Enterprises review their e-learning strategies

Some of Canada’s biggest enterprises say online training improves employee access to valuable information — as long as companies make sure to mix in some humanity with the technology.

Getting maximum value out of e-learning initiatives was the focus of The Conference Board of Canada‘s 2003 Learning & Development conference. The two-day event held Tuesday and Wednesday at Toronto’s Old Mill Inn brought together members of private and public sector organizations who shared stories of challenges and benefits their internal online training projects.

Rolling out a Web-based learning program for over 60,000 employees in five time zones and two languages was a daunting task facing Hudson’s Bay Company. The corporation, explained HBC organizational management senior manager Jim Campbell, also includes Zellers and Home Outfitters stores. Each chain carries a large number of different items, making product knowledge information critically important for its sales associates.

In the 1990s, HBC had introduced a fairly robust computer-based training (CBT) system, but it was mainframe-based, Campbell said. The system was used until 2001, when it became clear that while most of the content stored on it was still very much relevant to the stores’ operation; the delivery mode was simply outdated.

“”I always just had a great deal of fun watching any of the newer hires sitting down . . . and they’re sitting with a mouse and they’re trying to mouse their way through a mainframe program,”” he laughs. “”I’d say, ‘No, no you have to press F7 or F3 to stop.’ And it was great to watch, because they’d look at me like they’re thinking: ‘What the hell is F7?'””

HBC employees were also consistently asking for access to the CBT material from home, Campbell said. The stores did not have a large number of PCs making access to training inconvenient. Taking the material onto the Web became an obvious choice.

After a vendor search process and some difficulty figuring out how to price a solution that would be accessed numerous times by anywhere from 60,000 to 70,000 users, a platform was developed. The company managed to salvage about 40 of its mainframe programs and with the addition of about a 140 more has a quite robust training material database, accessible from any computer, said Campbell.

E-learning is not the be-all and end-all solution, however, Campbell added. His preferred approach is blended learning, where technology-assisted learning is integrated into more traditional training methods.

TD Bank Financial Group turned to blended learning during its 1999 merger with Canada Trust. The two financial companies had CBT resources in place for staff, but while Canada Trust largely relied on CD-ROM based programs, TD was u

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