Question: Do you think the impact is something to look for now, or is it still in the future?

Andrew Sadler: Both. Look at an example like the IBM management development training solution, called Basic Blue. It was traditionally a one-week classroom course. Implementing e-learning as one of the delivery modes of Basic Blue gave us a chance to take a new look at how we were expecting managers to acquire necessary skills. When we really looked at what we were expecting managers to learn, we realized that we actually had five weeks of material to get across in a meaningful way. Instead of saying, "That's not going to work," you say "What's the best way of delivering those five weeks of material?" And you discover that you can deliver about 75 percent of that content remotely via e-learning, bringing managers physically together at a point in time when their face-to-face interaction will have the most impact.

So business impact is being realized today, but the benefits will grow as people realize that they can do more with less and still achieve better results. Innovative enterprises are using e-learning today as an integral component of business initiatives. These successes are leading to the emergence of enterprise-wide e-learning infrastructures that will spread the benefits of e-learning throughout the organization. I think we'll see the integration of e-learning with strategic business initiatives becoming more and more common.

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

Andrew Sadler: Actually, IBM comes immediately to mind. Basic Blue for managers is a good example of a successful implementation of a blended learning solution, with significant e-learning elements. Three years after its introduction, we are still asked to speak at conferences about Basic Blue, have won numerous industry awards for its implementation, and work with our customers around the world who are asking us to deliver the same kind of program for them.

A second example is IT training—something IBM has a long history of providing. While, in the past, students have traditionally attended a five-day face-to-face technical class, we're finding that self-paced training modules, virtual classroom sessions, hands-on remote labs, and access to a subject matter expert for getting questions answered provides the same result. I think you'll see some best-in-class IT training emerging from IBM.

Another good example inside IBM is the sales enablement program that used Web lectures to train the 25,000-person e-business sales force in less than forty-five days. That's very hard to do using conventional classroom methods—and is a great success story. Just think of how much time, travel, expense, and loss of productivity would be required to train 25,000 people using a traditional approach. Using e-learning to train your sales, marketing, and services organizations when a new product is rolling out makes a lot of sense—and provides a significant ROI.

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

Andrew Sadler: To some degree, yes. In programs that are focused on a company's specific business problem and require a custom approach, the economies of scale are an immediate consideration. In general, the fixed startup cost of developing a program is about the same, no matter what the size of the organization. It's more difficult for a small company to get the immediate return on its investment than [it is for] a company with a significant number of employees dispersed across the globe. The difference is less marked where off-the-shelf solutions can be used, but the business benefit is usually lower in these too.

I think it's important for companies to understand what their likely return on investment really is, because it will mitigate against certain approaches. It's very powerful to be able to provide customized training for your sales force in self-paced mode so they can carry it around on their laptops, but if you only have eight salespeople, this type of investment will probably not make good business sense. On the other hand, assuming the eight salespeople are spread all over the country, for a modest investment you provide them with a Web-based live virtual classroom instead of flying them all over the country to get them together for training, enabling you to conduct training on a more regular basis.

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