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E-Learning Takes Some Of The Scare Out Of Compliance

Two very different organizations--a transportation authority and an insurer--are heavy users of E-learning. They depend on its accuracy and consistency.
Two of the best examples of how E-learning is being used in the post-bubble, post-recession world can be found at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts and the Maryland Transit Administration.

Both organizations face regulatory regimes that evolve frequently and grow in complexity. Both are relative newcomers to E-learning, having implemented their first coherent services two or three years ago. Both are using E-learning to let the workforce get more done. And interestingly, managers at both say they could go back to all-manual training if they had to. They'd just have to give up thousands of hours of productivity gains.

Then there's the grubby stuff. To compute the financial savings delivered by E-learning, Joe Seitz, director of the MTA's Office of Training & Development, multiplies $30 per hour by the approximately 2,000 administrative hours that are freed up by his E-learning service.

Jim Brown, director of business technology for Blue Cross of Massachusetts, says that, on average, conventional training of a new employee on compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is $58 per person; E-learning cuts it to $2.50 per person.

The insurance company has a two-year hosted-service contract with E-learning vendor Brainshark Inc. Brown declined to say how much the company paid for the contract.

Hosted models are helping to curb E-learning's costs, according to research firm IDC. Low inflation in E-learning costs is playing a prime role in its growing acceptance, according to the IDC report, which also says the global market for corporate E-learning will grow almost 27% compounded annually over the next three years.

And then there's the need to make sure everybody--but everybody--is on the same page about federal and state regulation.

Sandra Miller, manager of quality assurance and training for Blue Cross' federal employee program, says the importance of audit trails cannot be minimized.

"Whenever someone new joins the federal employee service center, we send them [links to some initial training]. We know if they did it, and we cc: their team leader," Miller says.

And once people are on staff, E-learning can help keep them in their seats.

"We've automated some processes with Brainshark," she says. "We used to do formal documentation sessions." The sessions, which last 30 to 45 minutes, brought customer-relations workers off the floor and into a meeting room to go over changes in products, forms, and other items. It's "hard to get 75 people in one room, and then there's the problem of people who are absent." Instead, Miller says, she can create three to five PowerPoint slides, insert them into Brainshark's application, and people can look at the presentation out on the floor during off-peak call times.

It wasn't unusual for managers to spend 12 hours scheduling the meetings, preparing for the meeting, and documenting who was at the meetings, she says.

Presentations can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on how much needs to be covered and how many optional features a presentation will have. Brainshark enables managers to add multiple voices as content for presentations, which, Miller says, helps hold employees' attention.

E-learning has also helped Blue Cross make sure training messages are consistent, comprehensive, and accurate--factors that help when a regulator comes calling about compliance, Brown says.

The Maryland Transit Administration knows a few things about compliance. There are federal and state regulations that start in the bus barn and reach right up to Executive Row. The MTA had been a hodgepodge of mostly manual training programs.

"But we're federally funded," Seitz says. MTA executives became concerned about being able to prove people were up to date on training. "They could come in and ask about an employee, and we'd first have to figure out where that person was, what was his training record, who trained him."

Seitz is responsible for all of the authority's training. That includes 3,200 employees, about 2,400 of whom are represented by three unions, and who work in seven separately located divisions. He coordinates training for technical, management, safety, and employee-development skills.

The MTA has been using Pathlore Software Corp.'s Learning Management System for three years. It had been using training-tracking software from Silton-Bookman Systems and was considering getting into E-learning. When Pathlore bought Silton, the authority bought into Pathlore's hosted E-learning service.

The MTA signed a five-year contract that runs about $100,000 a year, Seitz says. He says he's satisfied with E-learning in general and Pathlore in particular. Along with the benefits extolled by Blue Cross (training accuracy and consistency, fewer meetings, etc.), E-learning enables the same number of MTA trainers to do more training and less administrative work because so much of the tracking and documenting is automated.

One example is the notification feature built into Learning Management System. Rules can be built into the application to prompt trainers and managers about upcoming events like a license expiration for a train operator. Seitz also can query the application to get data cut to serve his needs.

Blue Cross and the MTA are hardly alone in embracing E-learning so many years after it was given up as an IT extravagance by some. IDC predicts that the market will be $21 billion in 2008, up from $6.5 billion just two years ago. The combined effect of product innovation and regulatory innovation could do for E-learning what its early proponents couldn't. Make it a business necessity.

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee contributed to this story.