The Role of E-Learning in Corporate Universities

By Watkins, Ryan | Distance Learning, March 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Role of E-Learning in Corporate Universities

Watkins, Ryan, Distance Learning

It is typically challenging to define either what a "corporate university" is and/or what it is not. Yet, this growing trend among organizational training centers to expand their roles beyond the traditional training functions has in tandem extended the role of e-learning in today's organizations. As organizations have moved through quality management, reengineering, outsourcing, right-sizing, and a half-dozen other trends, the role of e-learning over the past decade has become increasingly important in preparing the workforce for success. So as training centers look to expand their roles within organizations, it is becoming essential for e-learning to define its role within both the broader "corporate university" and the organization as a whole.

Corporate universities ideally assist organizations in accomplishing a range of organizational missions, including but not limited to the training of employees on the knowledge and skills that are required for workplace performance. By supporting the organization in the achievement of these missions, the corporate university can become a mechanism for creating company culture, encouraging lifelong learning, managing and retaining organizational knowledge, developing communities of practice, and building the capacity of the organization to change, grow, and succeed. These expanded opportunities for professionals in training, organizational development, instructional design, e-learning, and human resources development offer organizations unique prospects for using their skilled workforce to create an environment in which learning opportunities are utilized as a key element in the recruitment and retention of employees, as well as the long-term advancement of the company.

Moving from technologies like automated slideshows on floppy disk to interactive online group learning experiences, e-learning has kept up with the demands of organizations through the introduction of both new technologies as well as applicable pedagogy. This capacity of e-learning to evolve through innovations in both technology and pedagogy will also play an essential role in developing e-learning as an indispensable component of corporate universities. After all, e-learning offers organizations a means to expand learning opportunities outside the traditional training classroom.

Challenging the traditional notions of where training (and learning) takes place, e-learning can additionally do far more than just transform classroom training courses for online delivery. E-learning can help change the culture of an organization, facilitate knowledge sharing and management, build valuable relationships across organizational units, and prepare the workforce for the demands of evolving businesses. Yet, in order for e-learning (or even a corporate university) to be successful in achieving its goals, the strategic decisions of the initiative must be aligned with the strategic direction of the organizations, its clients, and the clients' clients. This alignment of strategic direction is what can, and should, define the role of e-learning in corporate universities.

As a result, effective strategic plans begin with some unconventional wisdom that starts outside of the organization (Kaufman, Stith, Triner, & Watkins 1998; Kaufman, Oakley-Brown, Watkins, & Leigh, 2003). By defining the common goals and objectives both within the organization and among the stakeholders outside of the organization (for example, external clients and their clients), strategic plans can begin to define the results that all agree must be achieved for everyone to be successful.

Among his reflections on healthy interpersonal relationships, the social philosopher and business leader Charles Handy (1999) adds: "It seems to be the same with organizations. The healthiest are those which exist for others, not for themselves" (p. 48). For organizations, this pragmatic perspective is applied through strategic planning initiatives that begin with the shared goals of the organization, its clients, the clients' clients, and the community they serve. …

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