Leveraging technology for learning Featured

6:01am EDT June 30, 2006
The rapid pace of change today, thanks to technology, has us all taking advantage of new and faster ways to communicate, learn, and do business on a global basis. Young people beginning their careers have grown up with computers, wireless devices, iPODs and other forms of technology, and assume that they’ll have access to such technology in the workplace.

Rhonda Anderson, Dean and COO of the University College division of Northwood University, cites one of her favorite quotes by David D. Brown: “When strawberries are inexpensive and available, the creative chef delights with strawberry-based recipes. Likewise, this is the era of technology, increasingly inexpensive and available; technology is in season. Our students/employees expect us to use it.”

Smart Business asked Anderson how corporations can take advantage of today’s technology to facilitate communication among employees and enhance their opportunities for ongoing education.

How can Web-based technology systems improve the workplace?
In the past, we spent a lot more time together face-to-face. Today, we have more employees working from home, traveling globally, and located at satellite locations. Web-based technology can help us keep these people more productive. E-mail is often ineffective and conference calls are difficult to coordinate. Web-based technology offers alternatives such as thread-based discussions, which employees and managers can partake in at their convenience.

Web-based technology also makes training and education much more available to the masses. Individuals — or groups of people who might otherwise be detained together on business or projects — can access the system according to their own schedules, rather than have to be at a certain place on a certain day and time for a class.

What is the first step to setting up a technology-based communication and learning program?
The first step is to develop a technology strategy. This cannot be delegated. A common mistake companies make is to delegate this function to the IT department. While IT is primarily responsible for the implementation, critical decisions regarding a technology strategy must be made by top management with input from all stakeholders. Technology choices have the potential to change the way a company does business. That is why it is vital that management recognize they are creating a technology strategy, not purchasing software or hardware.

How can a company determine what types of benefits it stands to achieve?
Before making any decisions regarding new technologies for the company, management needs to understand what the technology will do for the company, its employees, and customers. How will the technology help the organization do things better or more efficiently? What benchmarks will be used? If implementing a new system isn’t going to save or make the company money, or create efficiencies, why proceed? Any changes you implement into your organization must affect change. Merely ‘adding value’ is not good enough.

Benchmarks are different for each company. If a company decides to implement a technology-based learning management system, how will they measure its success? Examples might be by analyzing employee retention, company growth, customer satisfaction, or the quality of products manufactured. In today’s competitive global environment, companies are implementing learning management systems so they can support all of their employees, no matter where they are.

How can management support its initiatives?
By involving all stakeholders in creating a system that supports a learning culture. Leaders recognize that technology is critical to survival in almost any industry today. Top management may not be responsible for implementing the system and day to day details, but they need to understand, communicate, and be committed to the process long-term.

It’s important to roll out any new technology program in phases so everyone learns together. For example: first to a core group of people who are heavily invested in the initiative; then to internal employees; and finally, to external customers. Before you can roll it out externally, you need all your internal people to understand, speak to, and support the program. Not everybody in the company will be ready.

Can Web-based learning really change the way organizations train their people?
Certainly. It doesn’t have to replace on-site and classroom training, but it can definitely complement those initiatives.

Overall, a Web-based learning system can assist you in developing more competent and proficient employees, locally and globally, as long as you respect it and use it knowing its strengths and weaknesses.

The more established technology becomes in the lives of people, the more comfortable they are using technology for learning and communicating. To satisfy their group-belonging needs, many employees are joining Web-based learning groups, participating in threaded discussions, keeping blogs, etc. Technology will never completely replace human interaction, nor should it, but it is certainly enabling us to do things much differently than we have in the past.

RHONDA ANDERSON is dean and COO of the University College division of Northwood University. Reach her at (989) 837-4455 or rca@northwood.edu.