E-learning scores big wins

Several big-name organizations such as General Motors Corp., the U.S. Army, and EMC Corp. will soon be hitting the books online, tapping e-learning services and products from vendors Saba Software Inc., SmartForce, and KnowledgeNet.

Recent investments by well-known corporations and an influx of vendors may have turned the spotlight on the market, but e-learning has been on a strong and steady growth curve for several years, according to Cushing Anderson, program manger for learning services research at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass.

“This is a continuation of a trend of e-learning being adopted more and more widely,” Anderson said. “[E-learning] has been getting bigger for the last 10 years, and it has not yet fully penetrated the market.”

Furthermore, because it is perceived as yielding a better cost to delivery ratio, e-learning is less likely to be negatively impacted by the downturn in the economy, Anderson added.

Expanding a previous agreement, the U.S. Army on Monday inked a multimillion-dollar deal with Redwood City, Calif.-based SmartForce to deliver the hosted MySmartForce e-learning platform to Army soldiers and civilian workers around the world.

The investment reflects the Army’s recent decision to move from computer-based training to e-learning in an effort to leverage interactive and up-to-date IT systems training and knowledge, said Robert Schwenk, deputy director at the U.S. Army Chief Technology Office, in Washington.

“The computer-based training is an interactive but static course environment. If students have a question they don’t have ready access to additional information on any subject in the course,” Schwenk said. In contrast, e-learning offers a dynamic environment in which subject matter experts are available to students through e-mail and chat room capabilities, he said.

Through the e-learning agreement with SmartForce, the Army is looking to reach more than 150,000 of its geographically dispersed personnel this year.

“It is available to them anywhere in the world; all they have to have is access to a Web browser,” Schwenk said.

Meanwhile, Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Saba on Monday announced three new customers in the financial services industry: Banco Itau, Fifth Third Bank, and Scotiabank. Saba also provides online learning to many financial customers including ABN AMRO, SCB (Standard Chartered Bank), and Strong Capital Funds.

Automotive industry giant GM recently rolled out Saba Learning Enterprise Edition to mange training and administration for the GMU (General Motors University), which offers 1,300 e-learning courses to about 47,000 GM employees in the United States and Canada.

Detroit, Mich.-based GM saw a need for a learning management system for the GMU to enable functions such as searching, cataloguing, and enrolment through a browser-based portal, according to Donnee Ramelli, president of General Motors University.

“We chose Saba to replace a proprietary mainframe to provide an e-learning portal for every employee,” Ramelli said. “GM is committed to learning to grow employee skill sets and improve performance and business results.”

In the near future, GM plans to expand the e-learning portal to become more of a general knowledge management portal designed to offer a performance support system for employees, Ramelli said.

One of the biggest benefits of e-learning, Ramelli said, is that it enables employees to take courses right at their desktops, which provides the “information, knowledge, and tools they can use in their work when they need it.”

In other e-learning news, Logilent Learning Systems on Monday announced RouterLive Version 1.5, a hands-on laboratory program for training IT professionals on Cisco routers. San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco aptly was named the first customer for the e-learning product, which provides Web-enabled training on hundreds of live Cisco routers and switches in the Logilent Data Center.

The hands-on lab practice is a vital element for training workers on mission-critical IT systems, according to David James Clarke, co-founder and vice-president of development at Logilent Learning Systems, in Lafayette, Calif.

“When your company is dependent on its it infrastructure for product deployments, you don’t want people working on those systems that haven’t had hands-on experience,” he said. “We developed Live Lab technologies so students can get real access to the product over the Web.

Meanwhile, storage vendor EMC last week tapped KnowledgeNet for e-learning content, authoring, and services for EMC’s worldwide internal training program and an EMC professional certification program.

Under the deal, EMC will use KnowledgeNet’s Live and Interactive e-learning products, allowing EMC to offer custom training to its employees, partners, and customers.

“It was a substantial investment, but we are getting the benefits,” said Bill Dacier, vice-president of Global Technical Training at EMC in Hopkinton, Mass. “We now can know the status of our workforce, have online testing, and can understand how valid the testing is.”