Training is still in, but weeklong seminars off site are mostly out. Many businesses simply can’t afford that kind of training anymore. “The days of sending 50 top salespeople to a sales training class for a week are becoming few and far between,” says Peter Vloyanetes, president of Compass Communications in Long Branch.

E-learning is one alternative that businesses are pursuing, and if handled correctly, E-learning can save companies tens of thousands of dollars. But it can waste money. Maybe because E-learning is perceived as the “in” method in today’s technologically driven society, companies may jump in before they have assessed the need.

Vloyanetes, who advises Fortune 1000 companies on E-learning solutions for organizational and individual performance improvement, is one of the facilitators at a workshop on “Implementing E-learning in Your Organization” on Thursday, March 9. The 8:30 a.m. event is sponsored by the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (NNJ-ASTD) and takes place at Micro Strategies, 104 Broadway, Denville. Cost: $195 for nonmembers. To register or for more information, go to www.njastd.org or contact Theresa Smith at 201-568-0019 or tsmith@brightmoment.com.

E-learning is the delivery of information, learning, or training via technology, usually via the Internet. The premise for its effectiveness has its roots in adult learning theory. “Adults like to manage their own learning,” says Vloyanetes, “and they are not well adapted to sitting in a classroom and listening to someone lecture.” Because most E-learning is now on the Internet, users can be networked and management can track teachers and learners, costs, and test scores online.

E-learning’s biggest advantage over conference-based learning is its flexibility. It can take place anywhere, so it is not necessary to take a large number of people away from their jobs for an extended period. E-learning also saves on travel and facilities and keeps productivity at a high level. As Vloyanetes points out, “if those 50 sales people can do the training on their own in the next month and at the end of the month, they are fully trained, then you are keeping them updated but are not losing productivity.”

E-learning can also reduce learning time. Vloyanetes consulted with an entertainment company that had to train 800 managers on the handling of consumer data, including issues of how to maintain confidentiality and purge obsolete data. This training was critical from a management perspective, because it touched on corporate integrity and governance. When Vloyanetes arrived, the company already had begun training: instructors met with groups of five to fifteen employees and spent three-to-four hours walking them through the regulations.

The head of compliance asked Vloyanetes’s company to develop an E-learning solution. Vloyanetes and his colleagues were able to create a 40-minute course, put it on a server, and deliver it in one month. “We were able to compress the text-based course into pictures, symbols, icons, and graphics,” he says. Users had to get 90 percent correct on the final test. The result? “We came up with a $1 million savings in delivery, facility, time, travel, and lost opportunity, and it cost only $50,000 to develop and deliver the course.”

E-learning comes in three formats:

Synchronous delivery, which is live and requires the learner to get the training at a specific time and place. The advantages are that participants can ask questions, do exercises, and have group discussions, but, says Vloyanetes, “they are locked into traveling with the pack.”

Asynchronous delivery, which is on demand and comprises training that is instructor-led, but has been “archived” or “saved” so that learners can listen when and where it is convenient for them. “If the program is well designed,” says Vloyanetes, “users can go back and review parts of the lecture of the most interest.”

Asynchronous, self-paced. “In my mind this is the true beauty of E-learning, because people can take it when and how they want to take it,” says Vloyanetes. The E-learning is easy to use and can be broken up into labeled learning segments.

Organizations must follow a careful process in order to deliver E-learning successfully.

Don’t put the cart before the horse. It’s an old adage, but very true in this case. Companies often decide they need to do E-learning, but don’t think it through before they purchase a tool. “They buy the technology and try to back-fit the goals,” says Vloyanetes. “They wind up trying to adapt the technology by adding more technology.”

Develop an E-learning plan. It should cover the E-learning from the beginning of the process to the roll-out of the course.

Start by specifying the goals. “Make sure you present a logical business case of why you are going to use E-learning,” says Vloyanetes. What are you trying to accomplish? What kinds of performance improvement do you expect? What will the content look like and feel like? Are you trying to teach a specific skill or behavior? What return on investment are you looking for?

“You may be able to accomplish your goals in a class and not need technology,” says Vloyanetes. For example, because E-learning is very expensive to produce, it probably does not make sense to train small groups, where a classroom with an expert in instructional design or even a text-based three-ring binder may be all that is necessary.

Decide whether E-learning or more traditional modes make sense. First ask: How important is the skill? If liability or profitability is involved, E-learning may be a worthwhile investment. Suppose that 3,000 people in a pharmaceutical company need to learn about FDA criteria for the use of electronic records and signatures during drug development.

If a pharmaceutical fails to keep detailed records from the start of the process through submission, it risks having the drug rejected. “This is a ‘mission critical’ piece of training,” says Vloyanetes, “with billions of dollars in the balance.” In this case, developing an E-learning course is a bargain, especially if the people who need the training are in Europe and all over North America and need to be trained in the next 60 days.

Consider a blended approach. In some situations, it is a good idea to combine classroom instruction with E-learning and mentoring. Vloyanetes did a project for Century 21 Real Estate where E-learning on basic skill building, such as getting and preparing for listings, was delivered via the Internet. The instruction included homework. Classroom follow-up was virtual, with small groups discussing the content and how it applied to their own selling situations.

Ensure buy-in of top management. Both to protect yourself and to ensure support for the training effort, make sure you have top management’s buy-in. “Technology is a sore thumb,” says Vloyanetes. “If it doesn’t work, it screams out to everybody.”

Promote the E-learning properly and manage expectations. “Within the E-learning plan should be a communications plan,” says Vloyanetes. From top management down to the employees, the change management issue must be addressed, and the learners must understand what’s in it for them — flexible time for the training and segments that can be reviewed as necessary before moving on or taking the test.

Test the content with a subject matter expert. Run a usability test with a small group from the target audience. Check on any navigation problems and make sure the content makes sense to the learners. If there are any problems, revise the test until it becomes completely user friendly.

Vloyanetes grew up in West Long Branch. He attended Monmouth University, graduated from Stockton State College in environmental science with a specialty in wildlife biology in 1975, and recently finished an online master’s certification in education with a specialty in E-learning from Cappella University.

In the early 1980s he worked for a video production company. “I liked how you could apply video in a business environment to communicate and train,” he says. Then he started his own company in New York City, American Business Images, which developed training and business communication for companies like Lancome Cosmetics, L’Oreal, and Tiffany. He sold that business and started the Computer Learning Institute in the early 1990s. That company did classroom training on Microsoft applications for businesses as well as for Fort Monmouth.

Then he got interested in E-learning, thinking “there must be a better way to deliver learning.” In the mid-to late 1990s, he worked for TvPath, which delivered video programming via the Internet, and he developed an E-learning practice for them. When TvPath was sold a year and a half ago, he went back on his own with Compass Communications (compass-communications.net). He is also the chairperson for the E-learning Special Interest Group of NNJ-ASTD.

“In today’s business world there is a tremendous amount of information that must get out to employees and a constant need to update skills on new and complicated products and processes,” says Vloyanetes.

“People approach E-learning as a technology solution,” observes Vloyanetes, “but it’s a people solution.”

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