E-learning is about education, not technology: IDC

If you were to ask the average CEO or COO what e-learning is, he or she may be able to explain it. If you ask how many have actually taken or implemented a course – well, don’t expect much dialogue. At least this is what a recent study by IDC Canada on e-learning in Canada suggests.

The study, called The Learning Edge, was compiled late in 2000 and early 2001, and examines the corporate e-learning market in Canada. Julie Kaufman said that when we talk about e-learning, “we’re on the ground floor worldwide. E-learning is like the Tiger Woods of golf, it’s just changed the whole game.” Kaufman, the author of the study and research manager, skills for IDC in Toronto, said that e-learning has simply turned old learning paradigms on their heads.

While Canada has been conservative in adopting e-learning, that does not mean that senior management is not interested in electronic education, Kaufman continued. It’s quite the opposite, because management does recognize that it’s a viable solution – 78 per cent of the 300 companies surveyed said they planned to use an e-learning solution by 2002. But there remains a lack of education and a clear strategy for how to implement this approach, Kaufman said.

“Fifty per cent of companies are using e-learning, but that does not mean that they have a cohesive strategy,” she said. The real problem at this stage is a general unfamiliarity with e-learning. It has only been over the last two or three years that company’s have looked at these solutions. There seems to be confusion, as ‘we don’t know when to go to the instructional design, (or) when to go on-line.’ And on-line, should it be a virtual classroom or have a video? We still don’t know how to prioritize all these things.”

However, what is often neglected in the discussion is that e-learning is but another tool that we now possess in educating individuals, and move beyond the technological aspects it offers. According to Brian Westbrook, “E-learning is just the same as other learning, it’s adult learning principles, and so it doesn’t matter what technology you are using, it’s not going to work.” As a business analyst for Portage Mutual Insurance, in Portage la Prairie, Man., he said that people should move beyond the mystique of the technology and concentrate on the basics.

Westbrook agreed there is a lack of understanding from a senior management perspective, but that it is changing.

“Before, we used to throw the technology in front of people and wonder why they couldn’t use it, (and) I think we’ve passed that now.” Training is now offered on applications and tasks such as Corel, e-mailing and sending attachments. This shows that changes are taking place, he said. The real advantage of e-learning is that it will allow people to be educated from their home, work or other locations, he said.

Yet, the technological aspects do lead to advantages, according to Margaret Driscoll.

“We need to change how people think about learning, and how the technology gets people skilled differently,” said the director for IBM Mindspan Group in Cambridge, Mass. The companies that have been successful to-date in using e-learning are those that have concentrated on both the end user and management side of the equation, she said.

Driscoll echoed Westbrook’s opinion: “Best practices solutions don’t start with the technology, they start with management.” She is often amazed that buyers who have never taken a single class in e-learning are willing to invest up to half a million dollars for a solution.

Kaufman urged businesses to remember that creating a strategy is more important than implementing all of the technological possibilities when they begin adopting e-learning solutions. This is the year to start adopting an e-learning strategy, and to clearly identify who your learner is, she said.

For additional information on the study or e-learning, visit IDC Canada’s Web site at www.idc.com.