Champions of e-learning evangelizing the concept within an organization often come across questions about the need, value and investment in the e-learning process. This article highlights and addresses common business concerns expressed by business leaders, line managers and financial executives.
Should these stakeholders even care about e-learning since it’s the training group’s responsibility? First, they should care because it is not just about training people. It is about training, informing and communicating with employees, partners and customers in fast, consistent ways. The tools and methods of e-learning allow the deployment of messages to every employee, partner and customer within hours, regardless of geographic dispersion. They are directly connected to the source, even if it’s not a live event. That alone will really affect your business, culture and goals.
Second, learning will be woven into the fabric of the job that your audience is doing. Like e-mail or voice mail, e-learning that is convenient to use, applicable to the job and, if easily accessed, will have measurable impact on your business goals. The Web itself allows tracking and reporting with relative ease to measure and show that impact.
Can the company save any money doing this? You can save an extraordinary amount of travel-related dollars (and travel time), as well as the costs associated with facilities, instructors and some of the printing costs. We estimate that in the United States, you save $2,400 per week per student if students choose e-learning over the classroom. This only includes travel expenses, facilities and instructor time.
The downside is that savings are only noticeable for the first year. In each subsequent year, those expenses will not be budgeted and thus cannot be “saved.” For this reason, it is important to have baseline data so you can demonstrate “cost avoidance.” It’s a possible source of funding if you choose to document that your company used to spend $8 million annually on travel for training and this year spent only $5 million.
Does e-learning cost more to develop or deliver than classroom training? Overall, it costs dramatically less to deliver e-learning, assuming you are using existing networking capacity or are incrementally adding capacity via either increased bandwidth or edge technology (content delivery networking) that stores high-bandwidth applications at the edge of your network. The latter allows you to optimize bandwidth capacity.
Development cost comparison is not as simple or straightforward. A few years ago, media-based training cost three to five times as much as comparable classroom training. Today, it is closer to 20 percent to 60 percent more for comparable content. However, there are dozens of new tools that make it incredibly cheap to “snare and share” content. For example, a great deal of the training and communication between a product development group and its sales force can be accomplished by self-made videos that answer “the 10 most frequent customer questions” or “the five most interesting applications of this new technology.” Using a video-authoring tool that may costs less than $10,000 per desktop, the expert can create and deploy important content in small, useable chunks (objects) to specific or generic audiences. That system pays for itself in less than one month by eliminating the many phone calls, e-mails and interruptions the expert usually has to contend with during a normal day.
How about syncing audio and slides? Whether it’s a URL on a server (preferred) or a file you ship around or store in a collaboration system folder, there are now authoring tools that sync each slide with the appropriate voice-over. They can be edited separately, individually translated or changed or reused, making this medium really attractive.
E-learning investment should result in enhanced organizational communications, cost-effectiveness and incremental benefits for an organization. In the context of improved productivity, champions of e-learning can demonstrate compelling advantages to financial managers and business leaders to justify e-learning investment. E-learning is not just about training. Keep that in the foreground during the discussions and planning, and your organization will find impactful and creative ways to leverage learning investments.
Tom Kelly is vice president of the Internet Learning Solutions Group at Cisco Systems Inc. Nader Nanjiani is marketing programs manager of the Internet Learning Solutions Group. Contents of this article will also appear in “A Business Case for E-Learning: Justify Your Network Investment” from Cisco Press in 2004. E-mail Tom and Nader at firstname.lastname@example.org.