Educational Advantage

E-learning helps companies capture the knowledge of retiring employees and gain competitive edge
The company's goal is to build courses based on knowledgeable employees and to develop courses using reusable learning objects, which should make development faster and less expensive. "As we create courseware over time, we're creating massive amounts of knowledge that can be treated as separate tidbits of information," Munzer says.

Verizon uses a learning content-management system from OutStart Inc., an enterprise E-learning vendor, to house the knowledge objects it's developing. The company envisions that in the near future the system will be so populated with knowledge objects that when it's time to update a course or create a new one, the training department will do so more quickly and less expensively than it can now because the data is broken into smaller, more-accessible standalone parts.

To develop a course with no existing learning objects takes 40 to 80 hours of development and costs from $15,000 to $30,000 per hour of training. The instructional designer, project manager, and outsourcing fees are included in that price. "Once we can reassemble new courses from existing learning objects, it could take five hours or less to develop a course," Munzer says. And the price per hour of training could drop to $10,000 to $15,000 because the work would consist of creating one or two learning objects instead of an entire course.

Cutting development time is a goal for Verizon because sometimes a training request is based on extreme need, Munzer says. "The group that's requesting training is willing to take their people out of productive work and put them through training to help them get better," he says. "So if someone comes to me in the morning and says they need a class, my goal is to have it online and available to all Verizon employees that evening" by using reusable learning objects.

In competitive industries, knowledgeable employees can make the difference in which company gets the business. Turner Construction, a North American builder with 5,000 employees in 27 states, wants not only to have the knowledge edge but to become the company that other builders come to for their learning resources.

Growth AheadTurner created an Internet-based knowledge network and a public Web site at www.turneruniversity .com that's based on a learning-management system from Intellinex LLC, an E-learning subsidiary of Ernst & Young, and a document-management system and online collaboration software from Open Text Corp. The learning-management, document-management, and virtual meeting-place software work together to store construction-related manuals and E-learning courses such as a 30-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace safety course.

The next step for Turner is to add knowledge management to the E-learning network. "What's missing is the personal side of collaboration that allows you to talk with a subject matter expert," says James Mitnick, senior VP at Turner Construction. Turner is awaiting the release of a knowledge-management component from Open Text that's expected to be available this summer. The goal is to let people have online discussions with knowledgeable peers about any topic. "If people want to learn more about estimating a construction job or how to install concrete floors for a semiconductor facility in Arizona, they can join an online community and discuss issues," Mitnick says.

To get employees acclimated to sharing knowledge online, Turner uses Open Text's online collaboration software. Educating employees gives Turner a competitive advantage, Mitnick says. Customers "hire us over our competitors if we have better-trained employees."

Knowledge management can be a sticky issue for companies, because there's often no incentive for employees to share their knowledge, says BART's Arhontes. But using some form of collaboration software or E-learning to share knowledge makes the process less painful, because it gives employees an opportunity to share and learn from each other simultaneously.