Thursday, 6 December 2012

eLearning and Learning Technologies for Smaller Businesses

Thanks to NZATD in Auckland this week for letting me prattle on at their Christmas function and try to involve the crowd in a bit of a story boarding and learning technologies exercise to produce them a free SCORM piece for their respective LMSs. The scary part for me was looking around the room in a BYOD event and not seeing many devices (yes, if you don't know the acronym you know the first part I suspect and device was the last!), talking LMS and getting some blank looks and generally getting the feeling that maybe I'd time warped back a few years in L&D. That's not meant to sound like a criticism, they were a great crowd and I think we moved forward really well but it does highlight a real misconception that I'm probably not the only one that held; elearning is mature and well-established in the majority of businesses regardless of their size.

Whilst most major organisations across Australia and New Zealand are engaged in this space to at least some extent, it is amazing to see that so many medium and smaller sized enterprises have yet to even take a serious look at learning technologies and how they can help their organisations. Essentially this itself is the issue; WIFM. The well used acronym of what's in it for me seems fairly obvious to a large corporates (although they often go with the money saving options rather than looking at effectiveness). Smaller businesses often can't see the immediate gains from investing in learning technologies and what seems like a waste of money now for possible future savings that may never eventualise is a risk they may not be willing to take. If smaller organisations are going to embark on elearning and learning technologies they need to see real advantages for them to move in this direction.

For smaller businesses the first look should be at your current investment in your people. These are your most important asset and don't just play lip service to that. Developing people is something often forgotten in times of growth and hard-times alike but it's not surprise that without exception successful organisations invest in their people; whether that's team building, through formal L&D and training or just by the way they are truly involved in their organisation it's a must for success in modern business. Assuming you do invest, what do you do and how effective is it? A single unresourced staff member who can't access anyone's valuable time is a common scenario or sending people on external courses without truly measuring the gains is another. In both these scenarios the return on your investment is low in all aspects. Where elearning can really help you is that it can reduce the variability of training exercises and increase our ability to measure outcomes and how people feel about the training they have learnt. Things change when we measure them (if you don't believe me go in search of Schrödinger's cat) and it's time you looked closer at your investment.

eLearning certainly provides some greatly improved effectiveness and measures and it is also very effective financially too if you approach it the right way; this means getting reusable content with source files and a community of support or off the shelf content that exactly fits your needs. That's the elearning part sorted right? Almost, the toughest thing for small business is the hosting and tracking environment, but fortunately there's been an explosion in that area recently of low cost SaaS based LMSs offering great and affordable services for smaller organisations. Recently iSpring launched Rocket with a package of authoring tools bundled at a few hundred a month, then offerings like Litmos and a couple of others all providing SCORM support and tracking. These are limited in functionality but provide the basics to get you up and running with consistent training and measurability. There's even full blown LMSs now available in this model; you can get a fully functional Totara for under a $100 a week (yes, call me).

None of the above means your small business should disperse with its L&D function or trainer(s), but it does mean their role may change to support and use the learning technologies to greatly increase their penetration in your organisation. Imagine the gains in actually engaging with the learners beyond the one session you may initially get with them, not to mention the opportunities to let them shape some of the content and actually start learning from each other and others in similar positions? I'm getting carried away and ahead of myself I know, perhaps we should start with a chat... Your business needs to invest wisely in its people and learning technologies can be a very wise investment indeed.

This blog is quickly opening a longer subject than my flight allows for so maybe I'll stop here today and get back to this topic in more depth another time, let me know if you want to know more, I'm located at the centre of the Internet so finding me is easy!

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Location:Airport and air as usual