How to Make Change Happen – Challenges in Implementing E-Learning in Organisations

© Lance Dublin

“Most organisations don’t understand the magnitude of change that e-learning is,” says Lance Dublin, the renowned US management consultant who draws on 30 years of experience in adult education, training and change management. Dublin has worked across a wide range of industries including financial services and insurance, technology and information services, pharmaceutical and health care, oil and gas, chemical, communications, hospitality and food services, and both the government and non-governmental agencies. At OEB, Dublin will host two pre-conference workshops exploring what is crucial to make new learning technologies work. Here, he points out common problems when introducing e-learning and explains how “third dimension learning” helped global companies, such as Google and Qualcomm, to solve their business problems.
OEB: Why is it so difficult to implement e-learning strategies successfully in organisations?

Lance Dublin: Most organisations underestimate the number of people, roles and things that are impacted when you introduce and do e-learning. Instructors have to be trained to work differently, developers have to work with different tools, and managers need to manage in new ways. The organisation as a whole has to think about learning differently when people won’t go to classes anymore and may learn at their desks or even at home at non-work hours.

Although e-learning is about technology, the people who are going to use it are still humans with feelings and opinions. Oftentimes organisations don’t spend enough time helping the individuals to understand what e-learning is and why it is being introduced to the organisation and what their role in it is. They focus way too much on the technology and far too little on the people.

Organisations have to treat the implementation process as a major change initiative. This means they have to think about how you are going to make people aware, how they are going to get them involved and then how they are going to integrate this change into their daily life. And that ties back to the point that organisations underestimate how complicated this change is. You have to systematically implement e-learning, you can’t just announce it.

OEB: Can you tell us more about your I-3 Change Implementation Model? How does it help to “increase awareness, involvement and acceptance of a new e-learning strategy”?

Lance Dublin: The model is designed to actually drive the change into the organisation. It is a holistic, not a linear model where one step leads to another – imagine it like a cycle with three phases always in motion. The first phase is about awareness. A certain number of people are cognitive thinkers. They want to read the instructions to understand the world before they try something. In this phase, the organisation is spreading information, to the learner, the instructors and managers. They communicate the messages that they need to know about why they are moving to e-learning, why this is good for the organisation, why it’s good for the them – all those things you want to understand in your head beforehand.

But not all people are cognitive. There are also behavioural people; they want to take things for a test drive. So the second element of the model is to involve. It’s a set of activities you need to think about to get your learners, your managers, your executives actually involved in e-learning, so they can understand it not from reading about it but from seeing it, testing it, trying it and doing it. When people get involved, they tend to ask the questions. So the involvement activities are all two-way, while the inform activities are rather one way. The third phase of the model is integration. You need to integrate e-learning in people’s careers, integrate it into their job or integrate it into their role within the organisation. This is where you get the reinforcement.

In the model you go from information to involvement to integration and back again to information. E-Learning changes, the kind of technology you use changes, so you need to put out new information. Maybe you improve your e-learning with new features and now you want people to try it out again or to get more involved. Also, you are always looking for ways to integrate it into people’s work or business processes; you want to make it relevant for their everyday life.

OEB: Your second workshop is entitled “Learning in the ‘Third Dimension’”. What is behind this term?

Lance Dublin: In the learning profession, most people draw a line: at one end you have formal learning and on the other end you have informal learning. But I think that’s a limiting way to look at the choices.  We need to start thinking in the third dimension not in the world of either or. New technologies made these new dimensions possible. Add a point to a line and you get space. In that space exists learning in the third dimension. And there are more new technologies coming, we are not done yet. It’s almost like the big bang theory. There will be more choices, not fewer in the future.

OEB: In your workshop “Learning in the ‘Third Dimension’” you will turn to case studies from Google, Qualcomm and others. Can you give us a quick glance at these examples? How did these companies learn in the “third dimension”?

Lance Dublin: I want to present cases from companies that are very well known: Google, Genentech, Qualcomm and Toshiba. These four companies have really good stories that haven’t been told yet. What they have in common is that they didn’t start by asking: “How do we do informal learning, how do we do formal learning?” They didn’t start with the technology. They started with a business problem. In Google’s case they had to train 15,000 engineers that are spread all around the world in technology skills that are known by very few people. Basically, they had to find a way that their own engineers could teach other engineers. And what they found was that the engineers sometimes wanted to learn from each other in formal ways and they would actually create a webinar or a webcast. But sometimes they just wanted to use informal ways to share things, e.g. they created a community of practice where they could post their ideas. To solve their business problem, Google were actually moving into the third dimension. They did formal and also informal things and combined them under one umbrella. And that to me was a great example of what we are talking about here: using all of the tools you have available today to solve a problem that you could never solve before.

Another company, Qualcomm, had a different problem. They have a very innovative culture but how do you transfer this unique culture to new employees? Many companies have struggled with similar problems. The people at Qualcomm found that the way culture really gets shared is through stories, where they tell how it is like working there. So there was the question: How can we share these stories effectively? After starting out with e-mails they soon turned to new technologies, e.g. they set up a social network where people could post their texts. Again, the power of this example is that the solution of this business problem required formal and informal activities and uses all these different kinds of technology.

OEB: Mr Dublin, thank you very much for your time.

The workshops “Great Design, Content and Technology Is Important but Successful Implementation Is Essential” and “Learning in the ‘Third Dimension’: Lessons from Successful Implementations” both take place on Wednesday, December 1.

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