"Our primary driver in implementing e-learning is to get out of the way of people learning. We wanted to avoid continually churning people through classroom training and make training more readily available," says Zoltak, chief learning officer at Towers Perrin Administrative Solutions, a Philadelphia-based division of New York-based management consultancy Towers Perrin.
It's the just-in-time benefits and the resulting business improvements, not cost savings, that represent the true return on investment in corporate e-learning deployments, says Brandon Hall, CEO of Brandon-hall.com, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based consultancy. What's more, he says, the cost of bringing e-learning systems online initially cancels out operational cost savings.
That's particularly true if the company deploys a learning management system (LMS), which goes beyond basic content delivery to offer course administration, registration, tracking, reporting and skills-gap analysis. LMSs also feature collaboration technology that allows for interactive electronic whiteboards and other interaction between students and instructors over the Web.
"The cost benefits are significant, with around a 50% cost reduction for delivering a course via e-learning vs. instructor-led classroom training," says Hall. "But that percentage doesn't account for the start-up costs, which include implementing an LMS, finding a vendor to deliver content and getting IT to bring everything together."
An LMS should connect to appropriate back-end databases and human resources systems so that training managers and human resources personnel can track course and career progress, says Hall. If the organization intends to extend electronic training to customers, partners and suppliers, the system needs to run through an e-commerce extension and provide for access through outside firewalls. And if the organization is a global enterprise, it will need to replicate databases across the countries in which it does business, he says.
Think Big, Start Small
In Towers Perrin's case, corporate imperatives to support a global enterprise and better validate employee skills demanded the purchase of an LMS, according to Dave Bill, the company's manager of learning technologies. The old system lacked integration between the company's online training interface and back-end database, so all test results had to be entered manually.
Deciding which LMS to purchase came down to standards compliance, to ensure that third-party content would interact with the LMS database. Towers Perrin sought compliance with the emerging
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