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E-Learning in the UK


A recent poll by CIPD offers an overview of e-learning in the UK.

 

The CIPD online poll took place between September 7 and October 20. Just over 100 responses were received and these will be biased towards those with an interest in e-learning. The same questions will be included in its Annual Training and Development Survey, which is completed by a far larger and more representative population, and this will permit a comparison of results.

CIPD recently held an online poll to monitor progress, identify problems, and offer some thoughts for the future of e-learning. The overall view is that, while there’s still much practical work to be done on implementation, e-learning is now accepted as an essential feature of training delivery.

 

In 1999 we were in the days of dot.com: the Internet had arrived and was clearly going to have an impact on the whole range of organisational practices. E-commerce, e-business, and e-marketing had entered our vocabulary. Suppliers of computer-based training were full of optimism and were considering the implications of delivery through the web.

 

The emergence of a new term to describe technologically enabled learning was inevitable. The U.S.-based supplier, CBT systems, was one of the first to get there. Five years ago the company rebranded itself as “Smartforce – the e-learning company” and held a satellite broadcast to announce the change a month later. Thereafter, the term e-learning attained universal currency to describe learning that is delivered, enabled, or mediated using electronic technology for the explicit purpose of training in organizations, according to CIPD’s preferred definition.

 

So, where does e-learning stand today? E-learning in organizations is still very much a work in progress. The initial optimism, and in some cases shameful overselling, did not stand up to the rigorous demands of corporate practice. Our current response however should be a demand for realism not pessimism. Some organizations have managed to implement e-learning in a thoughtful and measured fashion and, as a result, have achieved excellent results. For example, B&Q, the UK's leading DIY and garden center retailer, is clear on what can be achieved and have firmly embedded e-learning in their operating practices (see story).

 

The data

 

CIPD’s online poll asked three key questions and invited respondents to offer comments on any aspect of e-learning. The first question asked which types of e-learning are currently in use in the respondent’s organization. The results are listed in the table below. 

 

It can be seen that CD-ROMs remain the most popular form of e-learning. The other methods seem to have supplemented rather than replaced the stand-alone CD-ROM. For some time we have recognised that e-learning can take two forms: content centered-activity (modules made available to the user at his or her PC) and collaborative learning activities (discussion sites and Webinars, which are Web-based seminars led by subject matter experts). The former predominates but, within this category, there is a marked shift to customised modules specifically created for the organization’s needs.

 

Customised E-Learning at B&Q

 

B&Q has experienced rapid growth. It’s a dominant force in the UK with 50 percent of the market and is the third largest DIY company in the world.

 

Given the nature of both the business and the workforce, effective introduction of e-learning represents a considerable challenge. B&  recognized that, if e-learning was to contribute to improved performance, it would need to take account of the very specific knowledge required by the customer advisors. These employees were dispersed over a large number of sites; there was pressure on their time away from the workplace and in many cases their IT skills would be minimal.

 

At the outset B&Q recognized that content would need to be developed to meet the needs of the store-based Customer Advisors. The option of purchasing libraries of generic material was rejected—management would not see the immediate relevance of generic material to performance.

 

All the content was therefore produced as customised learning modules exclusively for use in B&Q, and firmly focused on the needs of the store-based employees. All have audio as well as visual components. All are deliverable in short bite-sized chunks. All provide clear indication for the learner on their progress. The ‘showroom’ series, which considers the issues involved in selling kitchens and bathrooms, involves scenarios with options available to meet the needs of typical customer types.

 

One practical problem concerns access via personal computers. From the outset, B&Q determined that it would need designated PCs for e-learning: one PC was set aside in each Supercenter and two in each Warehouse.

Respondents were asked what proportion of training is delivered through e-learning and asked to predict what that proportion will be delivered in three years time. The mean figure for current usage was 9 percent, compared with 19 percent three years ago. This demonstrates the optimism that has always surrounded e-learning.

 

So what are the obstacles to be overcome? Respondents were given a series of statements on the progress of e-learning and asked to indicate the extent of their agreement. The two that commanded most support were: “e-learning demands a new attitude on the part of the learner” (90 percent agree) and “e-learning is more effective when combined with more traditional forms of learning” (83 percent agree).

 

These two statements seem to encapsulate the issues that are exercising human resource development professionals. Our focus is now firmly on the learner. “How can learning be supported, accelerated and directed towards an organization’s strategic needs?” has become a critical business question. E-learning is an important delivery channel in achieving that objective but must be combined with other forms of delivery.

 

More information on the poll is on the CIPD Website (at www.cipd.co.uk/surveys). This will include some comments that respondents offered. One of these statements seemed to summarize what is at issue:

 

“E-learning in its early years did suffer from being over-hyped. However I now feel that it is suffering a hangover from this phase. The potential for e-learning is huge, but we still have too many people who are frightened of this technology. Training and learning does not need to be about stand-up trainers in training rooms and it is also not about technology. It is about meeting the needs of learners as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

 

I wonder what we’ll be saying next year.

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