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Martin Hill

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The future’s bright – the future’s online…

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Online learning returns as training providers and HR acknowledge past limitations writes Dell Education Services’ Martin Hill.
 
 
 
 
In the late 90s the rise of out-of-classroom, electronically-supported learning and teaching, commonly known as elearning was seen as the future of training. For IT managers stuck with ineffective, out-of-date IT infrastructure, it was a solution to their problems. They would finally be able to install that desperately needed system update, safe in the knowledge they had a low cost and effective way of training their staff to use it. This was a solution that would please their finance manager whilst reducing the pressure on their help desk come the big switch over.
 
Whilst the benefits of a cheap, flexible training solution were obvious, the revolution failed to materialise. Businesses were unconvinced by static, off-the-shelf training courses which seemed little more than online versions of the textbooks they were supposed to replace. IT managers were back where they started.
"For IT managers, the main appeal of e- or remote access-learning is the same today as it was in the beginning – cost."
 
But in recent years there has been a reversal of fortunes. Estimates put the percentage of training delivered in person at just 62% in 2009, and this is expected to fall to around 50% for 2010. As classroom–based teaching declines, online learning is making a comeback and nowhere is this more evident than ever in IT. According to a keynote market report on IT training, sales for elearning products as a proportion of the total UK IT training market rose from an estimated 20.4% in 2005, to 32% in 2009. In this article we will look at the reasons behind elearning’s second coming. What have IT trainers learnt from failings in the past and what in the IT world has changed to drive companies back?
 
For IT managers, the main appeal of e- or remote access-learning is the same today as it was in the beginning – cost. IT budgets have been hit particularly hard by the recession and many departments lack the resources to support employees adapt to new technology in the workplace. Unfortunately for businesses, this period of belt tightening has come at a time when new technology is increasingly providing opportunity to empower the workforce to innovate and drive business growth. In a difficult situation, IT managers are increasingly looking for outside help from training providers. And with money at a premium, companies are opting for the more affordable on demand, remote-learning programmes to support their system upgrades.
 
This is especially true for larger international corporations. We recently had a request from a customer for training on the same product for staff in 90 different countries. For what is an increasingly common request among large multinationals, classroom teaching would prove difficult logistically and a waste of time and resource. Through cloud-hosted, remote access learning we offered them a training programme for thousands of end users that was cost effective, consistent in its content, flexible in terms of delivery and easily translated into any language they require.
 
A key failing of IT elearning first time round was the lack of appreciation for the different needs of staff within a business. The latest OS software will impact the day to day work of every member of staff but, crucially, not all in the same way. IT training providers have had to find ways of tailoring support for different staff at various levels in the managerial ladder, based on what they use and how they use it. The flexibility of on-demand learning lends itself to this multi-level approach as the same content can be easily modified and the style of delivery adjusted in response to the specific needs of each user.
 
"The flexibility of on-demand learning lends itself to this multi-level approach as the same content can be easily modified and the style of delivery adjusted in response to the specific needs of each user."
Whilst this approach is a major plus for large corporations and explains their growing enthusiasm for online learning, it is by no means the only way it has evolved to better fit in with needs of modern business. Another lesson to be learnt from elearning first time around was its inability to embrace the potential of the online experience. With better broadband connections and an increasingly internet-savvy workforce, training providers have brought technology-driven learning up to date.
 
During the last decade IT training found itself at a crossroads where it could either retreat back to the classroom or embrace new technologies and the possibilities of elearning. Boosted by the growing needs of large multinationals for IT migrations and the replacement of the classic office-based work style with a more modern, mobile, on-the-go approach, learning technology appears to be finally realising its potential within IT. Its interactive, accessible and intuitive content is increasingly a key strategic component of any IT decision, allowing companies to embrace and make full use of their latest piece of technology and driving a more educated approach to IT adoption in the workplace.
 
 
 
 
Martin Hill is EMEA Sales Director for Dell Education Services