In the contemporary economy knowledge has become a basic and strategic resource. Improving employees' competencies that include knowledge and skills is now a must. A professional life of any employee is understood as a continuous process of learning and developing. Improving own competencies, employees show higher effectiveness of actions undertaken. Acquiring new knowledge and skills they are able to perform extra tasks (Awad, & Ghaziri, 2004; Nonaka, & Takeuchi, 1995; Rivard, Aubert, Patry, Pare, & Smith, 2004).
In the knowledge based economy much attention is paid to skills related to using information and communication technologies and tools (ICT) including the Internet in particular (Olszak, & Ziemba, 2007; Turban, King, Lee, & Viehland, 2004 ). Fostering appropriate conditions for improvement in ICT skills and knowledge is a crucial task for modern enterprises (especially for small and medium sized enterprises) that are going to raise effectiveness of their performance and that intend to be more competitive. Employees' knowledge and skill perfection is largely facilitated by Web learning portals.
Such portals are equipped with, among other things, functional modules including generation of didactic materials, communication and co-operation with training course participants, knowledge assessment or reporting. Hence, the portals in question may be referred to as a complex electronic environment that supports improving employees' competencies.
Our paper aims at presenting a model of a Web Learning Portal as a tool for improving and evaluating SME employees' competences in e-business. The starting point for considerations is in suggesting initiatives that are necessary to undertake in the SME sector in the context of the knowledge based economy (e-business initiatives in particular). Then some attention is paid to improving employees' competencies in e-business. Next SME needs related to improving knowledge and skills required to use the Internet in business are presented on the basis of survey analyses. In the context of the needs in question, a model of a Web learning portal dedicated to SMEs is suggested.
Improving MSE Knowledge and Competencies in the Knowledge Based Economy
Much attention is paid to SMEs strategies related to development of the knowledge based economy, which results, among other things, from the fact that SMEs play a major economic and social role, and therefore are a source of economic development ("Highlights from the 2003 Observatory ...", 2004; "Fostering Entrepreneurship ...", 2004). For instance, in Poland SMEs make up approximately 98% of all business entities and employ over 60% vocationally active Polish citizens. SMEs participate in generation of about 50% of the gross domestic product. Their share in export amounts to 45%. In spite of their importance, SMEs are perceived to be hardly competitive and innovative (Luczka, 2007). That is why, numerous initiatives and assumptions that call for prompt realisation include, among other things, the following (Luczak, 2007; Marchand, 2000); Olszak, & Ziemba, 2007:
* an increase in innovativeness and competitiveness of the economy by means of ICT implementation. It is possible to provide much evidence confirming that enterprise that makes information technology oriented investments obtain substantial profits. Unfortunately, modern information technology related solutions are mainly oriented at large enterprises and corporations. Putting the latest information technology related solutions into practice of SMEs is frequently much delayed in comparison with large enterprises or does not happen at all. As a result, SMEs are not as competitive on the market as large enterprises and their development is questionable. Such a situation affects the whole economy and social relations of each country and mainly results from insufficient knowledge and experience of SMEs as far as implementation of the latest information and computer technologies are concerned;
* an increase in participation of SMEs in e-business. …