strategy is built around accessibility and flexibility. We've gone through a number of scenarios about what that means, and we've redefined their e-learning strategy a few times before they've even made an investment in the technology and infrastructure to support it. They are actually better equipped to predict the impact on their organization by investing in a solid e-learning strategy before they invest in technology.

They are not only happy with this strategy-first approach, they've expressed relief that we are uncovering a number of things that they never even considered.

Question: Are you aware of any well-known pitfalls that companies should watch out for as they get started with e-learning?

Janis Morariu: Here's the biggest pitfall. What I've seen are a lot of companies putting out request for proposals (RFPs) for a learning management system (LMS). The focus is on the technology. These RFPs have a long list of requirements, which seem to be everything you'd ever want to consider in an LMS. They'll put these lists of requirements together, and you know that they don't have an e-learning strategy behind it just because of the requirements they list. We've responded to these RFPs, which typically result in a solution based on technologies and costs that are way beyond what these companies have budgeted. So, many of these companies have decided not to make the investment at this time.

Starting with the technology as the way to enter e-learning is absolutely the wrong way to do it.

Question: Have you taken e-learning courses yourself? What was your experience?

Janis Morariu: I've taken many different kinds of e-learning courses from going through Web reference material, to Web-based training, to live collaborative sessions.

One of the problems today is the connectivity, the size of the pipes when you're using rich media courses, and having to wait for things to load. I think this is why you have problems getting people to finish the self-paced Web courses they start. A big problem is how to keep people engaged, and one reason people disengage is the response time.

We also have to pay attention to the length of time that people are willing to spend to take Web-based training. It's different from the computer-based training we know from the past. For Web-based, I think twenty to thirty minutes is the right amount of seat time, and smaller modules are critical.

What I find is that there are a lot of Web-based training courses that just are not well-designed. It might be designed well for a CD-ROM delivery of computer-based training, but for the Web you really need a different eye. Usability design for the Web is different, and you really need to understand how people use the Web to design well for it.

When it's well-designed, it's fabulous. The problem is not enough experience with how to design and deliver for the Web. But I do see a trend with some very effectively designed Web-based training.

Question: If you were sharing a taxi to the airport with a CEO of a company who wanted your recommendations about e-learning, what would you tell that CEO?

Janis Morariu: If the CEO asks me whether her company should be using e-learning, I would say "absolutely." We have very strong evidence that it can impact the bottom line through increased productivity as well as cost avoidance. IBM itself has saved $350 million in cost avoidance, but the quality of the educational experience has increased and the level of training available has increased. This impacts people's performance and productivity.

Question: If you were to look ten years into the future, what do you think the e-learning situation will be like in companies?

Janis Morariu: I think we will have pervasive e-learning—it will be everywhere and you'll hardly even notice it. The technologies to enable pervasive e-learning will include such things as going through training modules on your handheld PDA, e-meetings and online just-in-time talks with an expert, and searching for best practices in our knowledge management tools. I see highly integrated, just-in-time training being built right into an employee's flow of work.

I think we'll still see instructor involvement, but the instructor will change. The instructor will be a master, or an expert, and it will be a virtual connection. The technology will give us a pervasive connection to the organization's masters and experts—much more than what we do today.

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