Question: Can you tell us about a specific company where you know e-learning has been implemented?

Steve Rae: Let me first say what I think e-learning is really here to do. It's really here to amplify the human beings in the learning process, and not to displace them. In that vein, let me touch on a few things that I've seen companies do that are really interesting.

Think of the knowledge in a person on the shop floor who has the most in-depth knowledge of how a particular machine works. When that machine goes down, your entire center goes down. How do you get the knowledge of that individual to be spread among more individuals in a powerful and replicable way? So here's an example of a company that has taken such subject-matter experts from the shop floor, armed them with video cameras and some knowledge about how to structure learning content, and put them in the front end of the queue. These aren't professional instructional designers, but they have created content that can be delivered, and that has an impact on the learner. And the learner is really one of their peers.

What I'm saying is that this is a company that has figured out how to shorten the gap between the subject-matter expert and the learner, and that's what this is really all about. Everything that falls in between filters out learning. The more you put between the subject-matter expert and the learner filters the message.

Companies that are using live e-learning are another good example. I think of the companies that are using the live virtual classroom to provide training environments while their employees are on the road. It's a way to create the human connection.

And IBM itself has a large number of examples, from IBM management development to the way we've tied in knowledge networks, communities of practice, and all those things into a cohesive Web presence.

Question: With regard to e-learning, do you think the impact on medium- and small-size companies is different from that on large companies?

Steve Rae: I think there is a difference. The size of your learning audience has a lot to do with the benefit you will get from e-learning.

If you are a small company where everyone is collocated, you don't need to take all your learning content and put it into sophisticated technologies so you can deliver it to the guy next door.

My biggest concern when I look at big companies is their ability to get consistent execution. If they don't execute consistently, then they won't get the business impact that they envisioned from the initiative that got them involved with e-learning in the first place.

E-learning gives you the ability to deliver a more consistent message to a large audience, and larger companies have profoundly bigger value propositions to gain than small companies.

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

Steve Rae: The first thing, I think, is to put it in the context of a business initiative. They need to assess "Do I need e-learning?" Is there incremental value in using e-learning?

So if they are just getting started, that means that they have done this before with non-e-methods. Video tapes in the mail, traditional classes, those kinds of things. I think it is very important for them to identify exactly what is the incremental benefit they are looking for, very clearly establishing their goals of what they want to get out of e-learning.

E-learning has a very broad definition. It's everything from just creating reference Web pages, to building a certification program, to live virtual classroom spaces, to much more. Companies first need to clearly establish the objectives they want to achieve, and then look at how e-learning can best meet those. And because e-learning is such a broad landscape of capabilities, if they have no experience with it, my recommendation is to bring in some level of consulting.

The first few engagements can be really tough with e-learning. But I don't know how many major corporations are really left to get started. I believe that the collective experience of the marketplace is really at the point where everyone has some experience, and we can now do some interesting and innovative things.

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