The competitiveness and future success of both businesses and employees is nowadays more dependent than ever before on the quality of advanced training and qualifications. The internationalization of competition means that pressure from competitors, cost pressure and the need to innovate are all continually increasing for most SMBs. This is where e-learning will play an especially important role in the future as it enables self-guided learning without media changes – anytime, anywhere.
New forms of learning for SMBs
“As the half-life of knowledge continues to shorten,” says Thea Payome, e-learning expert and author of a study on educational controlling, “the discussion about on-site training is increasingly centering on the topic of e-learning.” Companies hope e-learning will help them achieve space, time and cost savings and permit their employees to train themselves independently. Market analysts from IDC predict that as early as 2005 over 27 percent of ongoing training will be delivered by e-learning. And market researchers from Berlecon conservatively estimate that between 2001 and 2005 the market volume of e-learning in Germany will rise from Euro 300 million to Euro 1.5 billion. According to Payome, 2003 will be the year of the SMB in terms of e-learning, as SMBs are currently being specifically targeted. She has recorded an increasing number of e-learning initiatives, including some organized by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) which are specifically tailored for SMBs and oriented towards their particular needs.
Whether web-based training (WBT), computer-based training (CBT) or blended learning, the most useful and feasible form of e-learning for a particular company depends on its structure, which branch of industry the company operates in and its “size and actual training needs,” according to Payome. SMBs are increasingly recognizing the potential that the Internet provides for the learning process in businesses, reports a joint study (“Web-based training in small and midsize businesses”) by the Adolf Grimme Institute, Michel Medienforschung und Beratung (MMB) and the Institute for Media and Communication. The flexible, customized adaptation of knowledge and learning contents (“modularization”) to suit particular needs and situations, fast access to information and new spaces for interaction and communication (virtual learning communities, learning groups or employee portals) all rank among the benefits of e-learning. Yet, the authors of the study have unearthed a contradiction. Although SMBs fully recognize the increasing importance of e-learning for the future, the authors note that “the managers and employees of SMBs have used the Internet very little up to now for knowledge expansion and learning purposes.”
Integrated learning concepts
SMBs in particular require integrated learning concepts. There are basically three forms of e-learning in use at present. Computer-based training (CBT) allows the learner to study independently, at their own pace, to their own deadlines and preferably at their workplace. However, the communication possibilities with CBT are limited. Only the expansion to WBT has enabled learners to use different methods of communication, such as e-mail, blackboards and news groups to interact with tutors and fellow learners. They can ask questions and find solutions for certain tasks working with other learners (collaborative learning). Blended learning on the other hand is an integrated learning concept and a combination of Internet-supported e-learning and classic teaching methods. The aim is to use the best of both types of learning in order to harness greater synergy and make learning more successful.
There is no ideal way of determining which form of e-learning is the right one. The choice between pure WBT programs and blended learning depends on a company’s individual requirements and on the prevailing learning culture in the respective country. According to Thea Payome, whereas “electronic training has long been part of everyday working” in the USA and self-study programs in particular have become well established there, blended learning is considered the “most efficient type of e-learning” in Germany. Both concepts have their benefits, for instance blended learning is a good introduction to e-learning for those who are not too familiar with technology, since wholly electronic-based learning is more flexible and often more suitable.
The SAP Learning Solution and SAP Expert Finder which is integrated in mySAP Human Resources from SAP provide an e-learning portal and tool which use different study methods such as classroom training, e-learning (CBT, WBT) or blended learning and are therefore flexible to implement. The solution can thus be used equally for the different target groups of a company, such as customers, suppliers and employees and can be adapted to suit individual training needs.
The SAP Learning Solution brings online and offline training courses, the skill profiles, learning histories and study progress of employees and employee groups together in a single database. Every user of the solution creates an individual profile that lists areas of knowledge, fields of interest and personal training needs. The user can then be offered the appropriate seminars. The Learning Management System can be used to configure the course contents to suit the student’s particular learning style and to perform testing. New knowledge is entered directly into the skills database. The SAP Expert Finder allows HR managers or project leaders to locate personnel with certain areas of knowledge or experience. These can then be deployed specifically on projects or entrusted with special tasks. The data is always up-to-date and gives a complete overview of the expertise in the company. This SAP solution is following a trend which Professor Uwe Beck from the University of Karlsruhe and co-founder of the LEARNTEC trade fair has described as a paradigm change from a “previously technology-driven process” to a more needs-oriented model.
Acceptance and monitoring
A recent survey (“Lifelong Learning: a citizen’s view”) by the European Commission of around 18,000 people in the 15 EU member states has shown that 90% of Europeans believe lifelong learning is important. However, an investigation by the German Institute for Employment Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung, BIBB), discovered that e-learning is not possible everywhere since many workplaces believe they are only partially or not at all suited to e-learning. According to the study, important prerequisites for e-learning solutions in the workplace are not in place, e.g. suitable study environments, access to the Internet/intranet or even not enough free time. This casts doubt on whether e-learning can gain acceptance in the workplace. According to the authors of a US study by the Masie Institute, internal marketing for e-learning projects must be drastically improved in order to promote this type of training. In addition to a fundamental orientation towards the development of new technology, the main requirement for successful e-learning is to integrate it within the company organization and structure and to firmly anchor it in the culture of the firm. Thea Payome has a similar view of the situation. In an article about the acceptance of e-learning she writes, “the success of a company lies in the minds of its employees and their knowledge of products, processes and relationships.”
Apart from the question of acceptance, monitoring what has been learnt is also important since without defined objectives the success of e-learning cannot be quantified. “Many organizations are unclear of what they can actually achieve with educational controlling measures,” commented Gerrit Skrock, training expert at SAP at kommweit 2003 (= communication and training). This is where the SAP Learning Solution comes into play. As soon as an employee registers for a new course, the objectives of this course are automatically compared with the aims of courses he has already completed. This enables students not only to view and monitor their progress at any given time, but also to systematically plan their next step in the learning process. This ensures e-learning is more readily accepted and promotes a common (learning) culture. It also strengthens mutual trust among employees, motivating them and increasing the competitiveness of SMBs.
Trade fair: www.learntec.de
Studies: www.berlecon.de/en/, www.cedefop.eu.int/download/current_act/4025_en.pdf
SAP AG: www.sap.com/education/e-learning/