Raivis Freimanis, Managing Partner at INTEA, visited Lumesse Partner Conference in Dusseldorf, Germany on April 26-27th. Among many insightful presentations and roundtables, Raivis had a chance to present INTEA experience with implementing Lumesse Learning Gateway solution in the Latvian market.
Even in countries, where there is a lot of experience with e-learning, only slightly more than a half of organizations systematically evaluate results of their computer-based training*.
‘But why,’ one could ask, ‘do I need to spend time and money on evaluating courses? Maybe I should use it to build more courses! I know we have e-learning, I know there are hundreds of learners online every day – I know it works!’ Let’s not argue and quickly imagine a few everyday situations:
- you need to get a budget for your next project. But management demands accountability, especially nowadays. How are you going to get the budget for your next project, if you don’t know if your current project is success or failure?
- you need to allocate resources between several projects. You obviously want to allocate more resources to successful projects. How do you know that e-learning is one of them?
- you need to choose suppliers. You work with two companies to create e-learning courses, they both look smart and offer reasonable prices. How do you select the best one? Do you even know if their results are worth the money spent?
To answer the above questions, you need to evaluate your e-learning. In fact, the reasons go much deeper beyond these simple examples. Even without having external (or budgetary) reasons for evaluation, evaluation opens many options in regard to improvement of the e-learning system. But if evaluation is so damn important, why do almost 50% of companies skip this essential part? Let’s sketch a few of the most common reasons.
First reason: e-learning is not expected to perform
Remember one of our previous blogs, where we spoke about communicating e-learning to people in your organization? Well, here the consequences of not doing it emerge in full color. When the e-learning initiative is not explained, and remains a “foreign body” in the everyday way of doing things, it is seen as something that doesn’t make much sense, but since the management deployed it, “everyone must take a turn” now and then. E-learning is not expected to really accomplish anything, so there is no need to bother evaluating it, just dance through the ritual and everyone will be happy just as well.
Second reason: no one asked for an evaluation
The second reason stems from a deficient strategy definition. In another previous post we spoke about how important it is to have a well thought through strategy, in order not to let anything to chance. Well, evaluation is definitely one of those things that should be planned. A lot of organizations do not implement any evaluation in their training just because nobody (read: the boss) has requested it. Thing is, even if the formal evaluation is not implemented, it doesn’t mean the training is not getting evaluated. It just gets evaluated intuitively, with but a vague picture of how training contributes to organizational goals, and the outcomes of the training program will be in the danger of being twisted, caught up in the budgetary struggles.
Third reason: evaluation is a threat
Third, a very nasty phenomenon is that people often treat evaluation as a direct threat to their job. It is not that surprising, considering that evaluation always have several outcomes, not all of which are positive. Every work has its blame, and there are always imperfections in the outcomes. Who wants to make those visible, right? Aside from the “outcome evaluation” there is another way, which is called “process evaluation”. There the focus shifts from imperfections as such to what can be learned from those to help improve the process (either that of learning or that of work). When faced with a soft, non-punitive version of evaluation, people tend to drop their defenses and help the improvement, realizing that it is not their personae which are being evaluated, but rather the efficiency of their training in the larger organizational context.
Conclusion: making first steps towards a good evaluation
The culprits sketched above already give away what needs to be done to have a good evaluation of your e-learning program. You need to do some internal PR to create a positive culture around e-learning in your organization. There is indeed a lot of explaining to do, so that e-learning is not just a punitive management tool, but a real help for both management and employees. Of course, aside from the explaining the general quality of e-learning must be in order as well. That is where your strategy should kick in, envisioning the results you want to achieve in the long run, and how exactly to benchmark them in the process. All in all, without good evaluation procedures in place it is very difficult to get a working marriage between organizational performance and learning, and thus leverage the true potential of new technology.
Stay tuned for our next blog on what evaluation of e-learning could actually look like.
*(Blanchard, N.P., & Thacker, J.W. (2006). “Effective Training: Systems, Strategies & Practices”, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.)
When the technical work on e-learning is done, don’t rest on the laurels. E-learning needs to be integrated into the everyday organizational process, and communication is one instrument to do this.
E-learning developers are mostly very proud of what they do. After all, every day of their working lives they are busy with using cutting edge computer technology to achieve a very noble goal. They aim to deliver something new into the world, by creating so much coveted knowledge and human capital out of thin air and then giving it out to people. As the result of their work, the learners will become more enlightened and educated, and your organization will go on much more smoothly. Everyone concerned is to profit, both money and knowledge wise. Right? Well, no.
Beware of the resistance to change
Whether you are just introducing a single course, or implementing a whole new Learning Management System (LMS) in your organization, you better be prepared for some resistance to what you are doing. Resistance will be there for two simple reasons. First, even the most flexible of organizations have some established structure and way of doing things. Anything new is initially foreign to that routine, and a number of factors (which we will overview in one of the later posts) determine whether they will become a part of that routine or not.
The second reason for resistance is individual and lies in the human nature so to speak. Even when people rationally understand the necessity of new things, this does not automatically lead them to accept these. E-learning, for instance, may be subjectively seen as too complex by some. It requires certain IT skills. It may seem as disrupting to the daily work process, it may be seen as a “waste of time” while “real work remains undone”. Also, learning is not something all people are equally fond of, as any school teacher would gladly attest.
Talk to the people
One of the best ways to handle the resistance to change is to simply communicate about what that change is going to be. So, whom you want to talk to is important at every stage of the e-learning implementation. Your target group must include not only the learners, but all related parties. A good e-learning project must not be limited to the learning department or HR, but connect people throughout the organization to realize its maximal potential. First, have someone from the organizational leadership be entirely onboard with the e-learning project. Not just on paper – this person should be the “champion” who can make sure different departments cooperate on e-learning, instead of shoving off responsibilities onto each other’s shoulders. Second, talk to the HR. These guys will be responsible for attaching the system of stick and carrot (seriously, carrots too) to the results of learning. Third, do not forget the IT folks, even if their job is done for the moment. They are crucial to the e-learning project in the long run, as it probably will be their job to support and upgrade the technical side of the system. Finally, get the learners. Explain why e-learning will actually be useful for them. Not the company, not the management, but the actual people at the receiving end of the e-learning system. If e-learning is designed right, there should be a benefit for each of these groups (well, maybe except the IT guys, and that is another reason why it is important to have their ear from the beginning).
To summarize, presenting e-learning in the right light, clarifying misconceptions and most importantly listening to the end users will go a long way towards integrating your e-learning system in the everyday life of your organization. Forcing the implementation or focusing merely on the technical side is likely to provoke rejection. Our advice is to sit down and set up at least a minimal communication plan, including relevant actors on all levels.
Lumesse, a global leader in integrated talent management solutions, announced that it has signed a binding agreement to acquire Edvantage Group. Over 500,000 users across hundreds of organizations use Edvantage Group’s SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) learning solutions to develop employee skills and competencies. Edvantage Group brings Lumesse world-class capabilities in learning management, content development and management, online content delivery, and custom course development. The two companies already share a number of customers and have pre-existing integrations between their respective product sets.
So you got your LMS running, along with some courses inside it. Your employees are learning, certification levels are rising, all in all – the project is running smoothly. This is the time when you dangerously approach the next common pitfall, namely applying learning too much. How can that be, you may ask, learning is always good after all, right? Yes – but it is not always the most efficient solution. This is best illustrated with a simple example, a real story that came forward during one of our research interviews, carried out among Latvian largest financial companies:
A story of a clerk…
Let’s say a company is selling a financial service, which of course is heavily stipulated by the law. One of the things a typical clerk has to do in order to sell the service, is to draft a custom contract, using computer software to replace empty fields with the data customer has provided. In itself, this is simple, the problematic part occurs right after the contract draft has been prepared. A copy of that contract must be sent to the head of the department by fax. This faxed copy is then, in turn, approved by signature and sent back (again by fax) to the office in question, which can then release the contract for the client to sign. After all the final signatures appear on the contract, the data have to be manually input in yet another, company-wide database. A fair part of their e-learning course had to be devoted to explaining this process in detail, since any mistake on the part of the clerks could result in either unpleasant legal consequences or just plain messy data.
After having a talk with the IT department, it appeared that it was possible to change the clerk’s software so that 1) contract approval could be handled electronically and 2) the initial input would become linked with the global database, so that the manual data input was eliminated. Moreover, both changes would even not require much resource. The IT department never bothered with the change before, since the clerks regarded their work process as being normal and no one raised the question.
What has happened in this case is that instead of creating a learning block to circumvent a poorly conceived workflow, the workflow itself was revamped. While in many cases redesigning the workflow will initially seem more difficult and costly than creating a learning activity, fixing a misconceived business process will have a much wider spectrum of positive consequences in the long run. Interestingly, even if e-learning as such might not be a solution for workflow problems, it does force you to do some additional thinking about the sanity of your processes. If something is notoriously difficult to explain to your students, it might be a good indicator of a troublesome spot.
In the previous post we spoke about the unique combination of learning, tailored exactly to the specifics of yours business. Simply put, in the process of corporate learning there are a lot of decisions, that require you to be aware of what you company needs specifically. In theory, before you start developing your e-learning system, it is strongly suggested to create a more or less detailed plan of what your goals are and how are you going to achieve (and measure) them. Such a plan is called “e-learning strategy” and in principle should interconnect with the total learning strategy (both on- and offline) and ultimately with the global corporate strategy.
In reality, however, things are somewhat different. One of the largest and most dangerous misconceptions about e-learning is that it is regarded as a strictly technological solution. Many people believe that once the course management system (or LMS) is in place and a few courses are up and running, the learning will follow automatically. In other words, once the technical part is done, the project can be concluded apart from the occasional content updates and elementary user support. That is a terrible, terrible misconception that can and will diminish the effectiveness of the e-learning system significantly.
By means of a metaphor, consider the e-learning system to be a new organ you want to include into the intricate organism of your enterprise. It is simply not enough to be able to develop the organ and to just put it in. The most delicate work is to interconnect it with the existing blood vessels and nerves, and to make sure that the whole body is able to recognize the new organ as its own without rejecting it. The very same process occurs with the introduction of the e-learning system. All the new processes and all the changing ones have to become integrated with the totality of processes in the company, including IT system architecture, personnel management, learning department, and most importantly the business itself (e.g. sales department). In other words, every e-learning project will find itself on the intersection of multiple departments, and will therefore require an overarching instrument for coordination. E-learning strategy is such an instrument, making clear for all stakeholders what is going to happen and how.
CONCLUSION: E-learning strategy doesn’t have to be a detailed manuscript. In practice, it is often sufficient to begin with just a couple of pages (sometimes even in bulletpoints!) which lay down the ground rules and to expand this document as the project grows. It is also often a good idea to assemble a temporary workgroup consisting of members of the mentioned departments to come together once in a while and to discuss questions the e-learning project produces. The single most important idea behind your strategy is to make choices about e-learning explicit, since choices made tacitly quite often have the potential to divert the project in a wrong direction.
The choice of the very first topic in our e-learning blog is comparable to a choice of a film when you are standing next to a long shelf in a video rental store. There are so many things to tell, small and big, simple and complex, that picking just one seems unfair to all the other possibilities. However, there is one topic that stands out when it concerns the first acquaintance with e-learning, namely
The 5 most common mistakes you can easily avoid (while developing e-learning)
If we develop an e-learning system, we will no longer need the classroom.
In everyday reality, learning within enterprises happens from a variety of sources. Employees learn from their own experience with the job, from their colleagues and bosses, from available documentation, even clients sometimes! Formal learning, be it the traditional classroom or ultramodern computer led sessions, is only one part of that complex scheme. Both classroom learning and e-learning have their advantages and disadvantages, which work or fail depending on the specific circumstances of your particular business or academic situation.
For example, take an exercise or practice lesson. In a single session one teacher can offer a very limited amount of attention to a student in a class, which for the sake of effectiveness often contains more people than possible to handle individually. On the other hand, a computer will never run tired of providing drills and evaluating results (and then giving some more exercise), eventually suggesting additional learning based on the results. A discussion, however, is more lively and easy to moderate when its participants are sitting face to face, especially with large number of people. In the end, the choice between classroom and e-learning translates into the analysis of student (work-related) activities and the biggest bang for the buck, whether on- or offline.
Another important factor in the choice between classroom and e-learning is the manner in which learning is connected to the working place experience. More often than not the best strategy is to make the distance between learning and work as little as possible, to enable the employee to take advantage of formal learning 1) with the least distraction from his direct job responsibilities and 2) in the format that resembles the actual job circumstances. For instance, e-learning allows you to slice the material in smaller chunks, which can be processed by the employers on the need-to-know basis, thus providing superb relevant information/time ratio. On the other hand, if you are getting a driving license, real practice will probably do more good than a computer simulation.
CONCUSION: a smart learning program will take the advantages of both e-learning and traditional learning, and blend them into a unique combination tailored for the needs of the particular enterprise, thus achieving higher cost-to-result efficiency than by a blunt conversion of all learning into the electronic format.
In a ceremony that took place on November 24th in Riga, INTEA received the Swedish Business Award in the „Young Entrepreneur of the Year” nomination. We would like to thank each of our clients and business partners for putting their trust in us; our success would not be possible without you.