Virtual Classroom

Published Date
01 - Dec - 2004
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2004
 
Virtual Classroom

How does a trainee in the US learn from a trainer in India? As an answer to this question, corporates are turning to e-learning in a big way


Ignorance in the e-age is tantamount to commercial suicide. To know is thus essential, but when knowledge shifts and evolves at the speed of the Internet, keeping pace becomes the order of the day. Thankfully, technology once again submits both the challenge and a solution to the problem in the form of e-learning.

Quite simply, e-learning is the use of electronic applications and processes to learn. Applications and processes include Web-based learning, computer-based learning, virtual classrooms, and digital collaboration. Content is delivered via the Internet, intranet/extranet, audio or video tape, satellite TV and CD-ROM.

Most tech-savvy organisations today use e-learning as a cost-effective method of delivering knowledge. However, finding the best e-learning solution to fit their scale and budget is still a challenge that many business divisions face. Just how do you best utilise this tool for your company?

What is E-learning?

Companies implement e-learning mainly due to the convenience involved. Business is no longer restricted to geographical boundaries. It thus becomes essential that vital information be communicated across locations.

E-learning removes geography from the picture. An individual working on a project in the US may need help from his team in India. Rather than sending an e-mail and waiting for a reply, he can use e-learning to communicate directly with his colleagues across continents. This helps employees on different time-zones to remain updated.

E-learning is not a replacement killer for traditional classroom-teaching; it is an enhancer. According to a study released in 2002 by Thomson Learning, e-learning—when used in a blended curriculum that also includes traditional classroom learning—is far more effective at driving employee productivity than classroom training alone.

Everybody agrees on the benefits of e-learning, but cost-effectiveness is sometimes questionable.  However, immediate tangible benefits that can be attributed to e-learning are process improvements, increased customer satisfaction, increase in sales and revenues and improved communications—as well as a range of personal skill development in management, leadership, coaching and mentoring. Knowledge gained through e-learning may be extended to a manager, a peer or a subordinate.

Case Study: What An E-learning Tool Comprises
Elicitus is an e-learning tool developed by Harbinger Knowledge Products with deployments in eight countries. It is a desktop authoring tool for the subject matter expert and the trainer. It does not require any programming knowledge to develop e-Learning courses. It provides readymade components such as learning hierarchy (learning units, lessons and topics), course navigation, global course settings, assessments and glossary.

Topics are developed using a library of 200 inbuilt authoring templates, which have the facility to embed text, pictures, animations and voiceovers. To this framework one can add assessment using the built-in assessment engine. It supports six different question types such as multiple choice, true / false and graphic choice. Assessments can be integrated as a lesson under a learning unit, or as a quick exercise under a topic.

Elicitus also provides a built-in glossary engine which helps the author to support the course with many reference text and complementary learning material. It offers a comprehensive import facility that helps multiple authors to author different parts of a course. Once authored, all these parts can be imported in one single course. This helps is increasing productivity and reduces authoring time.


The Benefits

A business embracing e-learning sees a lot of difference in the expenditure pattern. It helps eliminate travel costs, and decreases time away from the office for both students and trainers. 

E-learning helps provide targeted, efficient, just-in-time learning to employees at any time and at any location in the form of a Web-based desktop solution. Employees around the globe can collaborate online and discuss business needs and processes in real time.

Profiting From E-learning

Mahindra British Telecom (MBT) uses e-learning extensively. Login2Learn is a product from MBT for managing e-Learning. MBT enables telecom companies protect their investments in legacy systems, enhance capital budgets, reduce operating expenses and helps them build solutions for the multi-services future. For a company with a work-force of 5,000, Login2Learn seemed like the best solution. Note that MBT uses Login2Learn only to impart training on technical skills; training on behavioural skills is still done the traditional way.


Traditional instructor-led learning is fast being taken over by e-learning.
Dr Lalita Deshpande
, Senior Training Manager, MBT

MBT’s Login2Learn removes the hurdles that prevent effective learning. Traditional, classroom-based training has to deal with many constraints including those of space, size of batches, and availability of both students and instructors. These constraints are eliminated when using Login2Learn to deliver Web-based training. It allows learners to actively manage their own training; by providing any time, any place, e-learning.

Login2Learn is an integration of various types of course material in hypertext, plain text files, presentation slides and PDF documents, with or without multimedia. It also has the facility to stream audio and video. A bank of FAQs is created and maintained for helping students. Question banks and question papers are also available for online examinations. Progress of students is tracked by constant monitoring and feedback is automatically evaluated.

Stock broking company Sharekhan, too, uses e-learning tools. Its officials need to be constantly updated about what is happening in the stock market, as customers purchasing shares approach them for assistance. With more than 220 outlets, being in touch is critical to the business. E-learning, therefore, is mainly used in Sharekhan by the research team and equity sales team.
The research team has to constantly study the stock market, analyse trends, etc. With the question, ‘What is happening in the market?’ it is important for the Sharekhan team to be updated with information in order to give its customers a satisfactory answer. “Besides being well informed, we also have to understand the logic behind market, and research helps us in doing that,” says a senior official at Sharekhan.

Sharekhan uses Enterprise Communication Platform (ECP)—an e-learning package developed by Satyam CA. The research team has to communicate its findings across all the Sharekhan outlets in the country. Earlier, an e-mail was the only avenue, which was not very interactive. On the other hand, e-learning, helps make the whole process of information sharing very interactive.

Video conferencing is used to accompany delivery of information. This kind of learning helps both the trainer and the person receiving the information. ECP helps the Sharekhan team to track the attendance automatically once a person logs in (or fails to). “Feedback to the trainer is direct and there is greater control overall. Dissemination of knowledge becomes much easier,” adds the official.
 
What Is In Store?

Traditional classroom teaching may never go out of fashion, but e-learning is fast attracting believers. Vendors need to work with their customers to help them identify, understand, and apply best practices to ensure that their e-learning initiatives are successful. Also, organisations could easily communicate with both its employees and content providers to understand staff needs, and how to best enhance their knowledge.

As Bill Gates once put it, “Power comes not from knowledge kept, but from knowledge shared.’ A good e-learning tool can help your company do just that.

Preethi ChamikuttyPreethi Chamikutty