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Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
About the Guest EditorIan Roffe is Director of the Centre for Enterprise at University of Wales, Lampeter and Professor of Learning and Innovation. The work of this Centre is concerned with helping to develop the economic, social and community activities of the University. Research and development activity at the Centre has centred on developing support for small firms and entrepreneurs by HRD methods including technology-supported learning. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Judging by the growth of e-learning for providing and supporting human resource development there seems hardly any aspect of the field that practice has failed to touch. For HRD professionals across this span of applications though, the real problem is in sifting through the spam of hyperbole to reach the evidence of praxis. This issue of the journal is dedicated to applications of e-learning and brings together the work of practitioners to make a contribution to greater understanding of the practical implications of the practice. There are two complications that merit a few words of initial explanation though: nomenclature and the forces at work.
For newcomers, nomenclature can be perplexing even though e-learning is now lodged firmly in the practice and lexicon of HRD specialists. The “e” term serves as an abbreviation for the term “electronic” and refers to the way people communicate and learn electronically. In reality, the “e” term has less to do with electronics and much more to do with the other “e” s: the engagement of the learner, the enhancement of the learning, the experience of exploration, the ease of use, the empowerment of the learner to control the learning schedule and the execution of the learning programme. The training developer can choose from a variety of electronic technologies to effect the delivery of learning: interactive distance learning, intranet-based training, web-based training, online learning – each appear as different names, for different types of learning technologies, with different capabilities. However, advances in technology are blurring distinctions and capabilities that once separated these categories. There are particular differences between them, for instance in bandwidth, user interface, or interactivity, but they do share a common strategy to deliver flexible learning. Moreover, these online learning platforms have begun to converge around common technology standards and a delivery infrastructure – the Internet as a means of enabling learning. It is becoming accepted therefore that the use of the Internet in some way is a characteristic of e-learning.
The forces at work present twin challenges of change and continuity. Change occurs in many different forms through technical innovation and the introduction of new systems that bring with it the need to manage change. It allows easier distribution of content, interdependent working among trainees and timely learner management information. It is all too easy to assume that e-learning and its associated technologies changes everything, which is not the case. There is a need to recognise what is new and what continues. Continuity exists because the core processes involved are human resources management, human resource development, the management of change and these remain at the core of an enterprise and the practice of our profession.
Each of the papers in this issue provides an insight into various facets of the practice of e-learning from a diverse range of contributions and content. Contributors come from a broad international base: Australia, Spain, Scotland, United States and Wales. Content concerns applications in organisations involved in telecommunications, banking, government service and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). They all address specific interests of human resource and draw insights from the application of e-learning.
The influences of information technology, training policy and e-learning in a large Spanish telecommunications company are examined by Gascó, Llopis and Gonzaléz. They report on various success factors such as flexibility in time management for training, active participation by trainers and establishing control mechanisms to ensure that training occurs.
Another study in a large enterprise by Wagner and Flannery considered the factors affecting learner acceptance of computer-based training tools as the focus of a quantitative study. A range of civilian and military personnel in the United States are compared and inferences for research and practice are made. Among their many observations, perceived usefulness plays a very important role in mediating the relationships between attitudes towards use, management support and behavioural intentions.
The attitudes to e-learning of employees in a large multinational bank are the basis of a study and analysis by Vaughan and MacVicar. Employees' perceptions of e-learning are compared with interviews with HR specialists. The theoretical principles of e-learning advantages are reinforced by practical responses, such as accessibility and flexibility. Drawbacks are the management of change expectations of the organisation and although e-learning is applied as a contemporary solution by the bank, classic internal communication issues remain. Osborne and Oberski examine the policy initiatives at national and European levels for greater participation in Higher Education through more flexible delivery using communications and information technologies (C&IT). They outline the current impact of C&IT technologies on universities, pedagogy and on the organisation of the learning environment, with a particular emphasis on delivery to small companies. They conclude that providers will need to adapt through research that assesses the new demands for teaching in the developing virtual learning environments of the future.
A university offering diversity training by online learning is the context for work by Cameron and Limberger. Faced with a unique problem of providing cross-cultural awareness training on a continuing basis, they produced a solution in a staff development programme that is accessible in multiple formats and recently launched at Griffith University. Issues of competitive strategy for educational and training enterprises arise as clients try to select provision from a host of courses on offer. Experience gained from targeting SMEs in Wales is the context for addressing competitive advantage by Roffe. In many industries, competitive advantage lies in the value of intangibles presented by an enterprise. Here the dimensions of perceived value are examined in the context of delivery to SMEs. This infers an importance for a trainer provider to develop system competences of value assurance, enhancement and innovation as well as obtaining a degree of proprietal control.
There is an emphasis in this collection of papers on user perceptions of e-learning, of course there are many more factors such as teaching and learning, content design the effectiveness of learner management systems and so on. This is the first issue of the journal that deals exclusively with e-learning and the editor will welcome further contributions to the field from authors. My thanks go to all the contributors who made this issue possible and to our general editor who proposed the idea and encouraged the process.
Ian RoffeDirector of the Centre for Enterprise,European and Extension Services,University of Wales, Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales