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How To Make Your E-Learning Click! (The Essential Questions and Where to Find the Answers!) is a non-technical, visionary and practical look at e-Learning that teaches the managers and educators how to bring greater success to their e-programs immediately independent of their experience, budget or institution.

Publication is expected in 2005.   Here's an excerpt.

Chapter 2  Who Cares?

When approached by clients to help them analyze their e-courses, the first question I ask is: ‘Who cares?'

Eyes dart around the room. Isn't it obvious? Of course, the assembled managers ‘care' about their investments. What could be more important?

What I really mean by asking: ‘Who cares?' is more specifically:  'Who thinks this e-course is extremely valuable?'

WHO THINKS THIS COURSE IS EXTREMELY VALUABLE?

All too often, the answer I hear is "Well, it is most important to the person who sponsored the course." Is that a problem? You bet it is. Because if the e-training is not primarily of value to the trainees, then the chances of them actually learning and absorbing the material is extremely diminished. And, no, the problem cannot be solved by threats or penalties.

Let me give you an example: A major technology company was introducing the latest version of a strategically important product. Since time was short (as it always is with product introductions) management needed to bring the worldwide sales force up-to-date quickly, consistently and simultaneously. Implementation fell to a senior manager with some in-person training expertise.

Focusing on the budget, he threw together a very 'affordable' solution. He appropriated volumes of ‘free' technical information from product engineering and automated all of it into a text intense e-learning program. You know the kind. Thousands and thousands of text based screens filled with teeny, tiny type concluded by a long, tedious multiple choice test. Given its design, this particular e-course took about sixteen dedicated hours to complete. For each sales person, that translated into a two full days out of touch and out of the field.

Realizing that the course may be a trifle long, too technical and that there might be some resistance to the final exam, this manager knew that something would have to be done to enforce completion. What did he do? He made submission of the final exam mandatory. Each student's results were submitted electronically to management and test scores were included in each employee's profile.

Well, the sales product e-training was implemented worldwide, over a one week period with a budget investment of just a few thousand dollars (Just a few dollars per person! What a bargain!) Close to one hundred percent of the sales force submitted final exams electronically. And, of course, our senior manager was very proud of achieving nearly 100% compliance. End of story?

No. That's not the end of the story. The new version of the product was introduced and time goes by. Months later, there were tremendous problems with sales of the new version. In fact, worldwide research showed disturbing results. Sales of the new version were simply not happening. In fact, among the field sales force, knowledge about the upgrade was close to non-existent. How could that be? They were all trained via that e-learning course, right? And everyone passed the final, right? It was a mystery I was asked to help solve.

So I interviewed a representative sample of the trainees, who, you may remember, were all sales people. They were very candid with me. What I discovered was that there were two reasons their e-training was not effective.

First, the technical product information supplied by engineering was of little or no value to the audience. Sure, it may have been ‘free' but it was not even remotely close to what they needed to do their jobs.

What they needed for an effective product introduction was information such as the added value of the product to their customers, a solid description of the marketing strategy and some insight into the market vision such as a high level product overview and competitive information. If they had been offered more customer focused information, they gladly would have reviewed that. Information such as a description of target markets, prospective customers and alternative products would also have been welcome.

But engineering design specs? These sales people did not need technical information (at least not in that detail and volume) to open doors and create new customers. In fact, in the course of the entire sales cycle, they would never have needed such technically intense data. They had plenty of field resources they could rely upon to supply the bits and bytes once an opportunity was identified.

The second reason for failure of this e-course was that the sales people saw virtually no value in taking two ‘revenue generating' days out of the field to read a bunch of product specifications. Unlike other professions where the salaried trainees are actually paid to sit in front of the monitor, every minute out of the field had real costs in time, money and momentum to each sales account manager.

Put yourself in the place of a sales rep. Imagine you are sitting in your office taking an e-course. Every 15 minutes someone comes in, opens your wallet and pulls out a $20 bill. That distance course would have to be pretty darn good for you to sit there very long. This is what it was like to be one of those sales reps trying to click through e-training event of no value. They didn't sit very long, either.

Nobody cared and consequently, nobody learned

With a little more digging during my interviews, I discovered another interesting detail. I bet you have already guessed it. What do you think happens when you take a group of very busy adults, deliver a course that has little value to them and costs them money every minute they sit there and make the final exam mandatory?

Yup. They cheated. I found out that very few of the trainees had actually taken the e-course. The first few reps, who endured what they considered to be irrelevant text-based torture, did a philanthropic service for their colleagues. They recorded their answers to the final exam and then shared them with their peers, electronically (well, it was a technology company and they were on their computers!). These ‘kind' individuals saved everyone time and money and become heroes in the process. Sure, the entire organization submitted their final answers and ‘compliance' was nearly 100%. But, nobody cared and consequently, nobody learned. 100% compliance. 0% learning.

So what was the real cost of the bargain e-course? Was just a few thousand budget dollars wasted. Not by a long shot.

Consider the opportunity costs. First, a critical product missed a unique and powerful window of opportunity. As it turned out, an invaluable opportunity for market visibility, press momentum and customer mind share that could never be regained.

Additionally, at least a two full quarters of sales were lost resulting in literally millions of dollars in revenue was missing from the bottom line worldwide. And the future sales which should have been leveraged from this product would also be forfeited. That company is still feeling the repercussions from the bottom line from this single e-training mistake.

In reality, the e-course that no one cared about did not cost just a few dollars trainee but millions of dollars in the short term and innumerable profit and market share damage in the long term.

 
     
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