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eLearning a better chalkboard: online learning has come a long way in recent years, and as an established part of most corporations' training infrastructures, it's poised for greater importance in the future.

Increased productivity is due to extraordinary advancements in technology. The development of computer hardware and software and digital telecommunications equipment--and their acceptance in the workplace--have undeniably revolutionized the way people work. Leveraging these powerful tools, today's workers produce more and produce a higher quality than was possible by their predecessors.

An especially beneficial use of technology has come in the areas of education and training, with eLearning being the enabler. ELearning combines improved computer capabilities (multimedia, browsers, databases, etc.), improved telecommunications infrastructures (networks, the Internet) and improved pedagogical techniques (instructional design) to improve training offerings cost-effectively.

ELearning offers numerous benefits that enable organizations to better accomplish their objectives. Here are some examples:

* A large professional services firm with a tradition of making enormous education investments in its highly-trained staff is using eLearning to provide continuing education in a new way, eliminating much of the need for travel to training events. The result: increased revenue and decreased costs, while maintaining the same high level of training.

* Professional trade associations are meeting their members' needs for rapid understanding and assessment of complex topical issues by delivering live webcasts. Now, critical information is delivered in an engaging, interactive format, more quickly, to a larger audience and at less cost.

* Corporations are capturing and better distributing presentations from onetime events that were previously available only to those who were able to attend the original live event. The result is improved communication throughout organizations with less distortion of information, as well as expanded use of quality content.

Variety, Delivery Systems Growing

Increasingly, online learning is becoming an established part of most corporations' training infrastructures. Proprietary and off-the-shelf courses with broad appeal in key areas such as IT training, management courses and soft skills lead the popularity list, followed by new employee orientations and harassment and safety training. Also, discipline-specific technical training is widely available, including online learning for corporate accounting and finance professionals.

For internal finance and accounting professionals (staff under the CFO, Controller and Internal Auditor), a wide variety of eLearning tools are available in: accounting, auditing, tax and financial reporting. These courses run the gamut from university-sponsored degrees and professional certification programs to update programs serving the continuing professional education (CPE) needs of CPAs and others.

For finance professionals in the Treasurer's function, as well as commercial and investment bankers, many university, certification and CPE programs are available covering financial instruments such as: derivatives, credit issues, fixed-income securities and more. These online accounting and finance programs are rapidly becoming a standard offering within the broader portfolio of training offered to their respective audiences.

Best-of-breed, shrink-wrapped eLearning offerings for accounting and finance professionals share many key elements that make them easy-to-use and accessible 24 hours a day with engaging, interactive content that runs in standard Web browsers (IE and Netscape). Courses also leverage multimedia (streaming audio, video and animation), provide users with opportunities to interact with the courseware (quizzes and tests, activities and instructors) and provide a dynamic learning interface that offers users with different learning styles/ alternative modes, such as text-based presentations instead of multimedia.

Another characteristic of leading courseware offerings is their potential for integration with Learning Management Systems (LMS), which provide learners and corporations with enrollment, tracking and reporting functions. Some courseware providers also offer an LMS; others rely on integrating with a third-party LMS; still others can go either way. In all cases, the courseware should be AICC and/or SCORM compliant (e-learning integration standards that enable courseware and LMSs developed by different vendors to work together).

Evaluating the Products and Benefits

Several criteria should be considered when evaluating off-the-shelf courseware. These include:

* Who hosts the courseware, the vendor or the corporation--behind its firewall?

* How well does it align with the corporation's business and learning objectives?

* Does the vendor's pricing model work with the corporation's business model?

* What about the availability of course updates?

* Is the vendor's company stable and solvent?

When evaluating courseware offerings, use common sense. Try before you buy, and get referrals by speaking to others who are using the services.

There are many benefits to blending eLearning into a corporation's learning portfolio, which explains why the eLearning industry is expected to grow at an estimated rate of 10 percent in 2003. Some benefits are general for all eLearning audiences, while others are more specific to finance and accounting professionals.

Cost is a prime factor for implementing eLearning. Due to the economies of scale, well-designed eLearning is usually as effective as classroom training and much less expensive for addressing the training needs of a large audience (hundreds and thousands of people). Course fees are lower, travel-related costs are eliminated and the opportunity costs are reduced when people organize their learning to avoid leaving the office or missing client contact time. A major cost savings accrues for those on "billable hours" or other work time that is saved by taking courses outside of normal work hours.

Another eLearning benefit is its flexibility. With productivity continuing to increase, it becomes more and more difficult for employees to leave their jobs for training, and ever more expensive to displace other business activities with training. ELearning enables people to learn anytime and anywhere. It also provides a platform for just-in-time learning--the ability to select a course or learning objective from a large catalog when it is required to meet a specific learning need. Classroom training cannot be scheduled on an as-needed basis as online learning can.

While the major downside to replacing a classroom event with eLearning is the loss of networking opportunities, today's Web-based eLearning provides networking power. Although distance learning is neither new nor unique for eLearning, what is new is the connectivity that eLearning makes possible due to the emergence of telecommunications networking.

The benefits of networking via the Internet are vast: ease of courseware distribution (in contrast, CD-ROMS, paper-based correspondence courses, videos, etc. are awkward to manage in group deployments); centralized and managed group enrollment; and realtime tracking and reporting.

Administrators responsible for stand-alone group learning deployment, such as CD-ROMS, found keeping track of the course material and learning results could be a nightmare. With eLearning, administrators can easily manage the distribution of materials, track the usage and communicate with users via email to make sure their coursework is completed on time. Indeed, of all the benefits, networking capabilities alone would eventually cause the superiority of eLearning to displace any other distributed learning media lacking this capability.

The Future of eLearning

As eLearning and the infrastructure to support it grow, we will see many new areas appear. Mobile learning is one of them. As handheld devices and wireless networks become ubiquitous over the next decade, eLearning will be weaned from desktop and portable computers and put onto cell phones and Palm Pilots.

Collaborative learning and interaction among users is another component that will be more successfully blended into learning solutions, and will play a larger part in eLearning's progress. An additional development will be a move away from courses that seem like education, towards courseware that functions like a game. Training often sounds boring; as instructional designers continue to make online education fun, user acceptance will grow--as will ROI.

Simulation, another emerging area, is a unique aspect of digital media that print materials can't handle effectively. It is already used extensively within the military, medicine, aviation, macroeconomics and other fields where the consequences of mistakes are enormous. Finally, personalized learning that assess an individual's present level and assigns a specific learning path that enables individuals to develop their own competency will become the norm.

eLearning Resources

ACCOUNTING

Bisk Education > www.bisk.com

CPA2Biz > www.cpa2biz.com

eMind > www.emind.com

John Wiley & Sons > www.wiley.com

MicroMash > www.micromash.com

SmartProsLtd. > www.smartpros.com

FINANCE

FTKnowledge > www.ftknowledge.com

Globecon > www.globecon.com

Intuition > www.intuitionweb.com

Wide Learning > www.widelearning.com

Zoologic > www.zoologic.com

IT TRAINING

Element K > www.elementk.com

NETg > www netg.com

KnowledgeNet > www.knowledge

net.com

MindLeaders > www.mindleaders.com

SkillSoft > www.skillsoft.com

ThinQ > www.thing.com

SOFT SKILLS

SkillSoft > www.skillsoft.com

KnowledgePlanet > www.knowledgeplanet.com

William K. Grollman, Ph.D., CPA, is Founder and President, and Dane Cannon is Senior Account Executive, both with SmartPros, the Hawthorne, N.Y., developer of multi-media learning products for finance, accounting and other professionals. SmartPros is the producer of Financial Management Network (FMN), and has co-partnered with FEI since 1987
COPYRIGHT 2003 Financial Executives International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:eLearning
Author:Cannon, Dane
Publication:Financial Executive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Words:1398
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