Using e-Learning to build workforce capability: A review of activities Publications
This report was commissioned by the Ministry and undertaken by the Waikato Institute of Technology in collaboration with the Industry Training Federation. The report’s main objectives were to:
- Identify how e-Learning is employed in work-based and work-placed learning both internationally and nationally.
- Describe the impact of e-Learning on building workforce capability globally and nationally.
- Assess the demand from employers, providers and learners for e-Learning in improving individual and organisational capability.
- Demonstrate how, and in what ways, e-Learning can aid particular industry sectors in building workforce capability.
- Examine reasons why e-Learning is not being used in particular industry sectors to support work-based and work-placed learning.
- Recommend further activities that could be taken to promote and embed the effective use of e-Learning in work-based and work-placed e-Learning.
Author(s): John Clayton, Richard Elliott, Sarah-Jane Saravani, Nicholas Huntington, Nicholas Greene, Waikato Institute of Technology. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.
Date Published: October 2008
In the current evolving economic environment, it is important for organisations to effectively implement and utilise e-learning applications, strategies and techniques to up-skill their workforce so that they are more productive, higher performing and competitive in regional, national and global contexts.
This research project, Using e-learning to build workforce capability: A review of activities has been funded by the Ministry of Education. The project objectives were to assess, explore, identify, describe and report on
- How Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and e-learning applications are currently used within industry- nationally and internationally- to build workforce capability.
- How e-learning currently contributes to the achievement of advanced trade, technical and professional qualifications to meet regional and national industry needs.
- The potential New Zealand industry demand for training delivered through ICT and e-learning methodologies.
- How enterprises, from small to large, can be informed of the most appropriate blend of e-learning strategies, processes and procedures for their specific situation.
- The identification of critical success factors for e-learning implementation.
For the purpose of this report, e-learning refers to the provision, administration and support for "off-the-job" and "on-the-job" training, using information and communication technologies such as stand-alone and networked computers, Internet-based technologies and mobile devices.
During this study key emergent themes for the successful deployment of e-learning in industry were identified:
- Awareness: Raising the awareness of both management and general employees on the benefits of e-learning is a key driver for their active commitment to, and participation in, e-learning initiatives.
- Compliance: The strong personnel management capability provided by e-learning applications such as learning management systems (LMS), ensures the compliance and knowledge of the workforce is audited, tracked and managed effectively. This enables firms to meet all legislative requirements.
- Strategic Planning: The development and implementation of e-learning plans must be fully integrated within the organisation's broader training plans.
- Management Support: Senior management of the organisation must be committed to the introduction of e-learning, evidenced through the provision of the necessary physical, financial and human resources required to successfully and effectively implement e-learning.
- Consistency of Training: e-learning is seen as providing a platform for the consistent delivery of quality training to all employees regardless of physical location or timing of employment.
- People: There needs to be the impetus for staff to move from low skill to higher level skills. There also need to be opportunities for improved collaboration, communication and teamwork within the organisation.
- Production: Organisations have found the growing use of e-learning applications is improving speed of learning/training and reducing employee down-time. Anecdotal comments also indicated improvement in the service provided to the customer and safer working environments created.
- Quality: e-learning is seen as a vehicle for improving the consistent quality of training which is essential to increase the knowledge and skill levels of employees. E-learning also moves training events from "one off" sessions where employees can return to the online resources at anytime reinforcing the learning that has taken place.
- Time: The benefits of greater speed and more flexibility for the learner need to be recognised. This flexibility also means the training can be tailored to be least disruptive to a firm“s work schedules and there is less time "off-the job".
The focus of many debates on the implementation of e-learning within an industry appears to be centred upon:
- Financial: A critical issue is the perceived cost of e-learning implementation versus the investment and time out for the business.
- Relevance and Quality: Materials presented to employees must be focused on organisational and workforce requirements. Of particular importance in this context is relevance and authenticity.
- Acceptance: e-learning is relatively new and the benefits and impact of deployment need to be documented, published and disseminated.
- Infrastructure: The infrastructure needed for ongoing development of e-learning initiatives carries costs and these costs must be identified.
- Collaboration: To achieve cost reduction and to increase the quality of the resources that are developed, industries are increasingly recognising the benefits to be gained by collaboration.
- Mobile: Mobile technologies are widely available and used by the workforce. They are also becoming increasingly "user friendly" and sophisticated e.g. email and Internet browsing capabilities. As a result, a number of organisations indicated the use of mobile technologies was a key component of future e-learning offerings.
- Management Support: Traditional approaches to training are well known and accepted and it can be challenging to get the "traditionalists" to adopt the new approaches. This resistance can be overcome if there is ongoing, demonstrated support from senior management.
The key business drivers for e-learning growth in industry training are;
- Information Resources: There is an ever-increasing amount of information from an organisational, individual, trade and professional viewpoint, of which employees need to be aware to complete their tasks successfully. Increasingly, the targeted use of e-learning is seen as a viable option in addressing the information needs of individual industries.
- Technological Innovation: The growing complexity and sophistication of modern plant combined with the rapid rate of change in production means informational and communication technologies are increasingly necessary to deal with their impacts on work practices. The nature of the impact needs to be managed in a consistent and timely manner.
- Return on Investment: The provision of training to improve performance at both an individual and organisational level must be done economically and efficiently. For example a key driver for many of the e-learning deployments illustrated in the case studies of this report is the financial gains generated by the replacement of traditional modes of training with targeted e-learning applications.
- Legal Compliance: Many of the firms reviewed often need to meet a number of requirements (such as health and safety, site safety, and, in some instances, certification). The use of e-learning delivery and administrative tools provide the firms with the ability firstly, to monitor workers' current compliance status and secondly, to ensure all employees have accessed appropriate information on their obligations.
The barriers to e-learning implementations include:
- Administration: Difficulty of managing e-training through existing structures.
- Change Management: Challenges in modifying and replacing traditional training practices. Possible resistance by both managers and employees, comfortable and familiar with traditional training methods, to the change in approach and methods of training delivery.
- Training Delivery: Lack of knowledge, skills and expertise by managers/supervisors to create appropriate e-learning materials or design e-learning events.
- Senior Management: Failure to recognise the benefits derived from the provision of e-learning by senior management and consequent lack of ongoing support to appropriately resource the e-learning initiative.
- Quality of Provision: Confusion created through the availability of a range of e-learning providers (such as educational institutes, private-sector providers, and independent mentors) and "off-the-shelf" e-learning materials. Difficulties, especially for SMEs, in evaluating the value and impact of the myriad of e-learning options offered on their business operations.
These barriers to the introduction of e-learning and its continued growth can be classified within three key broad categories (the three Cs). These are:
- Connectivity: Limited access to the Internet and adequate ICT devices/technologies.
- Capability: The unknown ICT competencies of managers, trainers and employees.
- Content: Lack of e-learning content relevant to the organisation's specific needs.
The review of the literature indicated the flexibility provided by e-learning applications has a role to play in providing individual firm-specific training as required; just-in-time, just-enough and just for them. Specifically the benefits of the deployment of e-learning in industry fit within three key broad categories, these are:
- Accessibility and Flexibility: Improving access to more training for employees and allowing training activities to be delivered flexibly in terms of time and place to meet individual employee needs.
- Consistency and Scalability: Ensuring training is delivered in a consistent and timely manner, and ensuring more comprehensive compliance with identified standards/best practices for employees.
- Sustainability and Cost Effectiveness: Ensuring minimal stoppages and employee time-off-task to improve productivity. E-learning also helps improve and increase the basic skills of employees, providing the organisation with a competitive advantage. How e-learning is used to build workforce capability
From the case-studies undertaken it was noted the current scope of training provision in New Zealand industries was extremely broad. In general, the workforce capabilities addressed through e-learning were:
- Induction: A significant number of the firms reviewed indicated they were using e-learning to introduce staff to the firms“ processes, procedures and requirements. The flexibility provided by e-learning ensured the induction of employees could be undertaken at anytime and anywhere.
- ICT Skills: A number of targeted staff received specific training in the range of software applications acquired by the organisation to undertake and monitor the normal business operations of the firm.
- Literacy and Numeracy: Although this area was not specifically targeted by individual firms, many firms address this issue through collaboration with external experts or the promotion of courses from external providers.
- Product Knowledge: To increase market share and/or to ensure staff awareness of the products produced or services offered, some firms provide e-learning solutions to keep staff abreast of latest developments.
- Certification: Many firms provided formal recognition of training undertaken (for example, working in confined spaces or first aid) and e-learning administrative tools were used to monitor employee certification status.
In the delivery of e-learning activities a varied range of solutions have been developed. These include:
- On-the-Job: Workplace/on-the-job provision accounts for a significant component of the training offered by firms and, in some cases, between eighty and ninety percent of training is provided through this approach.
- Commitment: Employees generally undertake the training at their place of work and have reasonable access to the necessary ICT equipment. This reduces time off task and increases profitability.
- Assessment: Workplace/on-the-job training is assessed by an on-the-job "mentor" and certified assessors. A number of the compulsory induction / site safety online modules developed have mandatory assessments included. Employees must pass all these assessments before the course is considered to be completed and they are compliant with the identified requirements.
- Custom Designed: A range of content creation software applications, such as Articulate, HTML editors and Flash, are used to create custom-designed CDs, DVDs, or web-hosted content. These are generally created in-house to meet the specific training needs of the organisation. In many instances these digital resources are supplemented by digitally created, but printbased, workbooks.
- Blended: A number of firms are increasingly using laptops, DVDs and data/video projectors to enhance traditional face-to-face learning environments. The nature of the learning environments is changing with the flexibility of the technology being used. In many cases, learning events can and are being created "out in the field".
- Simulations: Simulations form a significant component of e-teaching solutions developed. In general, they are designed to replicate firm-specific, problem solving situations, ensuring the workers are up-to-date and competent with equipment functionality.
- Intranet/Internet: A number of informational "web-pages", outlining product functionalities and specifications, are readily available to all employees. Other Web resources include tracking systems, email, links to external information, numeracy and literacy resources and custom-designed interactive courses.
- Learning Management Systems: A number of firms are introducing Learning Management Systems (LMS) as these systems provide the organisation with the ability to maintain individual learning plans and to book, track and record training activities.
- Video Capture: Although not wide-spread, the provision of videos, often enhanced with notes and interactive graphics, of external experts installing new plant and/or operating machinery, has been found to be very effective for skills acquisition or maintenance.
- Mobile: Although some firms have found the use of mobile devices problematic, the increasing use of mobile devices by all sectors of society has seen firms begin investigating the benefits of using these devices for training /educational purposes. Using e-learning in trade, technical and professional training
In trade, technical and professional training, the use of ICT to present content (for example, videos, simulations, animations and workbooks), to facilitate assessments and encourage interaction through asynchronous and synchronous internet based communication tools (for example, video conferences, white boards, forums and quizzes) are challenging traditional training approaches where a significant portion of learning is "classroom-based"1
When reviewing the results of studies on e-learning initiatives it was found trade and technical trainees, in particular, were learners with a preference for "visual" presentations with ongoing trainer-trainee communication, the personal touch. The studies demonstrated the adoption of "video" technologies (e.g. video conferencing, practical task demonstrations embedded in HTML pages, web-casts) impacted on training in a positive manner.
When e-learning applications are used in training activities most respondents enjoy the experience. They find the use of personal devices and communication tools (the Internet, desktop and laptop computers, digital cameras and e-mail) enhance their learning environment2.
One international study3 found 46% Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) were delivering trade training using e-learning methods and/or technologies. This study also found around 70% of all teachers of traditional trades used e-learning in some way.
The case studies indicated the innovative use of e-learning applications such as video-capture technologies, simulations and demonstrations appear to provide a consistency of approach not generally available through traditional methods of delivery. E-learning is being used for both standard and advanced trade training programmes.
The potential demand for e-learning in industry training
Statistical information currently available4 indicates the technical infrastructure is sufficiently robust and software applications are readily available for employees and for all sizes of business to participate in e-learning activities. Between 2004 and 2006 there has been significant growth in the use of computers and the Internet in both households and business, with seven out of ten New Zealand households and nine out of ten businesses having ready access to computers, and nearly two thirds of households and ninety percent of businesses being connected to the Internet.
It appeared large service industries (for example, financial firms) and individuals undertaking formal study (for example, diplomas or degrees) were more likely to use ICT for their educational and training needs.
During the extensive literature review of government reports, white papers, research reports and journal articles, it was noted a common thread within the material reviewed was the number of surveys published which suggested, rather than proved, a significant number of industries were using e-learning to build workforce capability. Therefore, this study recommends these often-optimistic findings need to be treated with caution as sample sizes in some studies were often limited, and samples were often biased as respondents had a high degree of technological literacy with a keen interest in computer-mediated training.
The most realistic view of the perceived demand e-learning is the documentation5 of the steady decline of classroom-based (from a high 78% in 1999 to a projection of 53% in 2006, a decrease of 25%) and the steady growth of technology-based training, from a low of 14% in 1999 to a projection of 40% in 2006, an increase of 26%. Acquire information on effective practice in e-learning
Being updated about effective processes, procedures and plans to improve workforce capability using e-learning applications, strategies and techniques is seen as central to improving individual, organisational and national performance and global competitiveness. It is notable the flexibility provided by e-learning communication tools and presentation software applications is used extensively to share information and keep abreast of national and international trends in e-learning in industry6.
In creating web-spaces for industry, designers need to develop tools, containing common elements to ease navigation, to encourage participant reflection, interaction and engagement. These tools fall within three broad categories- informational (e.g. database tools), communication (e.g. frequently asked questions) and data collection (e.g. evaluations and surveys).
Critical success factors for effective e-learning implementation
The "quality" of the learning experience of participants in an e-learning environment can be directly attributed to the quality of all of the processes used in the creation of the training event. To ensure quality, the creation of e-learning events should follow a recognized cyclical pattern conceptualised by the research team as the Five D's (5Ds) of e-learning in industry:
- Define: the training requirement(s),
- Design: the training event(s),
- Develop: the resource(s),
- Deliver: the event(s),
- Determine: how or if e-learning can or should be used to meet the above requirements successfully.
Figure 1: The 5Ds of e-Learning
The literature consistently indicated the critical success factors for the implementation of successful e-learning in industry differed. They depended upon the size of the organisation and the potential resources (financial, physical and human) available to the enterprise.
- Planning: While e-learning can be effective in a range of situations, organisations need to be clear in their expectations of how e-learning will meet their specific training needs and allocate appropriate resourcing.
- Senior Management Support: Support from senior management is essential for the successful implementation of e-learning. To obtain this support, advocates of e-learning need to justify the costs associated with developing e-learning materials and deploying e-learning solutions and emphasise the benefits to be gained.
- Technical: It is important, when firms select an e-learning solution, that this solution is able to meet future demands and can be integrated smoothly with existing and planned systems. Failure to do this will add additional and unforeseen expenses and impediments to e-learning development.
- Awareness: When contemplating a change from traditional modes to online learning, organisations need to be aware of potential resistance and articulate a clear vision and solicit feedback from employees on the efficacy of the e-learning for them.
- Evaluation: To help embed e-learning within an organisation, feedback from users of the e-solution needs to be regularly obtained and the financial costs must be monitored. This will help to demonstrate the cost effectiveness, benefits and acceptance of the e-learning solutions developed.
- Collaboration: Collaboration and cooperation with other similar organisations will serve to establish universally-accepted practice, standards and training which will ensure the skill set of the workers is comparable and transferable across sectors.
The success factors fit within three key broad categories which are:
- The need to develop generic e-learning material in standardised formats allowing multiple users to engage with the materials created. This can help to reduce overall organisational costs in development and delivery.
- The need to ensure that the organisation has a clear action plan for the implementation and support of e-learning initiatives. This plan should be part of the organisations key strategic initiatives.
- The need for senior managers to recognise the value of e-learning in building workforce capability and actively to support its implementation.
- The need for "e-champions" to model the successful use of e-learning applications.
- Although more costly to produce, available evidence indicates that e-learning training materials are more engaging than traditional workbooks as they can include a range of multimedia-rich practical examples, interactive exercises and computer-based simulations.
- Monitoring and evaluation of both the process and outcomes of e-learning use by learners and staff are seen as critical. The deployment of material in a managed environment, commonly within a learning management system, provides the functionality for this to occur.
- The use of e-learning applications allows training to be delivered in a consistent manner ensuring more comprehensive compliance with identified standards/best practices.
- The decision whether to produce the training in-house or to outsource.
- Lack of human interaction and the effects this has on employee motivation.
- The need to build confidence and, subsequently, competence in e-learning environments.
Specifically, the seven critical success factors noted for the implementation of successful e-learning in industry in large enterprises are illustrated in figure 2 below.
Figure 2: e-Learning in Industry – Large Enterprises
Specifically the five critical success factors noted for the implementation of e-learning in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are illustrated in figure 3 below.
Figure 3: e-Learning in Industry – Small & Medium Enterprises
Measuring Effectiveness and Impact
1.28 In evaluating the effectiveness and impact of e-learning the two target areas of analysis are firstly, the individual level investigating competency and accomplishment. Secondly, the organisational level investigating strategic alignment and business impact. From the literature 7 it appears a measurement model, based on modifications to the Kirkpatrick-Philips evaluation model, would be in keeping with existing evaluation practices and could be more readily accepted by industry. The modified Kirkpatrick-Philips model advocated by the research team is illustrated in figure 4 below.
Figure 4: Modified Kirkpatrick-Philips Evaluation Model
Four future trends in e-learning in industry were identified during this study:
- Blended: Despite the growing focus in industry on e-learning, traditional approaches continue to remain important. A blended approach, incorporating e-learning with traditional formats, has already been identified by some as the way to proceed. It is envisaged that this will be a significant approach in the future.
- Collaborative: To achieve cost reduction and to increase the quality of e-learning resources developed, many organisations will increasingly collaborate with the producers whose goods they sell and with other organisations in the same sector.
- In-House: Increasingly, the benefits of tracking the training undertaken by employees, ensuring all employees are conversant with company policies and compliant with appropriate legislative requirements, is being recognised. This will be monitored by e-administration tools managed by inhouse staff.
- Mobile: Mobile technologies (such as phones, PDAs and cameras) are readily available and enable information to be accessed remotely and for data transfer from those "on-site" back to the central office and conversely for the central office to provide advice or training to those "on-site". A number of firms indicated in this study that the use of mobile technologies was a key component of future e-learning offerings.
Based on the findings of this project a number of recommendations are offered. These are:
- That further work, directed by a strategic management team, including national bodies such as the Ministry of Economic Development, Industry Training Federation (ITF), the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand (ITPNZ), New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), Business New Zealand, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Tertiary Education Commission and NZ Council of Trade Unions, be undertaken for the purpose of:
- Raising Awareness: Conduct further research to identify and disseminate (through existing industry-sector communication mechanisms) how the implementation of e-learning applications, nationally and internationally, has impacted on business performance, productivity, profitability and growth. This should include information on the importance of appropriate literacy and numeracy levels in the workplace and their potential impact on productivity.
- Identification: Consider the creation of a business case for the development and deployment of a Web-space (integrated within existing industry web-sites) where case-studies, templates and guide lines for good practice in e-learning implementation in industry can be made available to inform senior managers and owners.
- Implementation: Consider the creation of specific e-learning templates, standards and procedures for providers involved in delivering courses for trades/industries. These should detail minimum expectations of the quality and nature of the digital material created and the recording, reporting and management of employee training activities.
- Evaluation: Ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness and impact of the e-learning events offered, using a range of qualitative (for example, employee views) and quantitative (for example, productivity gains) measures, must occur. The results of these evaluations should be regularly communicated to all stakeholders. In keeping with existing evaluation practices, a measurement- modified Kirkpatrick-Philips evaluation- model could be more readily accepted by industry.
- Sustainability: Review national and international curricula in e-learning in industry and create courses, formal and informal, to meet the current trends in e-learning in industry. Specifically the review should focus on flexibly-delivered courses that would address the following focus areas:
- Defining the e-learning training requirement(s),
- Designing the e-learning training event(s),
- Developing the e-learning resource(s),
- Delivering the e-learning event(s),
- Determining the success of the e-learning event(s).
- Thompson, L. & Lamshed, R. (2008). E-learning within the building and construction and allied trades. Canberra,: Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
- Cooper, C. (2007). Work-based learner ICT and e-learning survey: Final report Association of Learning Providers and the Learning and Skills Council.
- I & J Management Services. (2006). 2006 E-learning Benchmarking Project E-learning in the traditional trades. Canberra: Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
- Statistics New Zealand. (2007a). Information and communication technology in New Zealand: 2006. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand.
- Rivera, R. & Paradise, A. (2006). ASTD State of the Industry Report. American Society for Training & Development. Association for Talent Development (ATD) website
- Australian Flexible Learning Framework. (n.d.). National VET e-Learning Strategy
- 7 Skillsoft. (2005). What Return on Investment does e-Learning Provide? White Paper. Skillsoft.
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