“The development and role of IT-based learning in relation to traditional learning in Organizations”

Throughout the past decades, dramatic changes in the social and economic climate and an increasingly complex environment have constantly raised the pressure of change in organizations to ensure survival and the establishment of a competitive advantage. Companies are more and more pressured to deal with globalization as the key factor for an increasingly competitive marketplace characterized by mobility, diversity, and flexibility.  As a consequence, organizations begin to understand the need that knowledge and learning are major, if not the only sources of true competitive advantage in this rapidly changing, unpredictable global economy.

At the same time, the shift from quantity to quality also shifted the creation of value from products to data and information. As a consequence, the expansion of a company’s knowledge base has become of major focus to management. Along with the rising awareness that the right information at the right time has a considerable impact on the acceleration of business processes, the demand for appropriate technology-based solutions as the delivery method of information and transferring knowledge has sharply increased throughout the 20th century.

In this respect, the trend of globalization has long been accompanied by a continuous and fast-paced advancement in technological innovations for processing information, facilitating communication, as well as to save time and costs for corporate training and learning. As a consequence, employees are more and more forced to interact through virtual teams, webinars, and other information technology (IT)-based communication devices while trends as “eLearning” and “web-based learning” are conquering the markets. According to Kevin Kelly’s “What technology wants” (2010), technology serves the people by increasing choices, differences, possibilities, diversity, options, and the degree of freedom. But does technology creates value in the learning process; what are its limitations? Can the continuous advancement of technological innovations meet the requirements of an increasingly global, knowledge-based marketplace? To what extent can IT-based learning complete, support, or even replace traditional learning methods in organizations?

Considering the necessity of learning in organizations and the growing pressure for companies to learn continuously and rapidly, the question arose if, and if so, IT could support the process of organizational learning, by taking into account its advantages, but also its limitations.

An analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of eLearning results in the following conclusions:

First, IT- based learning is indispensable in today’s world of business. IT is a great medium for storing, disseminating, and accessing information, for facilitating communication and for offering courses in niche-content courses at a low cost.

Second, the biggest concern in terms of eLearning is, however, the paradox between information and knowledge. Surveyed experts highlight the benefit of IT to connect people and to create a network of experts to share experiences, discuss problems and to exchange opinions. However, IT does not serve as a storage device for knowledge, especially not of implicit knowledge.

By studying several models and theories about organizational learning, it becomes obvious that organizational learning depends on the individuals as the motors of the learning process and that the implicit knowledge of the organization members represents the biggest challenge in the era of knowledge management. What I can conclude from my research is that IT is only capable of capturing experiences, intuition, best practices etc. (=implicit knowledge) of the users to a very certain extent, whereas IT should rather be deployed for archiving and distributing the documentable, storable explicit knowledge of the individuals (facts, data, e-mails etc.). In addition, analyzing literature and surveying experts allows for the conclusion that learning is a highly individual process which will be more successful and satisfying both for the learner and for the trainer if individual learning preferences are taken into account to the highest possible degree.   The field of organizational learning complemented by IT-based learning methods still has a long way to go and many aspects and findings are yet to discover. For example, one of the major subjects of concern in terms of assessing the success of a learning method is the question of how to quantitatively and qualitatively measure the effectiveness of a learning process. By now, post-training ‘question and answer’ sessions, return on investment calculations, the Balance Score Card model, and the attempt to assess the satisfaction of the participants have so far only generated insufficient results. Or do we mean efficiency? Should technology-enhanced learning measurements be evaluated as technology-neutral as possible in order to be effective and useful, since technology is changing so quickly? It also remains the question to what extent IT will be capable of capturing and creating (implicit) knowledge in the future and as a consequence replace the ones who learn if innovation of technology remains as fast as it is today.

Anna Schindler

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