E-learning is a learning strategy used for imparting the required knowledge, attitudes and skills to the employees in an organization. It is a technology that is driving employee training in the workplace; this is because of its flexibility to the learner and the trainer (Welsh et al. 2003). This strategy includes delivering of information through the Internet, CD-ROM, interactive TV, satellite broadcasting, audio- and videotape and intranet or extranet, and it can be used in delivering varied instructional methods and technologies (Clark & Mayer 2003). The methods and technologies include use of chat rooms and message board discussions, textual materials in PowerPoint slides video and audio technology.
What E-Learning Can Do?
E-learning has been embraced by most organizations because of its consistence in training materials delivery to all the employees; through e-learning, the organization can update the training content, thus reducing costs of using outside training facilities. Its consistency also helps the organization to administer training to employees anywhere, anytime and on demand. The method is cost effective, and is available just-in-time; according to research carried out in 2003, the corporate training investment was approximated to $11.4 billion, this kind of spending can be reduced through e-learning.
E-learning is predicted to bring an impact on the training programs by making the programs more accessible and integrating various features of e-learning such as performance support and peer collaboration (Waschull 2001). This requires the use of more advanced technology, and can change with time; therefore, organizations that use e-learning for employee development are challenged to update their e-learning practices all the time to make sure they use the latest technology. Skills that can be taught through e-learning include Information Technology skills, this is the best media for learning such skills because they are related to computing, which makes learning and practicing easy. Apart from Information technology skills, an organization use e-learning for training soft and business skills, a research carried out on Nestle in 2004 showed that the company used e-learning to train its employees on leadership skills, teamwork and communication. Business and soft skills that can be taught through e-learning include human resource skills, quality management skills, customer service, communication, leadership and management. However, the effectiveness of the use of e-learning to train soft skills has been questioned because the skills need face-to-face interaction, which is not offered by e-learning.
Learners who use e-learning programs have a greater control over the learning process, the learners are free to learn at their own pace, and this increases their understanding. The learners are also given the freedom to organize materials in a way comfortable for them, thus creating favorable learning conditions; these conditions for training are more effective with skill-based learning activities, and new learners. Self-paced learning presented by e-learning helps employees to learn with less supervision, and this is a skill that can also be applied to work. However, self-paced learning can direct students to choose specific contents leaving out others that might be important; this can influence the effectiveness of the training. Therefore, for e-learning to be effective, the trainer must implement learner controls to ensure that goals for instructional programs are effectively managed to meet the objective of the training (Clark & Mayer 2003). However, this depends on the capability of the system being used and the organizational culture.
During the first years of using e-learning in employee training, it was difficult to engage learners in activities that could help them develop problem solving skills; however, organizations have solved the issue using learning games such as crossword puzzle games or arcade. These games are associated with recreation and entertainment, but when used in e-learning, they can improve the performance of the learners, and increase their appeal for learning, and reduce their fear of collaboration with the others (Selix 2001). E-learning content has also been structured in a way that gives the learner personal experience; the content is presented using stories to make it look like a conversation between the program and the learner, an example is SmartTutor (Cheung et al. 2003). For instance, an organization such as Volvo Cars have trained frontline employees on brand image delivery during their conversation with customers; for Volvo, the stories meant to make the learner visualize the brand image, then practice performing the actual communication with the customer through a simulated customer interaction program SmartTutor (Cheung et al. 2003). The integration of program interaction makes e-learning practical to the learner when it is compared to classroom learning.
E-learning has also been modified to create real communication between the learner and the trainer, and between learners, this has been made possible through chat rooms. Another interactive form of e-learning is asynchronous which is the use of message boards, and posting of answers, questions and comments. The choice of communication will depend on the number of learners, and the concurrency.
E-learning can also be combined with other training media for effective learning; this is referred to as blended learning, this mode of training is known to combine self-study, e-learning and classroom sessions (Goodridge 2001). Blended learning, like e-learning is cost saving, and allows the learner to have a personal touch of classroom instructions. An example of its use is Home offices in Great Britain, where learners combine instructor-led seminars, e-learning and live coaching.
Organization sometimes considers training as a waste of time, and neglects employee training; this should not be the case because there is ‘rapid e-learning’, a program that takes a short time and minimal efforts in its preparation and delivery (Using rapid e-learning to deliver training now 2004). These training programs take a maximum of 3 weeks and often use Microsoft Power point presentation through the Web. This training program is suitable for urgent training; sometimes a need might arise in an organization which requires specific skills, and there is no time for employees to go for classes or attend seminars, smart managers can quickly solve the problem by organizing a rapid e-learning training program.
E-learning can be customized by an organization to meet employees’ preferences, this is an approach used by most organizations to increase employee satisfaction, thereby improving the effectiveness of the training. Hewlett-Packard is a company that has applied customization in the employee training by allowing each employee to choose the best training delivery mode. According to HP preferences for e-learning are different around the world. For instance, employees in Asia prefer blended or instructor-presented learning options, and those in Europe and the United States prefer instructor-presented and self-paced learning techniques respectively (Goodridge 2001). These findings suggest that one type of e-learning program cannot satisfy all the employees; therefore, organizations should consider offering different options of e-learning for their employees to choose from.
Effectiveness of E-Learning
E-learning is available just-in-time, together with its cost effectiveness, and many organizations prefer using it for employee training. However, how effective is e-learning? This question can be answered by observing employee behavior, learning, reaction and organizational behavior (Burgess & Russell 2003). The reaction of employees in a company can help one to determine how effective e-learning training program is to the company and its employees. This can be observed in the employees’ satisfaction and attitudes towards e-learning and their preferences for e-learning when it is compared to other learning programs (Kulik & Kulik 1991). A research carried out on learners from age 5 and above revealed that learners who used e-learning program showed a more positive attitude to computers when compared those who used traditional learning programs (Kirkpatrick 1976). Additionally, those who used e-learning rated it as a program that is more favorable than others.
Employee satisfaction can also be used to assess e-learning effectiveness; the study carried out by Skillsoft in 2004 on employees from Nestle, AT &T among others revealed that e-learning is enjoyable and it can be recommended to use.
Learning is another way to determine how effective e-learning program is to employees. Learning evaluates the understanding of the major topics that were taught during the learning session; this can be done through giving out tests and grading the results. Poor grades indicate ineffective learning program while high grades indicate effective learning program (Kirkpatrick 1976). Studies carried out to tests the e-learning effectiveness when compared to other learning programs, revealed that there was no difference in the outcomes between e-learning program and other learning programs. Therefore, when looking at learning outcomes, e-learning is the same as the other forms of learning programs.
Employees’ behavior can also serve as an evaluation criterion applied to learning programs, according to the research, e-learning promotes good behavior at work. Such behaviors as good performance at work have been observed in learners who use computer games; the results of this research were not the same for those learners who used other leaning programs such as classroom and seminars (Burgess & Russell 2003). An effective learning program should have a positive effect on the results of an organization, for instance, HP experienced an improvement in the customers service using e-learning programs; the organization realized that the results were better than those with classroom training.
Organizations are continuing to embrace e-learning, this is because of its cost effectiveness, just-in-time advantage, among other things. This learning technique is also enjoyed by the learners, and motivates them to engage actively in learning activities. Blending with other leaning programs such as classroom lessons improves learning effectiveness. Its efficacy when compared to other learning programs has a positive effect on the learners’ behavior, performance as well as organization results (Burgess & Russell 2003). This shows that e-learning is one of the best training programs; however, choosing the medium of e-learning program it is advisable to take into account the needs of the learners.