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What does a Full-Scale E-Learning Program Look Like?

IBM’s management development training is a good example for starting to see how to apply a robust, successful e-learning program.

This program trains 30,000 new managers per year worldwide.

The program comprises extensive online learning modules, online learning support from designated management coaches, and learner collaboration.

This extremely effective program is a blended solution; besides the online parts, it also includes a five-day class- room session to round out the learning experience.

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While most of us have spent years and years in a classroom setting, our experience with e-learning is often much more limited. But it’s important that you have a feel for how a successful e-learning pro- gram can be structured and applied.

The rest of this answer section will look at a successful implementation of e-learning—IBM’s management development training. The IBM management development training described here is not the only way to make e-learning work successfully, but it’s a useful starting point. (Let’s Be Specific—Some E-Learning Case Studies will describe other possible case studies for you to look at after you read this one.)

IBM’s management development program needs to train more than 30,000 new and experienced managers in more than fifty countries each year. Traditionally, IBM managers attended regular traditional classroom training courses. But e-learning raised the question of whether that traditional approach was still the best approach. IBM’s challenge, therefore, was to maintain a rich learning experience—while still ensuring that it was practical, cost-effective, and engaging to the students.

In 1999, IBM rolled out an e-learning program called “Basic Blue for Managers.” The course and its underlying learning model were honored as being among the top ten employee-development models by Brandon Hall’s Corporate E-Learning Benchmarking 2000 in addition to achieving three Excellence in Practice awards from the American Society for Training & Development: “Workplace Learning and Development”; “Organizational Learning”; and “Electronic Learning Technologies.”

IBM’s management development training is a series of learning interventions that stretches over a period of months and pro- vides IBM managers around the world with an integrated pro- gram available 24/7, directly from their desktop or laptop computers. “Basic Blue for Managers” is a year-long process through which a new IBM first-line manager achieves mastery in the skills required to be an effective IBM leader and manager.

Basic Blue begins when a new IBM manager enrolls with twenty-three other new managers. They are directed to “The First 30 Days’ Quick View,” which teaches the appropriate actions to take with their new employees and their second-line managers and provides a series of online tools as well as checklists for the first month on the job. The new manager is supported throughout the year not only by the extensive material contained in the online Learning Space media center, but also by receiving coaching from the second-line manager, via an online coaching simulator and other online coaching materials.

During the first twenty-five weeks, the new manager spends about two hours per week completing the online mastery tests in leadership and people-management skills. The new manager works through another series of self-directed modules and a dozen online human resources simulations, which teach the user how to access and search the vast HR data base in order to be able to find the information to appropriately address any HR issue or concern. The goal here is to “teach the manager how to fish.” The new man- ager then completes an assessment tool for the manager’s thinking styles, which is used in the classroom portion of the training (described next).

The five-day in-class learning lab is held midway through the year-long process at one of IBM’s learning centers around the world. Here the new managers join the other new managers with whom they have been collaborating online. The five-day class- room session is devoted to establishing peer networks, developing face-to-face teaming and collaboration, and building on the management skills that began with the online learning. Students have found that they are able to jump into this more complex learning environment quickly since the basic information transfer has already occurred in the earlier online parts of the course.

The class- room portion of the training can thus run at a much higher skill level than a typical management training course because it can focus on those learning situations that are truly done best in a face- to-face situation. In short, it can start where other classroom courses end.

The new managers then return to the next e-learning portion of the course. They work online in a collaborative fashion in six- person teams to learn more about leadership skills for the final twenty weeks of the program.

At the conclusion of the year-long learning process, the new manager is awarded qualification as an IBM manager.

The results of Basic Blue are impressive. More than 4,000 managers have completed the training and received it enthusiastically. Basic Blue enables managers to learn five times as much material as was previously delivered in IBM’s classroom-only approach.

Once again, the “Basic Blue” approach is not the only way to create a successful e-learning program. There are many others. The next question/answer section explains further ways of applying e- learning.