Aligning Individual and Organizational Corporate Strategy Through Technology Assisted Learning

Mike Brennan

In an effort to align individual and organizational learning activities with corporate strategy, companies are investing in Technology Assisted Learning (TAL). Leading-edge companies are creating online programs to ensure tomorrow’s leaders are fully prepared to cope with a different future. Knowledge Infusion's Mike Brennan talks with e-BIM about TAL, social networking and the strengths of paperless training programs.

What is TAL and what is the most important facet?

In a corporate setting you are assessing the needs and the learning lifecycle. This spans from needs-analysis strategy all the way through to learning content programs. TAL is the content that is being delivered via any multimedia platform. This includes, but is not limited to, a blackberry, desktop or laptop—delivery via a computer based medium. TAL can include asking an employee a simple question.

These programs can also connect employees with questions to others within the organization who can help them. This might be a help menu in a desktop application or something as robust as attending an entire Web-based course—live or self-paced.

What is the most popular form of TAL?

Most company dollars are spent on self-paced online courses—this is followed closely by live over-the-Web classes. E-learning actually cuts costs as you are not paying for as many printed materials and are saving money on facilities, food and travel. The business model of e-learning is fairly similar to live learning sessions. With self-paced learning you are spending and depending on production value. You are sinking capital dollars into creation of content. Essentially you are paying to create intellectual property and delivery the medium. In live over-the-Web examples you are paying for the delivery medium.

Have you seen an uptake in the use of TAL in the last year?

Yes, we have seen an uptake. Today companies are delivering more learning programs. In a broad brush, I would estimate 15 or 20 percent of corporate training programs are delivered online. It’s a growing area. The whole area of gaming, learning and simulations are driven by a preferred learning style of a younger generation of workers. This includes interactive programs, video games and other learning mediums.

Is e-learning being used extensively for financial services, an area where we are seeing a lot of mergers and acquisitions?

One example that comes to mind is retail banks. They use Web-based learning for their leadership teams. They simulate scenarios for training on entering new markets. They use simulation to train employees on how to allocate dollars in different areas.

TAL is also huge in training on standard operating procedures for compliance purposes. For example, in the case of a mortgage broker, he or she takes courses and must understand the concepts. Companies want to confirm the broker knows the rules. Just as you would confirm you "agree to the terms" on a travel Web site, the company needs the talent to indicate they have reviewed all necessary information.

A big area of interest is compliance training through formal test assessments. This could include answering 10 questions on Sarbanes-Oxley or another regulation. You are assuming liability for that behavior. An organization might include this scenario for standard operating procedures or retooling talent.

With the consolidation occurring in finance, if you acquire new middle or upper management you might give them development programs on talent management at the new institution. This is preferable over losing the managers and leaders altogether.

Also, upper management ranks are looking for successors. The TAL could include a succession planning system used to identify successors and deliver development programs depending on strengths.

What do you predict is the wave of the future for TAL?

The use of social media, including blogs, wikis and the ability to locate experts within an organization. We will see more extensions on the learning lifecycle. Now the focus is less on taking a class and leaving a class. The learning process includes continuous access to the content and relationships with peers.

Now we create centers of excellence and grant full-time access. This could include a blog from experts in the organization. A lot of learning management vendors incorporate social networking into their learning platforms. The platform could be hosted on the company’s intranet or by a third party.

Is security a major issue for companies implementing TAL programs?

Security is an issue for some companies, but at the same time the same information is distributed through e-mail anyway. Organizations and IT shops are becoming open to software as a service. This is of course after due diligence of the software provider’s security measures and there is sufficient data back up available. The hosting facility is more secure than what you would find in a corporation. From a security standpoint, the hosting provider does a better job than the IT department can do. Generally IT shops prefer to host things behind the firewall but we are seeing more and more openness to accessing data through a third party.

HR and training groups must prove the value of their learning programs to the top of the house. How can they measure the success of learning programs?

There are a number of methodologies, including ROI surveys. We used to deliver training in the classroom and now we are delivering it online. Companies no longer face the burden of paying for travel, equipment and hard copy manuals. TAL is a replacement for the costly training that would normally be delivered in the classroom.

The business impact of learning programs can also be assessed qualitatively through surveys. This could include questions such as "Did this meet your needs?" or "Will this make you better at your position?" You have to get to the point where you are correlating the data.

Who is responsible for measurement?

The analytics group within the company. This includes their business intelligence group that the training department has engaged to help with the study.

This kind of business impact study is not something you do on every training program under the sun. You probably want to analyze the programs that you are investing a lot of time and money in. It is crucial that you are working with your business executives to assess the needs of the organization. What indicators matter to them? This might include compliance to the chief compliance officer or sales to the head of sales. You must link the content and programs to these indicators.

When it comes to measuring the impact of learning, what you don’t want to do is focus on the measures that the training program generally cares about, including attendance and completion. You want to focus on partnering with the business on goals and indicators on the front end. You need to ensure programs are relevant, including job aids, resources and courses.

It’s important that the business leader believes in the programs. There is a better chance you won’t have to go back and review the ROI of training—whether it’s rolling out a new product or the success of an entire initiative. Two major areas where training professionals make mistakes include training measures and satisfaction. That’s not the way business works.

Another flawed form of measurement includes measuring training programs through sales dollars. A 2 percent increase in sales could be the result of advertising or compensation incentives for sales reps. Perhaps the price of the product being sold was cut. Isolating the impact of training is more of an academic exercise.

Interview by Blake Landau