E-Learning On The Fly

IBM's prototype mobile systems are aimed at customers in industries such as retailing and fast food.



IBM is prototyping mobile E-learning solutions for customers in industries such as retail and fast-food restaurants that can provide on-the-fly, on-the-go training with bite-sized content for employees.

IBM officials wouldn't disclose the customers' identities. However, the prototype solutions will let employees in a retail environment, for instance, use a handheld device to wirelessly access three to five minutes worth of training about new work processes--or learn about new products being sold.

The training content might help the store employee explain to a customer the differences between two similar products, or to learn about a new sales procedure in a few minutes while the employee isn't busy helping a customer.

"In the future, learning will be more on-demand and embedded in the workflow" of processes, says Teresa Golden, VP of marketing and strategy for IBM Learning solutions. The mobile training prototypes support trends in training that IBM predicts will become more commonplace, based on findings of new "learning" research the company is unveiling next week.

"We see (training) evolving more organically in an organization," says James Sharpe, director of E-learning technologies at IBM. Employers are looking for new ways that employees can learn and gain answers to questions, either from accessing more formal training content, or collaborating with subject experts, he says.

IBM will be demonstrating these prototypes and unveiling its learning study this week at TechLearn, a learning conference in Orlando, Fla.

In its research, IBM says the lack of product knowledge among employees leads to job dissatisfaction contributing to high turnover rates in the retail industry ranging from 60% to 300%, with an average rate around 70%. However, equipping retail employees on the sales floor with handheld wireless devices from which they can access training modules and product information can help even new salespeople to more quickly get up to speed on store processes and better serve customers, says Golden.

For fast-food restaurant environments, more traditional E-learning often isn't practical because of space constraints, lack of PCs, and busy schedules of wait staff. IBM's prototype solution for this industry includes a wireless thin client that can let workers access content in small doses before or after hours, or during times when the restaurant isn't busy, Golden says.

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