E-Learning Lessons: Compliance and IT Innovation

As the IT market gets more comfortable with the idea of recovery, speculations abound regarding “the next big thing” and which market segments stand to gain the most when IT spending returns to a more fluid pace. While some markets waned or simply disa

One of the most promising markets for reinvigoration is e-learning. There are several reasons for the renewed interest in this segment. The two main drivers reigniting e-learning are regulatory compliance and technology innovations.

Let’s take a closer look at these influences and how they are shaping the future of e-learning and impacting today’s CLO.

Regulatory Compliance
Since ignorance is never an excuse for breaking the law, the federal government has ushered in a renewed interest in e-learning as a result of recent regulations. While adhering to compliance regulations such as OSHA and EEOC has been a long-standing requirement for many industries, there is a new set of regulations that have broadened awareness and demand for e-learning.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Sarbanes-Oxley legislation are just two examples of the influence that government is having in determining corporate education direction. While HIPAA is designed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of patients and their medical records and Sarbanes-Oxley is related to corporate financial reporting, both of these recent legislations have increased the need for additional corporate training in relation to e-learning, and have boosted the amount of available online content specific to compliance.

Through the combination of self-paced training modules and real-time classroom environments, organizations are discovering that just-in-time online training courses are an ideal solution to address the need to provide staff with job-related coursework while adhering to government regulations.

In fact, IDC Research recently reported that government compliance will be the No. 1 IT investment focus for 2004. Findings from AMR Research reveal that $5 billion will be spent on compliance-related activities and IT purchases in 2004. Keep in mind, however, that AMR’s research encompasses all spending related to compliance, not just IT spending. Still, technology expenditures related to compliance are expected to exceed $1 billion this year alone.

As government regulations drive e-learning, companies need to ensure that their employees are getting the most from their investments as compliance training is critical to the overall health of the organization.

A look back in time reveals that the e-learning market was predicted to be a sizable slice of the IT pie. While still a healthy market segment, it didn’t reach the epic proportions that were anticipated. This was largely a result of fluctuating market changes and the delivery style and content available for online courses. These are two reasons why you may be asking what is prompting industry analysts like IDC to speculate that the U.S. corporate e-learning market will continue to grow and reach $23.7 billion by 2006.

The most compelling reason that justifies this number is the fact that the enterprise view of e-learning has markedly shifted from the training room to the boardroom. The necessity for compliance drives the interest and investment in e-learning all the way up to the executive suite.

Technology Innovations
As regulations change the executive view of e-learning, technology innovations are quickly moving the perception away from the once-staid online classroom and transforming it into the interactive learning environment of the future. With this in mind, there are four major technology innovations and/or shifts that have sparked increased interest in the e-learning market. They are outsourcing, learning objects, simulations and collaboration.

While outsourcing is not exactly a new innovation, the shifts that have occurred recently in this space are worth noting. As the need for e-learning moves higher up on the IT and corporate training agendas, organizations are wont to take on the IT management burden of implementing a learning management system (LMS).

This is where an outsource partner can truly differentiate its offerings and gain a bigger share of this market. Organizations selecting an outsourcing solution must realize that the choice is not limited to the simple assurance that students can double-click a URL, enroll and receive a grade. Rather, the chief concern for the CLO is ensuring that the outsourcer can provide the following:

  • Reliable hardware, software and services.
  • A wide variety of course content.
  • Support for blended learning that encompasses learning modules with real-world experience.
  • Web conferencing to move a stagnant course into an interactive learning experience.
  • Instant messaging to allow students to “raise hands” and receive instant feedback.
  • Grading and certification for students.
  • Just-in-time courses focused on specific elements of an employee’s position that can be learned in minutes and instantly applied to the job.

Learning Objects
The value of learning objects has always been in the ability to reuse content across through various learning environments. Today, learning objects are proliferating beyond the traditional online classroom and have made their way into the enterprise, combining coursework with experience.

Learning objects as the foundation for online learning will continue to develop, while their true value is realized by blending the objects with real-world, interactive learning experiences, eventually presenting a whole new set of modules for the organization.

When you can leverage and reuse course material and integrate it with real-world experiences from colleagues, learning objects become the foundation for discussion as opposed to a course unto itself.

Combining traditional and experiential learning, simulations add another, dynamic dimension to the e-learning experience. This is one area where book smarts meet street smarts, as real-world experience can often be the most influential instructor. Simulation combines classroom learning with real-world experience to ensure that students hit the ground running upon course completion.

For example, imagine putting your toughest prospect in front of a new sales rep and having the ability to practice the pitch until its perfected. With simulation, it’s possible for that sales rep to re-enact actions and gain valuable insight from classmates until the deal is closed.

Simulating a real-world environment directly related to the professional’s everyday job truly drives home the value of the virtual classroom without driving up costs associated with the proverbial on-the-job learning curve.

What was once a highly unstructured and relatively unmanaged silo of courseware and modules for online learning now comes together in a shared environment that dynamically changes the e-learning experience. Enter the world of collaboration. For example, by integrating instant messaging, Web conferencing and application sharing, the student experience is richer and knowledge retention rates soar.

True, blended learning that leverages classroom experience with self-paced courses, real-time collaboration and interactive feedback from colleagues and instructors significantly changes the online learning arena. Taking this one step further is the e-learning solution’s ability to provide real-time content delivery based on the individual’s role, preference or business process. The goal, of course, is to ensure that the learning experience is relevant and timely.

Students who participate in interactive learning courses that deliver immediate feedback and relevant information that can be immediately applied to the job gain the most from their online learning experience.

Whether it’s an airline flight attendant who needs a 15-minute refresher course on safety tips or a financial officer who must adhere to Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, when the online content is fresh, the classroom collaborative and the training relevant to the person’s position, the overall e-learning success rate significantly increases in terms of employee job satisfaction and productivity.

Grading E-Learning Offerings
Integrating the latest technology enhancements to augment the online learning experience puts e-learning vendors in an enviable position. These vendors will lead the pack as the playing field continues to consolidate.

As technology advances, the goal remains the same: E-learning vendors need to provide content that enables employees at high-impact jobs to deliver immediate, positive results gained from online learning courses.

As e-learning and training become an increasingly important part of an employee and an employer’s success, the organization must remember to evaluate the success of the program in as much as it relates to the company’s processes and overall business objectives both locally and globally.

It’s clear that in order to compete in the global marketplace, a successful organization will put a premium on its ability to quickly recruit, retain and retrain faster its workforce.

Michael Loria is director of Workplace Learning Products at IBM Lotus Software.