-5. James Sharpe
James Sharpe is Director of E-Learning Technology in IBM's Learning Services group. He is currently responsible for leading IBM's Worldwide E-Learning Technology Strategies and Worldwide E-Learning Technologies Competencies. Mr. Sharpe joined IBM in January 1991 as a services consultant.
Question: What do you see as the impact of e-learning on companies and enterprises?
James Sharpe: It's all about a company's ability to quickly adapt to business changes. I see e-learning as a change agent, allowing a company's employees a way to pick up new ideas, new approaches, and new skills, in a faster way. This gives the company a competitive advantage.
I've seen this happen in IBM with our e-business transformation initiatives. IBM used technologies and techniques that were unheard of even seven or eight years ago. It allowed IBM to quickly take a significant mindshare and market share in that space.
So, I think the single most important impact is speed. Let me be clear about what speed gives you. It gives you the ability to capture share and increase the market value of a company and drive revenue and profit.
The other impact is cost savings. In the early days of e-learning, that's all that people were looking at. They were looking for a less expensive way of doing what they always did—and I think it's still a valid component; however, not the primary one. It's poor form to use the financial impact as the only way of showing the impact of e-learning.
Now to the impact on the people. I think it has allowed employees to increase their personal worth and allowed them to stay employable. And in some cases it even helps them pursue significant skill building without much impact on their personal lives, especially in terms of travel.
Question: Do you think the impact is something to look for now, or is it still in the future?
James Sharpe: I think the impact is absolutely available now. It's about the rate and pace that these e-learning systems can be deployed and integrated into the normal workflow of an individual.
We are already doing that now. And it's only going to get better—better results, more efficient, with better fidelity for the learning.
Question: Can you tell us about a specific company where you know e-learning has been implemented?
James Sharpe: As far as the adoption of e-learning, there are companies in the insurance industry that are really, really focusing on self-directed e-learning. They have made a commitment to produce that kind of e-learning in-house and in volume for training their employees.
At the other extreme is the IBM management development solution for e-learning that is much more of a blended approach, with instructors, with collaboration among students, and with self directed learning all mixed together.
Another example deals with a popular computer manufacturer; that example is interesting because of their consumer touch. They are proving that they can combine physical locations with a subscription-based e-learning model. They can get customer loyalty and market share by leveraging e-learning for the consumer.
Question: With regard to e-learning, do you think the impact on medium- and small-size companies is different from large companies?
James Sharpe: I definitely think there is a difference. The small-and medium-size businesses are less focused on custom/tailored solutions and are more focused on the ability to find catalog offerings that provide good instructional return from a skilling standpoint. I also think that small- and medium-size businesses are much more in tune with informal learning, and with facilitation and that kind of collaboration. They are often collocated and they're in an environment where they don't have the same kind of volumes as the large companies.
On the flip side, with large companies there is a great advantage in doing this kind of informal learning if you can get a large organization to act like a small organization. And large organizations obviously have the size to justify custom programs around their products or other business initiatives.
A small- or medium-size company that picks up on accelerating ways to collaborate will accomplish changes more quickly than large organization. However a large organization will be able to implement more formal systems to find experts and collaborate with them. There will be less of a distinction on what they can do, but more of a distinction on how that gets accomplished.