Tips for Thriving in Tough Economic Times

There are many circumstances that can create challenges in a learning organization’s budget. Of course, the economy leads the list of causes, but there are other contributors, such as consolidations, mergers, adding additional charters without commensurate increases in budget, and major shifts in an enterprise’s strategy.

Here are some ways that learning organizations are using to survive and thrive in these challenging times.

Tip #1: Change the virtual-to-classroom mix

Many organizations suggest that the ideal ratio of virtual and classroom training is 80 percent virtual and 20 percent classroom. There is just no better way to train masses of people, especially when they are spread out over multiple sites. But instead of hiring hundreds of trainers, or maintaining expensive travel budgets, organizations are turning to virtual delivery to deal with declining budgets and expanding needs.

Alice Muellerweiss, Dean of the Department of Veterans Affairs Learning University (VALU) described her opening hand of cards this way at the Enterprise Learning! Summit in March 2012: “In January 2010, when I first came over to the V.A. Learning University, I was given a budget, told that I had 16 people, and that I had to train 135,000 people in the first year. And three months were already gone.”

After the initial shock, she said her wheels began to turn. “I couldn’t just go build schools and travel people. I had to change the way I thought about delivering education.” In response she turned VALU into an almost completely virtual learning organization.

Tip #2: Leverage other people’s courseware

Courseware falls into three tiers:

>>Tier 1: “Vanilla, out-of-the-box” courses like standard training for Project Management, Microsoft, Oracle, and a host of similar offerings;

>>Tier 2: “Slightly Customized” courses, which might be my own organization’s particular implementation of an SAP or Oracle product; and

>>Tier 3: “Proprietary” courses which might be “our secret sauce,” or training on my enterprise’s latest product offerings and services.

As you move up the tiers from vanilla to proprietary, the value of the courseware to an organization increases substantially.

Armed with that knowledge, I approached a vendor of mine who was a provider of thousands of courses in the Tier 1 category and asked the vendor to allow me to “slightly customize” each of their courses to meet my organization’s specific needs.

These were small changes, like adding my company’s unique security requirements or our own project management methodology, but they were necessary for the courses to be meaningful in my organization. The upgrades allowed the generic courses to have the impact of a Tier 2 or Tier 3 learning solution.

The vendor’s initial tendency was to resist, explaining that their off-the-shelf courses were their intellectual property. But after I explained that I would probably never be able to get rid of them once their courses were a core part of my own course offerings, they eventually relented.

Our net savings were substantial. We were able to shave 80-90 percent off our curriculum development time. So look around at other departments and agencies, as well as vendors whose courseware you can leverage.

Tip #3: Leverage a common technology platform

“Consolidating our agencies onto one LMS platform … positioned us well for collaboration,” says Wendy Frederick, Chief, Learning Systems Management Division, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “Independently, we’re not going to be able to accomplish what we want to. Resources are far outstripped by demand. The secret is to collaborate with other agencies to accomplish our goals.”

Sharing similar courses across multiple agencies is one kind of efficiency gained by having a common LMS platform. Some types of courses that might be shared include compliance training and leadership courses.

A less obvious benefit of a common LMS system is discovering that groups have a common demand for a particular course. For instance, several groups might have a need for Oracle training to fill a competency gap. Combining these groups could help you reduce the cost per student trained.

Instead of sending one or two people from each agency to the vendor’s class, you could arrange to have the vendor come to a common site to deliver that training to all of them. Instead of paying individually for 10 people (about $7500/day), you might find it much cheaper to have that course delivered in-house by the vendor (about $3000/day).

—This article written by Joe DiDonato. For seven more tips, visit the Website

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