A Real Invite to Virtual Education: How important is learning in your organization?  Has the current economic environment impacted your company’s training strategy?  How are you factoring in the new learning styles that are emerging from our interactions on the Web?  Is sustainability a consideration?

These are a few of the questions I’ve been pondering since I joined the North American Education team late in 2008.

As an aside, I am looking forward to a lively discussion about these topics during the upcoming SAP Education Virtual Learning Symposium 2009 (shameless plug), but more about that later.

The Evolution of Corporate Education

Having joined the SAP Education organization around the same time as the financial market melt-down, I’ve witnessed a change in the way our customers view training, and it occurred to me that the economic crisis has accelerated a trend that the Internet started years ago:  the evolution of corporate training and education.

Financial conservatism has led many companies to cut back on discretionary travel.  Perhaps that’s a good thing.  As much as we value face to face interaction, travel can be expensive, time-consuming, and bad for the environment.  We’re right to question the necessity of every trip.  Luckily, travel is no longer a prerequisite for training.  It’s important to de-couple the two, and recognize that while travel may be discretionary, training is not.  Most of the companies we talk to believe in the value of training, but are asking SAP for more flexibility in terms of content and delivery.

Training Matters More Than Ever

A recent blog post by Dennis Howlett provided great coverage of the SAP certification debate which took place on Twitter and in blogs earlier this year.  He commented on the importance of deploying well-trained, qualified individuals on SAP projects to reduce project risk (and I’ll add, accelerate time to value).

Jon Reed provided additional coverage on his own blog, as well as SCN (see the post entitled SAP Certification Survey Results – Data Matters).

Marilyn Pratt had an interesting and entertaining take on the conversation in Would You Take Training From This Man?

Here’s my take, based on what I’ve learned from our customers, the analysts and my esteemed peers:

  • Productivity improvement is a big focus for most companies right now, i.e. they need to derive more benefit from existing assets. Training is an excellent way to maximize the value of the SAP investment, but it must be relevant and focused. Virtual training further adds to productivity by eliminating the need for travel.
  • Organizations cannot afford unnecessary risk. The “certification debate” referenced above does a good job of covering off the ways in which training reduces project risk.
  • Proper project team and end user training is linked to a higher degree of project success, better user engagement, lower support costs, and increased productivity. Unfortunately, training is often sacrificed due to budgetary constraints.  I’d like to spread the word on the real ROI of training.
  • The need for talent development has not gone away, in fact, quite the opposite. In order to remain vibrant and competitive in this time of economic adversity, we need everyone operating at their best.

Virtual is a Reality

While I anticipate that traditional classroom training will continue to be dominant for some time to come because it’s comfortable, familiar and effective, new learning models have emerged thanks to the Internet, which are well-suited to the new reality.

  • On Demand: On demand learning refers to asynchronous training modules that an individual can access at their convenience. Some studies suggest that this could actually be more effective than traditional classroom training. A recent article in NewScientist.com entitled ‘iTunes university’ better than the real thing revealed that using on-demand podcast lectures in place of live lectures resulted in better university student exam scores.
  • Virtual Live Classroom: For those who still prefer “live” interaction but cannot travel, there are great tools that enable online “live” instructor-led classes.
  • Social Learning: The Internet has changed the way we gather and process information, and this should be reflected in corporate learning strategies. Collaborative social learning tools such as blogs, wiki’s and discussion groups provide open access to subject matter experts, enable peer-to-peer conversations and unleash “the wisdom of we”. As a great example of this, I recently read a story about Mark Zuckerberg, who was about to fail a course in his sophomore year at Harvard because he was busy founding Facebook. He put up a “study guide” on the Internet, which all his classmates filled in, and not only did he ace the exam, but the grades for the entire class improved 10% over previous years.

I recognize that this is not a panacea, and there will be some pitfalls.  There are challenges in replicating the “human touch” you would expect in a face to face environment.  These challenges are not insurmountable, but they do require careful attention to ensure the learning experience meets the individual’s needs.

The bottom line is that organizations now have options.  The “one size fits all” approach is no longer effective, and a more flexible format allows a broader audience to benefit from different learning paths.

On April 22nd we will host the SAP Education Virtual Learning Symposium.  Thought leaders from SAP, IDC, Intel and IBM will share insights on the growing momentum of virtual classroom and on-demand learning.

It’s symbolic that this online event, which is focused on virtual learning, will take place on Earth Day.  Richard Campitelli, SAP’s Senior Vice-President of Education North America, will kick off the session by acknowledging Earth Day, a global day of reflection about the world and how we should behave differently.   We believe there is a natural link between thinking differently and acting differently.

New NetWeaver Information at SAP.com

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