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The critical and differentiating force of countries, organizations, and individuals lies in their knowledge and intelligence and how they use it in the new knowledge economy. Knowledge is the only real asset a company has anymore.  


Knowledge, 
the Universal Differentiator



by Bray J. Brockbank

In recent years, the focus of organizational learning and training has shifted from traditional, new employee orientation and personal development seminars to continuous learning and development programs designed and implemented to provide employees with the knowledge resources necessary to successfully fulfill their roles and responsibilities. The goal of the new knowledge economy is to channel knowledge into ideas and use those ideas to create business solutions and competitive advantage. These ideas can then be channeled and used by the organization to thrive in an environment of intense competition, relentless change, and highly educated customers.

Organizations are burdened with channeling knowledge and ideas in the form of training and learning to employees more rapidly, more effectively, and in an even more efficient manner than ever. In an effort to meet these objectives, organizations are seeking to consolidate disparate knowledge and learning technologies into a centralized point of access and management, while leveraging existing investments (legacy systems, resources, etc.) in enterprise infrastructure in order to provide employees with simple, seamless access to knowledge, training and learning.

Solid and intense competition is forcing organizations to implement collaborative solutions that integrate internal systems and leverage existing (legacy) technology to harness the knowledge and intellectual capital that exists in the public domain, while utilizing knowledge and intellectual capital that resides across the organization and among suppliers, partners and customers.

Current Realities

The new economy is fueled by knowledge. Organizations possess incredible intellectual capital. The challenge has been, and continues to be, providing access to that capital and assembling it for development of best practices and collective learning. Once defined marketplaces are melding into one global marketplace. Human capital is now an asset to be scrupulously managed. Learning is a strategic advantage and weapon. Workforce supply is in flux - everyone's a free agent. The world is in a state of rapid-growth and hyper-efficiency - and its all beginning to blur at Internet speed.

In a recent IDC and eWorld survey (www.idc.com, IDC #24788, June 2001), training and education was rated in the top three applications integrated with U.S. organization Web sites. Nearly one-third of U.S. organizations have their training and education integrated with their Web sites. Training and education ranks third in priority (behind customer service and support and customer relationship management.) Over sixty-percent of large organizations are leading the way in integrating education and training with their Web sites - roughly the same as those who planned to integrate knowledge management and materials management into their Web sites.

Learning and training processes are becoming increasingly integrated into strategic organizational processes. Industries rapidly moving to integrate their training and education include: healthcare, government, education, banking, transportation, media, telecommunications, and utilities.

This training and learning comes in the form of e-learning. e-Learning portals offer customization, 24/7 accessibility, convenience and flexibility, cost effectiveness, just-in-time user-centric learning, and centralized management of knowledge


e-Learning Industry

The e-learning industry is comprised of three vendor segments: technology, content and services.

  • Technology: segment includes learning management systems (LMS), learning content management systems (LCMS), authoring tools, training delivery systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP), application service provider (ASP), live e-learning tools, streaming video, EPSS, testing and assessment tools.

  • Content: segment includes third-party content providers, books and magazine publishers, enterprises, subject matter experts (SME), government agencies, colleges, universities, schools, training organizations, e-learning portals, IT firms, and system integrators.

  • Services: segment includes enterprise information portals (EIP), corporate universities, learning service providers (LSP), content aggregators, learning consultants, consulting, professional services, certification service providers, collaboration services, and online mentoring services.

Even though many vendors are "pure-players," some offer "hybrid" solutions. Several vendors market themselves as e-learning portals, end-to-end solutions, blended e-learning solutions, best-of-breed technology, global learning management solutions, integrated learning and management systems, and e-Learning infrastructure technology.


Components of e-Learning

e-Learning components include: learning management system (LMS) or learning content management system (LCMS), content, collaboration, testing and assessment, skills and competency, e-commerce, and Internet video-based learning. A complete e-learning portal represents the total integration of multimedia, instructor-led, and real-time training - in a human, collaborative environment.

When implemented correctly, e-learning portals can help organizations develop and maintain a competitive advantage in the following areas:

  • Recruitment and Selection: the attraction, evaluation, and hiring of new employees.

  • Retention: the retention of intellectual capital (human capital).

  • Learning and Career Development: classroom training, online learning, and other forms of learning activities.

  • Rewards, Recognition, and Response: the recognition of individuals according to their ability to meet/exceed performance expectations as defined by the organization (according to appropriate business goals.)

  • Succession Planning: the identification and development of peak performers with the appropriate competencies and skills needed to advance within the organization.


Defining the e-Learning Portal

There are basically two types of e-learning portals: external and internal. The first focuses on providing access to external learning services. The second focuses on providing access to all learning within the organization. Of course the internal portal may also include use and management of external learning and providers.

Essentially, an e-learning portal is a virtual environment set up by an organization to give users access to knowledge. These portals have also been called e-learning centers, online education centers, internal portals, corporate universities and virtual universities.

A portal is merely a vessel, framework, or infrastructure for training, learning and assessment of knowledge and competency. With the advent of e-learning portals, organizations now have tools to help knowledge workers aggregate, access and navigate through full or bite-sized "learning chunks" or "learning objects" from internal databases, repositories, courses and Web sites. The complete e-learning portal supports the learning cycle with various components of e-learning.


Intelligent Portals

The e-learning portal is an intelligent portal. The portal advises users on what skills and experience they need to advance to other levels in the organization, provide competency maps and assessment, and discussion forums related to essential learning themes - online learning communities. It recognizes what the user knows, certifications earned, experiences, and his ideal learning style.

As e-learning portal technology has evolved, navigation has become more sophisticated, content more relevant, and interfaces more user-friendly and intuitive. Until most recently, e-learning was offered only in the form of full, off-the-shelf, or customized courseware. However, users also need a way to efficiently turn their proprietary knowledge into effective e-learning content through content authoring tools. While general knowledge provides a necessary foundation, proprietary knowledge provides organizations with competitive advantage.


Full-Service e-Learning Portal

The complete or full-service e-learning portal supports the learning cycle with different components of e-learning. Many of these components are foundational to the learning process and are critical in creating a full-service e-learning portal. All components of a full-service e-learning portal are fully integrated with seamless transition from one component to the next.

The full-service e-learning portal is comprised of three stages: assessment, competency and learning evaluation. The assessment phase is composed of components for knowledge assessment, competency assessment, and learning evaluation. The preparation stage contains learning catalog, e-commerce, and enrollment components. The learning phase is comprised of learning activity, expert forum, and community components.

  • Assessment: assessing the learning needs of a user begins with an evaluation of his knowledge or competencies. This knowledge assessment is then compared with the competencies required for the job.

  • Preparation: the user makes preparations for fulfilling his learning need through creating a plan from the list of learning activities that would best meet his need. 

  • Learning: the user engages in learning activities to build knowledge and develop competency (from experts forum to community collaboration.)

The learning cycle revolution is accomplished when increased competency is verified through user evaluation. Underpinning a successful, full-service learning portal is the inclusion of a learning management system (LMS).


Portal Technology

Portal technologies supporting open standards can be easily integrated into an organization's existing infrastructure. The portal needs to be operating system - and web server-neutral so that enterprises can host it on the platform of choice.  The portal solution should be deployable and accessible across a variety of platforms and devices. With a platform, application, and device independent architecture, the e-learning portal provides optimal flexibility.

A modular approach provides the greatest flexibility and efficiency for building content, collaboration and commerce functionality. Moreover, current business climate and economies demand that enterprise technology have the capability to adapt to changes in the user base, and integrate with the most demanding applications.  Many e-learning portals have been built from the ground up to be a true enterprise strength solution. This allows organizations to implement with confidence, knowing that their portal server can accommodate not only thousands, but also hundreds of thousands of users if required.


Next-Generation Portals

The ability to provide mobile, distributed workers organized access to the applications, knowledge, and information they need for sound decision-making has become vitally important for businesses striving to be productive, agile and profitable. The attractiveness of Web-based computing, combined with the need to expedite information access and learning, has fueled adoption of e-learning portals.

Open technology architecture will enable application access on virtually any device, including wireless and handheld communication devices and information appliances, platform independent. Mobile users will be able to move seamlessly from one device to another and receive consistent, personalized learning and knowledge.

Future e-learning portal features coming to market include better process integration, cascading portals, federated portals, business intelligence (BI), and knowledge management (KM). e-learning portals will connect directly and seamlessly with enterprise resource planning (ERP), business intelligence, customer relationship management (CRM) and other mission-critical enterprise systems.


Conclusion

The Internet and Web have marshaled in an unprecedented business and knowledge revolution. A revolution that represents a fundamental shift in the way business is conducted and managed. Over the last quarter century or so, the industrial world has transitioned from being deprived of data to being besieged by it.

With the Internet came speed, connectivity and intangible value - and the ability to "e-enable" all facets of business, including learning, knowledge and performance management. But with the e-enabled organization comes stockpiles of data and information - overwhelming the organization and learner.

e-Learning portals will drive the evolution from the information economy to the knowledge economy. Moreover, new technologies and the power and connectivity of the Internet will enable e-learning technology, content and service companies to develop critical learning resources - revolutionizing the way we mentor, train and learn. e-Learning portals will be portable.

The learning portal will be positioned as an integration and development platform - not a separate standalone application. The continued knowledge revolution will allow the e-learning portal to bring all information into a distinct, consistent, easily used interface while being fully integrated with other enterprise systems.


Bray J. Brockbank is a business, technology and marketing consultant for Learnframe, a KnowledgE-Commerce and eLearning infrastructure technologies company. He can be reached by email at [email protected] .   Copyright (c) 2001
                                           ExpertMagazine.com


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