APPENDIX. What Is the IBM 4-Tier Learning Model?

- IBM's 4-Tier Learning Model is a framework for thinking about learning in a business.

- IBM's 4-Tier Learning Model recognizes that businesses need a variety of different delivery modes for learning. One mode doesn't fit all situations. Learning modes can range from different kinds of e-learning to traditional face-to-face classroom training.

- The categories of the IBM 4-Tier Learning Model include:

1. Learn from information.

2. Learn from interaction.

3. Learn from collaboration.

4. Learn from colocation.

Tell Me More

IBM's 4-Tier Learning Model (see Figure A-1) is a framework for thinking about learning in a business. IBM itself is using this model as the basis of its e-learning creation and e-learning delivery strategies, tactics, and products.

IBM's 4-Tier Learning Model recognizes that businesses need a variety of different delivery modes for learning. One mode doesn't fit all situations. Learning modes can range from different kinds of e-learning to traditional face-to-face classroom training.

The IBM 4-Tier Learning Model.

Figure A-1. The IBM 4-Tier Learning Model.

Some training situations need only simple self-review and self-study, while other training requires more elaborate capabilities like collaboration and interaction among students and instructors connected via the Internet. And some training situations are best handled with a blending of several methods. The basic premise of the IBM 4-Tier Learning Model is that there are a variety of delivery modes and that businesses have a wide variety of solutions available by using different modes or by blending the modes.

Blending the tiers: When you read the descriptions of the tiers, you might think that each tier is exclusive of the others. But the power of this learning model comes into play when you think of blending, or combining, the tiers in a single learning solution. You can blend elements from each tier, or only from selected tiers. The IBM management development training curriculum, described in Chapter 1, is clearly a blended solution.

Tier 1: Learn from Information

This tier deals with self-directed knowledge transfer. As the arrow in the Figure A-2 indicates, information flows one way from the computer to the student.

Figure A-2.

This is the Internet analog of reading a book or going to a lecture. In fact, a Web lecture is the Internet version of a PowerPoint-based presentation. This means that from your Internet-connected computer you see the slides and hear the speaker's voice as each slide is presented in turn. And a Web book is a book that you read over the Internet (usually with multimedia enhancements to the text).

This tier is ideal for the same type of training for which you would previously have used a book, presentation, or lecture. It's ideal for quick update training, new product launches, and other types of training where self-directed learning is appropriate. It's useful where you don't need complicated instructional strategies or you are only affecting a small number of students.


- Sales update education can be taught using a Web book, a multimedia enhanced "book" that can be downloaded and read at the salesperson's computer or read over the Web using a browser.

- New technical concept training (for example, "Why Open Networks Are Important to Your Business") can be taught using a Web lecture—a slides-and-audio lecture that can be accessed via a browser.

- A new product strategy can be outlined in a short video feed that can be accessed from a Web browser.

Tier 2: Learn from Interaction

Here, information comes to the student, but the student can interact and practice as well, as illustrated in Figure A-3.

That interaction and practice capability are indicated by the two-sided arrow in the picture at the left. The student interacts, but she interacts only with automated programs or processes—not with other students or an instructor. Student practice with Tier 2 courseware is interaction with a simulation.

Figure A-3.

Training in this tier is ideal for basic skills in new applications or for procedural tasks that do not need interaction or collaboration with other people, including an instructor, or that do not need interaction with programs beyond simulated interaction.


- Product "basic training" can be taught using interactive Web pages and simulated exercises that run over the Internet.

- Training for a new sales tool can taught using a CD-ROM-based application and simulated exercises run from that CD-ROM.

Tier 3: Learn from Collaboration

This tier brings e-learners together online with other e-learners and also with instructors via the Internet. Collaborative techniques such as chat rooms, team

rooms, and interaction with instructors online allow learners to be able to learn in collaborative groups and from their joint experiences (see Figure A-4).

Students can interact online with an instructor as well as with fellow students. E-learners can meet at the same time (synchronous interaction). Or they can meet via team rooms (threaded discussion pages) where they meet asynchronously by leaving messages that are picked up and responded to within a few hours.

With this personal interaction capability, this tier provides many of the elements of the virtual classroom.

Beyond personnel interaction, Tier 3 also enables more sophisticated distant interaction with running programs. This means a student is not restricted to interacting with a simulation of a running program, but can interact with the actual application running remotely in an e-lab environment. For example, a student learning the Websphere product in a Tier 3 course can do the hands-on lab exercises over the Internet at a remote computer that is actually running Websphere.

Figure A-4.

More Examples:

- Professional skills in negotiating can be taught using a synchronous virtual classroom where the instructor and students are all online at the same time.

- New-hire training can be taught using an asynchronous class model where the instructor and students collaborate via a threaded discussion page.

- In-depth product training can be taught using e-labs where each student has remote access to a computer running an application program in order to do hands-on lab exercises for the course.

Tier 4: Learn from Colocation

This means that the students are physically in the same place as other students and instructors/mentors (see Figure A-5). This is the traditional classroom model.

One very important point to remember is that technology will not replace certain key learning strategies that rely on face-to-face experiences with peers and mentors. Rather, the appropriate use of e-learning strategies enables important but costly classroom and mentoring activities to be focused on higher-level skills and behavioral change.

The strengths of the classroom are well known: Face-to-face activities provide immediate responses, allow for nuances of nonverbal cues (which many scholars argue are the most important of communications), are flexible to human needs, and can adapt as needed to different learners' styles. For developing people skills, the human interaction you can get in a classroom setting is arguably the most powerful of learning interventions.

Furthermore, there are "hands-on lab" situations where interaction with the physical item is required. For example, changing a tire on a car. Or, taking apart and repairing a copier machine for which a simulation does not exist.

Figure A-5


- One session of New Manager Training can be conducted in a face-to-face classroom class.

- A workshop for experienced project managers can be taught in a face-to-face classroom class.

- A hands-on workshop in computer hardware maintenance can be taught using actual hardware in a classroom environment.

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