The relationship between productivity and learning has often been hard to demonstrate in the business world. The key question that remained unanswered is how to ensure a value on investment from learning projects. In a broader context, learning presents potential opportunities, but demonstrating organizational success with learning has often been suspect.
Although managers in organizations exhibit a broad understanding of e-learning, few have been able to incorporate Internet learning as a robust strategy for productivity gains. A focus on organizational success, however, requires a larger road map that will incorporate elements that go beyond simply e-training. Without such a meaningful road map, Internet learning will remain a cost-saving tool or be viewed as an instructional experiment.
E-learning is about an effective system serving multiple organizational needs. When implemented, a comprehensive e-learning system facilitates organizational alignment, measurably increases job performance and clearly promotes viable career development.
Charting a Course
In order to generate optimal value, Internet learning systems address components such as skills development, maintenance and assessment—not just e-training. Managers deploying Internet learning as a productivity tool are likely to achieve more if they assume a broader approach to learning, including some or all of the following components:
- E-communication: Use of learning portals, live and on-demand video and audio content, knowledge management tools, just-in-time information tools, Web sites, e-mail, electronic libraries and archives, electronic conferencing and anytime, anyplace access tools.
- E-training: Use of self-paced and modular learning, learning management system, relevant content and structured approach.
- E-assessment: Use of online exams, proctored exams, simulations, games and certifications for validating and understanding skills.
So where is the synergy in bringing e-assessment, e-training and e-communication under an umbrella productivity effort? The learning advantage is in the synthesis of knowledge that learners demonstrate as a result. Imagine a project engineer learning on the job using e-communication tools to pull up presentations or videos on demand to prepare for customer meetings. Then the engineer follows up with periodic formal training using self-paced e-learning modules. After achieving a critical mass of knowledge, the engineer feels ready to take on more responsibilities, so he pursues an industry certification that validates knowledge and skills. Such demonstration of learning, retention and performance would not be possible unless all three components were in alignment.
For productivity gains, a workforce should be able to access any content or tool for empowerment, learning or assessment. Viewing an Internet learning system as a continuous progression of complementary components allows an organization to position individuals for successful outcomes. It is the integration and intersection of these components that generates a path of productivity. Organizational leaders who look beyond the current definitions of Internet learning to adopt best practices with demonstrated measurable results will garner dramatic productivity gains for their organizations.
Tom Kelly is vice president of the Internet Learning Solutions Group at Cisco Systems Inc. Nader Nanjiani is marketing programs manager of the Internet Learning Solutions Group at Cisco Systems. Contents of this article will also appear in the book “The Productivity Pyramid: A Cisco Approach to Internet Learning” by Tom Kelly & Nader Nanjiani from Cisco Press in 2003.