E-learning: Teaching them to use it

TORONTO — E-learning wasn’t immediately embraced by Bell Nexxia employees but it has been useful in smoothing over some relationships, according to one executive.

Bell Nexxia, part of the Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) family

of companies, started up in 1999 with employees from both the legacy side and broadband side of the telecommunications business. E-learning helped amalgamate the two teams together, said senior director of enterprise solutions Grant Farmer, who made his comments Wednesday at the Learning and Development Conference hosted by the Conference Board of Canada.

Legacy employees saw their broadband counterparts as “”a bit of a threat,”” said Farmer. But e-learning sessions helped diffuse some cultural differences between the two groups. “”For the legacy business, it really helped to raise their self-esteem,”” he said. “”It (e-learning) was in their hands; they had control over it.””

Increasingly, e-learning is being used as a communications tool within the enterprise, according to IDC Canada Ltd. analyst Julie Kaufman. “”It’s certainly being used . . . to try to harmonize the knowledge base within a company. A lot of companies are looking at e-learning as a tool to educate departments or groups of people on what (other departments) might be doing,”” she said.

Bell Nexxia has successfully implemented a series of e-learning programs throughout its organization, said Farmer. The key is to target content to specific groups of employees within the company and determine what they will and won’t accept in an e-learning session.

There was certainly some resistance in Bell Nexxia’s sales department, for example. “”We heard, ‘Don’t waste my time with anything that doesn’t improve my relationships,’ said Farmer.

It’s not just e-learning that salespeople are sometimes reluctant to accept, said Kaufman. “”Anything that keeps the salesperson away from selling is an issue. Is e-learning part of that? Sure. But then it’s also a matter of the value proposition behind the e-learning solution. If (it’s) dedicated to improving their ability to sell and to increase the dollars going into a particular account, it needs to be positioned that way.””

To overcome a hesitance to use the technology, Bell Nexxia made available a series of different e-learning sessions varying in length and approach. Sales people could take a short 15-minute session to get the basics of selling things like streaming services and then use it as a reference tool. “”That’s one end of the spectrum,”” said Farmer. “”People can sit back and find pieces that they need to reiterate.””

The other end of a spectrum within Bell Nexxia is a longer, more casual approach to disseminating information. One e-learning session is actually hosted by an animated character “”to make it a little bit more exciting, a little bit more interesting,”” said Farmer.

The character, based on a real Bell Nexxia employee, walks a new sales team member through an entire day, dispensing advice and anecdotes in a series of informal locations like a coffee house, a park and the back of a taxi cab. He provides a comprehensive primer on the Canadian telecommunications industry, regulatory issues, the recent erosion of the economy and customer pointers like, “”They want to dial one number from anywhere and get their problems solved.””

A seminar like this would typically only be viewed once by a salesperson at Bell Nexxia. Sessions should be concise and engaging, said Grant. Employees will quickly become disinterested if companies fail to recognize that e-learning can potentially be long-winded and boring.

The company has saved approximately half a million dollars in training costs by using e-learning tools and reduced the time it takes for an employee to reach what Bell Nexxia deems “”competence”” from more than a year to a matter of months, said Grant. Just the same, the company was hesitant at first to make the investment in e-learning. “”The thought of investing lots of money in something that may not get used or may not grow was kind of daunting,”” he said.

Bell Nexxia still uses the pay-as-you-go ASP (application service provider) model that it started with for its e-learning, but is now considering bringing it in-house — albeit gingerly. “”We’re a client services organization, not a content house. It’s a tough call,”” said Grant.

E-learning will never completely replace the written word, he noted. Bell Nexxia prepares short summary sheets for its salespeople, but technology may get involved there too. The company is currently investigating the use of PDAs (personal digital assistants) to allow employees to download pages when on the road.

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