The Internet has transformed the way we buy products and search for information, allowing instant access to what we need, when we need it. This self-service economy has expanded rapidly over the past few years. Now, it’s learning’s turn. The traditional classroom has proven inefficient and ineffective, and is being replaced by self-service learning. It is estimated that learning department overhead costs can easily range from 15 percent to 30 percent of annual learning budgets. In addition, opportunity costs are realized as learning professionals are tasked with repetitive administrative details, and employees leave their daily work to attend training.
As a result of the high delivery and opportunity costs, people generally receive approval only for the learning programs that directly support their current responsibilities. At the same time, these processes limit access to learning with two fairly serious outcomes: People learn skills too far in advance–or too late–to apply them effectively; and employees are unable to retool skill sets to accommodate rapid changes in markets, services and products.
Traditional learning business practices also limit the acquisition of new knowledge that prepares people for future assignments, ultimately impacting the business’s capacity to compete aggressively in the marketplace. Moreover, today’s business environment poses significant job security risks for people who do not have access to learning programs that provide opportunities to upgrade their skills.
The concept of self-service learning automates learning business processes and puts the learners in charge of their individual development. Self-service learning capabilities provide an Amazon-type look and feel, offering information about a rich variety of online learning programs and solutions. In a seamless process, learners take online assessments that result in a targeted, individual training needs analysis, automatically identifying specific courseware that meets the requirements of the individual worker. Learning programs are organized in easily accessible online curricula, which might be mapped to a competence model. People develop and maintain their learning plans online without constant interaction and support from people in the learning function.
This model supports several business objectives of the learning function:
- Operational Excellence: Produced by significant reduction of administrative or transactional costs, which do not create value for the organization, combined with efficient and effective technology-supported processes.
- Learning Excellence: Realized in a true strategic partnership with the business, providing learning that adds value to the business by improving bottom-line results and contributing to business transformation.
- Performance Excellence: Acquired through self-service learning placed directly into the hands of the employee with just-in-time access to knowledge and skills to enhance performance or become deployable for future roles.
- Business Excellence: Gained from enhanced people performance, enabling change and competitive competence in the marketplace and operational excellence, thereby creating value for the enterprise and shareholders.
A self-service learning capability is implemented by identifying and integrating learning technology platforms with e-learning courseware, supported by the development of new technology-based business processes. A completely new learning culture must be established in which the learners own and are responsible for their career development. This requires significant change management efforts.
The concept of the self-service economy has been adopted widely, and as people become more and more experienced, self-service learning will be seen as just another powerful application. Much as consumers quickly learned to balance the availability and usefulness of the local bookstore with online access to books, learners will quickly demand a related self-service balance between online access to learning and the traditional classroom.
Online learning that offers instant availability of skills, knowledge and information will be blended with classroom events to enable practice of new skills, networking and sharing of information and experiences. This powerful blend will be a major driver of competitive competence for enterprises globally.
Nick van Dam is Deloitte’s global chief learning officer and learning consultant in the Human Capital Practice. He is the founder of E-Learning for Kids (www.e-learning forkids.org) and author of “The E-Learning Fieldbook” (McGraw-Hill, 2004). For more information, e-mail Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.