September 30, 2002, 12:00 AM

School Days

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Element K and Thinq are among several vendors that provide web-based learning management systems designed to distribute software course content, track performance and provide access to registration and scheduling information for offline as well as online courses. Others include Click2learn Inc., Docent Inc., IBM Corp. (IBM Mindspan), Intellinex, Saba Inc., Vuepoint Corp., SkillSoft Corp. (includes merged operations of SmartForce), Inc., Pathlore Software Corp., Plateau Systems Ltd., and Radiant Systems. Learning management systems can also be designed with software modules that help employers compare their employees’ performance with industry standards and monitor compliance with government regulations.

In spite of CVS’s success and Cokesbury’s expectations, not all employees are equally suited to e-learning, experts caution. “Individuals who are training in retailers often are not highly computer literate, so intuitiveness and ease of use are key to e-learning products,” cautions Tobin Gillman, vice president of marketing for Docent Inc., which recently implemented an e-training program for the retail accessories side of Harley-Davidson Inc.

Further, retailers can’t make the mistake of assuming that all employees are capable of self study. “A common problems in e-learning is that companies buy a lot of self-study content and nobody uses it,” says Mike Winger, senior director of learning innovation and effectiveness for Sun Microsystems. “You need to understand the learning process.”

Multi-pronged approach

Although e-learning has its roots in computer-based training, the forerunner to web-based programs, it has grown beyond its initial phase of running self-study instructional software programs on desktops. It now typically involves a blended or multi-pronged approach, which can include such relatively new developments as virtual classrooms and video-conferencing.

Retailers as well as other types of businesses are developing strategies that incorporate multiple e-learning techniques tailored to suit the needs of a company, a department or an employee who may, for example, need a combination of a self-study online program, a virtual classroom experience and personal input from a manager.

Tomchik says blended e-learning is an important part of CVS’s training strategy. “The real benefit of web-based training is in the mix,” he says. Among the innovations that CVS designed into its e-learning system is the ability to conduct electronic virtual meetings and discussion forums with remote employees.

Beyond the taking of courses, he adds, such connections will enable employees to use their training as they become more directly involved with planning operations, which can increase their motivation and help them develop their careers.

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