The IRS Goes: The Internal Revenue Service Brings Training into the 21st Century with Enterprise E-Learning

Article excerpt

Part 2 in Gold's five-part series on enterprise e-learning.

"Basically, I went to conferences, talked to people, did some reading, and got some idea of the best practices," explains Wydeven, e-learning program leader at the IRS.

After being asked to oversee a sweeping enterprise e-learning implementation for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Gerrie Wydeven knew how to do her homework. She immediately sought advice from people whom she considered to be the experts--those who had completed or were carrying out similar endeavors.

The advice helped, but few had ventured where Wydeven planned to go in fostering an enterprise-wide e-learning system that would serve 110,000 employees. Wydeven and other members of Strategic Human Resources, a group responsible for establishing HR policy throughout the IRS, took the lead in developing an agency-wide partnership with the business units and the information technology staffs to roll out the effort. It was an ambitious rollout--one of the largest and most sophisticated among the federal agencies that are rapidly adopting e-learning as part of broader e-gov initiatives. In addition to the many technical hurdles they face, Wydeven and her team needed to convince the training and development departments within each of 12 separate business units to promote the switch from predominantly classroom-based training to online learning to their business clients. Even with good advice from conference attendees and a combined decade's worth of experience among members of the Strategic Human Resources Group, the effort has run into its share of stumbling blocks.

"Even if you come on board with experience, expect barriers and challenges," says Dee Olsen, who, as assistant director of advanced learning technologies, is a pivotal member of Wydeven's team. "The key is to keep your focus," he says. "Many times, we've had deal breakers that we weren't sure we'd overcome.

Neatly two years after launching the initiative in May 2001, the IRS continues to add to hundreds of externally developed e-learning courses and internally developed products and is in the process of implementing an enterprise learning management system to support the frill array of instructional and performance support products. Although the majority of the substantial amount of training that occurs daily at the IRS is still classroom-based (only 17 percent of training hours are currently delivered electronically), the ratio is expected to flip-flop within the next few years as the agency pursues the goal to deliver 70 percent of training electronically by 2007.

Wydeven, Olsen, and Jay Walters, the enterprise learning management systems ream leader, took time out recently to speak about the deal breakers and deal makers they've encountered over the past two years in their efforts to establish an enterprise-wide e-learning program.

Identifying needs

In the initial planning stages, the Strategic Human Resources group went to each of the operating units within the IRS to find out their training and education needs and how to help them reach their business objectives.

"We engaged the business units in identifying their functional requirements for a robust learning management system," says Olsen. "We gathered over 200 functional requirements and categorized them into different capabilities we'd need to provide,"

The requirements-gathering process helped the group acquire its primary initial software, a learning management system. The LMS had to support content from different sources but also integrate with the IRS's existing IT infra-structure. The IRS had already purchased hundreds of asynchronous e-learning courses from various external providers, including SmartForce (now SkillSoft), SkillSoft, and MicroMash, and had developed a variety of products internally. To be successful, the group determined, the assortment of e-learning content, as well as the classroom courses, needed to be managed through a single system. …