An organization large enough to employ a CLO likely has an internal IT department, as well. The CLO is not part of this IT department, but that doesn’t mean he or she shouldn’t be exceptionally savvy about the rapidly changing world of technology and how technical innovations will affect the business of learning.
To effectively plan for learning technology needs, create efficiency and continue to promote learning as a key factor for organizational development, CLOs will have to take stock of learning assets and decide whether to integrate disparate systems, replace some (or all) of them or completely overhaul the learning delivery methodology and its accompanying technical infrastructure.
Whichever approach wins, forging an amicable, working relationship with the IT department is critical, said Dan Blake, CourseMax president and CEO.
“Even if you go with commercial software, you’re typically looking at an IT project anyway,” he said. “It’s not plug and play because every corporation will have unique needs. They’ll have different systems that interface with the learning management system they deploy, and they may need to customize that system a great deal, which is as much an IT project as developing something from scratch.”
In the future, CLOs almost certainly will have to do more with less — corporations will want to drive down costs, and learning is often viewed as a cost. Thus, learning leaders will have to look for ways to manage all the aspects that go with training the workforce efficiently, with less manpower. Technology is a deciding factor, but that doesn’t mean simply adding new systems.
Some might say a learning management system can provide all that’s needed. Blake, however, said that’s not often the case because most CLOs aren’t using newer, more advanced systems — unwieldy, homegrown or outmoded systems are still the norm for many companies.
Further, as classroom-based and online learning delivery methods advance along with technology offerings, they will become more challenging to deliver.
“In terms of the learning platform, classroom learning will never go away, but more technology-laden learning will get more interactive,” Blake said. “Before you might have had, ‘Read this article and then take this test.’ That’s a simple thing for a computer system or Web application to do. In the future, you’ll have things that are more like a virtual world — people will interact in an almost lifelike environment that will take bandwidth and computing power. The CLO is going to have to work with the IT department to get that technology deployed.”
Before going to the IT department, however, learning organizations have to have the business aspects of learning in place. From a front-line, operational perspective, the business of learning and managing resources (booking equipment, rooms and learning materials, as well as logistics related to venue and student notification) must be fully and freely functional.
“You have to get your house in order in terms of what you’re trying to do today,” Blake said. “Get efficient at that before you try to introduce new technology.”
Then, the challenge shifts to one of metrics or ROI. The learning landscape is filled with examples of costly IT-related learning projects that create little to no value for the organization’s bottom line.
“The CLO often doesn’t have to come up with an ROI scenario that says, ‘This is going to make the corporation 2 percent to the bottom-line profit,” Blake said. “They’re really trying to justify their cost. To do that, you really have to have, at a macro level, a good concept of what the impact of learning will have on the corporation.”
The corporate landscape requires that staff members be increasingly tech-savvy in terms of using software on the job, which requires training. The result is a workforce of highly educated information workers.
Blake said CLOs must operate from the premise that their organization can’t grow or prosper without frequent influxes of high-level skills training.
“Look at how you justify IT and learning purchases and what are the alternatives,” he said. “If we don’t spend this money to educate the workforce we have access to, what is the result of not doing that? Then, it becomes an easier discussion to say, ‘At the very least, the cost of a (technology) system will surpass the downside of not implementing this type of technology.’”