Framework for the Development of Models for Sustainable ...

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Framework for the Development of Models for Sustainable ...

  1. 1. Models for eLearning1 in SMEs - a Framework for SIMPEL Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Europe account for more than 90% of European business and provide employment for 74 million people. The SME sector comprises very different organisational structures from traditional handicraft enterprise to very innovative high-tech companies, small businesses with no or just a small number of employees and enterprises with up to 250 employees covering almost all sectors and branches of the economy. These different types of enterprises have different demands for knowledge and competence development and hence different requirements for training and qualification programmes. But despite these wide differences there are also common traits, such as the need of integrating learning with their work processes, linking formal and informal qualifications, requirements of tailor-made and “just-in-time” solutions. On both levels, models for eLearning have to provide answers and the framework for sustainable solutions. Key Factors Negatively Impacting eLearning in SMEs: The most significant factors identified in various studies can be identified as follows: • Training culture within the SMEs - often this is dependent on trainer and conventional training methods; skills needed for a more independent approach and the use of new media for learning are missing. • Lack of appropriate software and contents - the major part of commercial eLearning software is modelled on the requirements of big enterprise or higher education. Software development is mostly centered on big inclusive eLearning platforms, usually consisting of a basic product and additional modules, which is costly and technologically demanding to install and maintain. Tailor-made contents are expensive, standardised contents largely inappropriate for SMEs • The attitude of managers – they often have not enough knowledge or are not convinced of the effectiveness of eLearning, instead they put their trust in classroom- based training. • Lack of time and lack of access to sufficient bandwidth to ensure high quality training, especially user-friendly tools and quality content. SMEs do not have the time nor the resources to solve technical problems or learn sophisticated user helps. • The availability and access to ICT. This is a key barrier in sectors with a low level of computer penetration. Many computers in the workplace are not linked to the internet. For example a consultation on the NHS e-learning strategy (NHSU, 2004) 1 eLearning denotes any form of learning process supported by ICT, especially the Internet. 1
  2. 2. found that two fifths of respondents saw limited IT infrastructure and lack of access as the main barrier to e-learning developments Basic Considerations on Introducing eLearning When a company plans on introducing new ICT media for learning it has to decide to follow one of the following strategies: A) The strategy of minimal change: introducing of new media and training concepts should involve only minimal changes in the structures and processes of the company. Through a latent implementation the acceptance of the new media by trainers will be assured and the staff is automatically introduced to the new tools and learning methods. B) In contrast to the minimal change strategy active change includes a review of the organisation, its infrastructure, learning culture and business strategy as appropriate to the new learning objectives, concepts and methods. For optimal results, strategy B should be followed. For reasons of acceptance often the starting point is, however, strategy A. Actors concerned with the introduction of eLearning out to be conscious of the fact that the minimal change approach may be suitable as long as eLearning is seen as a first experiment. As soon as a serious commitment is made to eLearning any conception has to rest on active change, i.e. wholistic approach as explained in the next section. A Wholistic Approach to eLearning Strategies Kerres (2001) identifies four fields of activities, in order to achieve the systematic integration of media activities into the vocational training in a company: 1. Infrastructure: Hard- und Software and the establishment of corresponding services (Maintenance, Update) for the organisation, e.g. ICT equipment, basic ICT competences of staff, providing technical and competence support, etc. 2. Development: Human and material resources as well as organisational conditions for the efficient use of media 3. Media: Production and distribution of digital learning contents which is engaging the learners into the learning process by using didactically sound and appropriate elements of interaction and multimedia 4. Didactics: Replacement of old teaching and learning methods with new approaches, (e.g. social constructionism, trainer as facilitator/moderator, group and project work, learner- centeredness, competence development/acknowledgement of competences). In addition to these four interrelated elements, each SME and SME sector has to include in their consideration the issues of formal and informal qualification and the issue of quality 2
  3. 3. assurance of the eLearning used. In general, there is much sympathy in SMEs and among SME employees for informal approaches to learning and this tends to get reinforced when eLearning is adopted. But both sides of training and learning have to be considered in strategies and practices to achieve sustainability and long-term impacts. Infrastructure Didactics Development Media General Guidelines for Implementing eLearning in SMEs The following steps are necessary in a strategy for implementing eLearning, if it is going to be sustainable:. 1. Identification of needs and objectives of training: While this is a truism for most training practitioners, SMEs very often hit their first serious barrier already here: . Many SMEs do not have a Human Resource Department or a training expert to identify exactly the skills of the employees corresponding to the business objectives of the company. A need for training is often recognised only when a particular problem arises. So the owner of the SMEs should be helped to do this analysis and to do this in the wider context of business aims and longer term business planning, before the training process begins. Once needed skills have been identified, the right e-learning offer which best match the SME business, development needs and company learning culture has to be found. There is a need to link eLearning to the specific needs of the business and to understand the drivers of business change in each particular company. 2. Engaging Employees: The literature suggests there are many barriers to employees undertaking eLearning, but that where eLearning is linked very closely to day-to-day tasks it is more successful; 3. Time factors and Form of training used: SMEs staffs are often guided by the daily business pressure and devote little time to learning activity. So they prefer informal 3
  4. 4. forms of the learning taking place often on the job through sharing experience with colleagues about the job tasks. 4. Courses/Learning Content: The most important subject for training courses in SMEs should be the “core business” of the company and should refer to the competencies the staff need for their work tasks. Other subjects should be norms and procedures helping SMEs to survive/integrate into the market. But also management skills, accounting and language skills are important. Referring to training materials: • they do not use unnecessary graphical content which may create accessibility barriers to learners; • engaging buy-in from the workforce so that colleagues are flexible enough to provide access to computers for learners; • ensuring learning can be undertaken from home; • providing laptops for use by employees in the workplace; • establishing learning centres in the workplace. 5. Tutor support for eLearning and integration of it with more traditional forms of learning: The evidence suggests that the learning experience is better and completion rates are greater where there is tutor support either face to face, on-line or over the telephone. E-Learning Models for SMEs An eLearning model for a company describes the eLearning strategy of the company. It is important that the eLearning model is supplemented with a corresponding business eLearning model in order to provide a framework for the economical dimension of an eLearning strategy in the SME, linking the planning of the e-learning strategy with the process level of the implementation. Such a business model is useful because it reduces complex events and relationships to achieve a clear focus, thus making eLearning efficient and providing a basis for future decisions concerning eLearning activities in the company. eLearning business models supplement models and theories of e-learning focussing on the pedagogical and/or technological dimensions of e-learning and add to the improvement of the overall quality of learning environments on different levels. Successful training models for SMEs are based on a coherent, harmonious concept including organisational, social, economical and technical aspects and describe the training strategy of the company. A proposal structure for a training model is shown in Fig. 1. Figure 1 4
  5. 5. Training Needs Corresponding to SME Business and Working Tasks Knowledge Flows Implementation of the training Training Reference programme with Model Design informal and formal learning Domain Specific and Common Services The reference model allows that staff training needs corresponding to the work tasks are met through a combination of services. It sets out: • the learning, teaching or research problem addressed, • a set of tasks for the solution of the problem , • human and computer based workflows, • agents, applications and/or tools used, • data flows and operations involved, • the services that will be called and the service interface specifications. The design typically include: • the people involved (learners, trainers and additional roles (e.g. tutors, technical support, advisors etc) • the tasks or activities to be undertaken, • learning outcomes, • content resources referenced, • the technological infrastructure and other tools and facilities required. The structure is this model is not obligatory. Sustainability e.g. medium- and long-term profit maximization of an learning model should be defined consistently. Some aspects to be considered for the consistency of a learning model are the following: 5
  6. 6. • Target group from the e-learning program and for the e-learning providers and the market segment have to be adequately, • The e-learning strategy and the planned investments to realize it should aim on long-term or medium-term generation, • Costs have to be concentrating on core activities in order to be not very high, • The eLearning system should be adaptive and scalable. Model approaches to Sustainable eLearning in/for SMEs: 1. Funded Projects have often been lacking in sustainability. The majority of projects is not continued, or continued as another funded project. This is mostly due to the fact that projects are conceived as pilot projects, working under specific conditions which only partially mirror normal everyday life experiences of SMEs. 2. eLearning projects geared to specific questions/clearly defined issues are often quite successful and sustainable, e.g LINGUA-IN-CITY. They prove to be very useful for their purpose, but their model is not easily transferable to the core issues of learning in SMEs 3. Knowledge and eLearning portals for SMEs, for example www.ecin.de , www.webkolleg 4. Communities of Practice, see: www.theknownet.com/ict_smes_seminars/papers/Attwell_report2.html www.te-learning.nl/icalt2006paper.pdf 5. Branch-Networks: Examples: AOK-INQA-Kompetenznetzwerk, 5a Branch specific e-learning providers: http://www.autotrain.org/ Branch-specific networks typically include partners from different sectors. In these networks, some of the problems of SMEs can be solved with the help of actors from other sectors (major companies, associations, training providers) Regional Networks: e.g. Lernende Region, example: http://www.ecotrans.org/learning- areas/htm/lake_const/lc_cal.htm Concepts eskills/eportfolio/ecompetence as new challenges for SMEs, but also opportunity to link and recognise formal and informal learning, see for example; http://eskills.cedefop.europa.eu/ http://events.eife-l.org/ 6

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