Electronic-learning, which is increasingly used as a productivity tool by small to medium-size businesses (SMBs), has become a $4 billion industry growing at 10-15 percent yearly, reported the Information Technology Solution Providers Alliance (ITSPA), a national, non-profit group that helps SMBs understand how technology and local technology providers can help them succeed
ITSPA writes – “The implications of the e-learning phenomenon are enormous for SMBs, particularly as they look for ways to go head-to-head with large corporations,” said ITSPA President Russell Morgan. “Driving the growth of e-learning are SMB decision makers who understand that online employee education offers many advantages that traditional training simply can’t match.
“In healthcare, for instance, smaller clinics and hospitals are using e-learning systems to help doctors, nurses, technicians and administrators learn about new medical advances, earn healthcare certifications, and sharpen their skills without leaving the office.”
Explosion In E-Learning Content, Delivery Options
Often described as “distance learning” or “the virtual classroom,” e-learning involves a variety of technologies such as e-mails, Web-sites, CD-ROMs, DVDs, videoconferencing and “blogs” that supplement online classes.
“Changing times call for innovative measures among SMB decision makers, especially in areas such as employee training and education. E-learning is ideal for delivering diverse content to a widely-dispersed, mobile employee group,” said Eric Brennan, Director HP SMB Solutions Marketing. “It reduces textbooks and paperwork, allows employees to work at their own pace, and gives them freedom to select what they need to learn.
“As important for SMBs, e-learning eliminates costs associated with traditional training, which usually is conducted at off-site seminars that involve costly travel and lodging, as well as additional time away from the job,” said Brennan. “All employees need for e-learning is a PC or desktop computer and access to the Web and electronic courseware specially designed by their companies or purchased from content providers.”
As e-learning has evolved, its appearance looks less like traditional study based on classes and textbooks and more like games and simulations. Many Web sites offer inexpensive business courses that are quickly downloadable on topics ranging from managing staff to researching the market. For example, the Small Business Administration offers training in marketing, financing, taxes, business plan writing, and dozens of other courses.
Basic Technologies Required
Healthcare SMBs have displayed leadership in adapting various technologies for e-learning applications. For instance, many clinics, small hospitals and even medical practitioners’ offices use fairly basic e-learning technologies such as computers and personal digital assistants, wireless local area networks set up for mobility, broadband access such as digital subscriber loop or cable, network security to ensure privacy, and computer-based videoconferencing for live interactions.
“E-learning is most effective for all SMB employees, whether in healthcare, accounting or many other sectors, if the instructional approach and materials come to life through streaming video and audio, as well as other exciting presentation techniques,” added ITSPA President Morgan. “To develop these materials and content, many SMBs are using mobile computing devices that incorporate the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 processor and media-rich applications such as Macromedia Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash software.
“SMBs are also using ‘rich,’ as opposed to ‘thin,’ client servers. With thin clients, they can’t store applications or process information offline, making them vulnerable to server crashes or network problems,” Morgan added. “Rich clients and an open, standards-based architecture avoid these problems and give SMBs the ability to do local processing.”
E-Learning Tips From The Experts
SMBs that are considering e-learning capabilities should first identify their business needs and employees’ training requirements, advised ITSPA’s Technology Committee, which is made up of IT directors from the nation’s most successful solution providers. The committee recommended the following:
— Make e-learning good for everyone. When designing your e-learning program, make sure it meets the needs of all employees whether young, old, computer challenged or technologically sophisticated.
— Use a Microsoft Windows interface. It’s best to use a standard Web browser that employees don’t have to master when they start their online courses.
— Buy the best technology available. If you’re using a Microsoft Windows-based desktop environment, consider buying fast Intel Pentium 4 processor-based PCs. Since your PCs will be used primarily for e-learning and Internet access, they need plenty of horsepower to decompress streaming video and audio, run detailed simulations and animations and store large files.
— Protect your e-learning program. Keep out viruses, worms and hackers by buying the best protection such as Symantec’s Norton Ghost 2000 Personal Edition for disk recovery and Symantec Norton Internet Security 2004 for virus protection. With the high performance of the Intel Pentium 4 processor, functions such as virus protection can run in the background, enhancing the security of the environment without detracting from the employees’ enjoyment of their e-learning experience.
— “Dress up” the learning experience using technology. E-learning is most effective when you make the lesson come to life, such as through streaming video/audio and game-like programs with clever graphics. Intel Pentium 4 processors boost the performance of many multimedia applications, and newer models feature “hyper-threading” technology, which enables a single processor to act as two virtual processors and execute tasks simultaneously.
— Set up your own company blog. Blogs, or chronologically arranged Web sites, can be used to supplement online classes. Commercially-available blog software allows you to add case histories, updates, links, reading lists, class outlines and other materials designed to help employees learn and enjoy.
— Promote e-learning among your employees. It’s important to create a company culture that values and promotes e-learning, and you can do this by building the program into performance goals and requirements, continuing education and orientation activities. Build acceptance of e-learning through discussions at company staff meetings, email and bulletin board notices, and newsletters.
— Get e-learning help from a solution provider. Although there are perhaps 100,000 IT solution providers nationwide, not all are knowledgeable or experienced in e-learning. Before hiring a solution provider, ask to have documented the company’s e-learning expertise with clients. Go to www.itspa.net for help in locating a solution provider in your community.
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