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Editor’s Note
: Traditional classes are enhanced by e-learning tools, and the controversy about the relative value of e-learning vs. traditional learning have died down. An increasing number of academic courses, certificate and degree programs are taught entirely through e-learning. E-learning provides customized training for distribution via the company Intranet. Effectiveness, flexibility and substantial cost-savings give e-learning an increasing share of organizational training activities.

Harnessing the Power of the Information Age:
E-learning - New Frontier of Organizational Training

Robert V. Fiermonte and Kelly Bruning


The information age ushered in a revolution that will forever change the way people learn and communicate. It spawned new business models and created Intranets to communicate with and educate employees. Progressive organizations are harnessing the power of e-learning and implementing e-learning concepts and best practices outlined in this paper. Empowering employees to self-learn increases efficiency of the organization. Like the Internet, e-learning is no longer a trendy fad but a proven learning model with enhanced competitive advantage for organizations in training and educating their employees. E-learning has harnessed the power of the Information Age and created a new frontier for organizational training in the twenty-first century.


The growth of the Internet and its impact on society is often compared to the Industrial Revolution. Just as the automation ushered in new business concepts such as the assembly line and mass production, the Internet created global access to learning via a computer, mouse, keyboard, and network. Technology enables employers to share information, internal corporate data, and training via the organization’s Intranet.

When e-learning is discussed, thoughts turn immediately to the Internet and its vast amounts of information and resources. Yet one of the greatest opportunities for expanding organizational learning is the emergence of Intranets. Unlike the Internet, the Intranet is a self-contained network of information only accessible to individuals within a specific organization. Within an Intranet, organizations can create their own learning modules, accessible only to their employees and staff. Intranet-based modules allow employees to obtain learning at their desk rather than in a classroom. Molnar (1997) explains, "Learning and work are becoming indistinguishable. A new role for education will be to broadly gather information from distributed sources and provide it, on-demand, to individuals and organizations as they require it" (p. 70).

The American Society for Training & Development defines e-learning as "anything delivered, enabled, or mediated by electronic technology for the explicit purpose of learning" (Hicks 2001, p. 75). E-learning is principally any education and training received by computer; whether by compact disk read-only memory (CD-ROM), or via the Internet or Intranet (Thomas 2001). Simply put, any learning, whether facilitated as part of or separate from traditional classroom training, via use of a computer can be considered e-learning. It is important to recognize that although e-learning utilizes passive technology, e-learning is not a passive form of training. It requires the learner to be physically involved in receiving and sending information (Rashty 2000). E-learning is flexible and learning modules can be presented and updated quickly. It can be accessed (given permission) by anyone with access to a personal computer or a computer terminal linked to a network or mainframe. E-learning shares many of the functions of traditional learning yet is, in many ways, completely different. Table 1 compares traditional learning and e-learning.



Traditional Learning


Classroom Discussion

The teacher usually talks more than the student

The student talks at least as much as or more than the teacher

Learning Process

The learning is conducted with the whole class participating: There is almost no group or individual study

Most of the learning process takes place in groups or by the individual student

Subject Matter

The teacher conducts the lesson according to the study program and the existing curriculum.

The student participates in determining the subject matter: learning is based on various sources of information, including Web data banks and net-experts located by the student.

Emphases in the Learning Process

The student learn “what” and now “how”; the students and the teachers are busy completing the required subject matter quota; the students are not involved in inquiry-based education and in solving problems, but rather in tasks set by the teacher.

The students learn “how” and less “what”; the learning includes research study which combines searching for and collecting information from the Web data banks and authorities in the communications network; the learning is better connected to the real world, the subject matter is richer and includes material in different formats.


The students’ motivation is low, and the subject matter is “distant” from them.

The students’ motivation is high due to the involvement in matters that are closer to them and the use of technology.

Teacher’s Role

The teacher is the authority.

The teacher directs the student to the information.

Location of Learning

The learning takes place within the classroom and the school.

The learning takes place with no fixed location.

Lesson Structure

The teacher dictates the structure of the lesson and the division of time.

The structure of the lesson is affected by the group dynamics.

From "Traditional learning vs. e-Learning"? David Rashty, 2001, Addwise, www.addwise.com

To understand how major the shift is from traditional classroom learning consider that spending on e-learning as a form of U.S. corporate training and education is expected to rise to more than $238 million by 2004, surpassing the $236 spent on corporate classroom training in 1999 (Thomas 2001). Global growth in e-learning is estimated to be nearly 150 percent annually and will be worth an estimated $24 billion dollars worldwide by 2004 (New Straits Times-Management 2002) (Sweeney 2002). The move toward e-learning is prompted in part by cost savings and efficiency expectations (Thomas 2001). In fact by 2003, 40% of all corporate training is expected to take place electronically, double the figure from 1999 (Sweeney 2002).

Thomas (1999) and Zolar (2002) provide that while e-learning is fast becoming the major method of delivering organizational training, it will not totally replace traditional classroom training. In particular, the teaching of sales or customer service, particularly when role-playing exercises are used, is more effective when done face-to-face with other learners and the instructor providing immediate and direct feedback. Zolar (2002) suggest e-learning technology can augment classroom learning with pre-classroom and post-classroom experiences.

E-learning Best Practices

E-learning as an organizational tool has no set of standardized best practices. A survey of e-learning/training managers at ten major financial firms representing more than $300 billion in combined revenues identified seven areas needed for the implementation and success of e-learning (Hassett 2002):

  1. Management Support. The commitment of senior management support, both monetarily and corporately is vital if e-learning is to be used effectively within organizations. Buy-in from senior management sends a positive signal to all subordinate personnel that this type of learning is efficient and effective. It is imperative that executive support be long-term, through both good economic periods and bad. In many organizations, when poor economic times occur one of the first areas to receive cuts in funding is training because it is considered a discretionary item (Bolch 2002). This, of course is short sighted. Cutting training funding only makes it difficult for employees to achieve benchmarked levels of learning and expertise. Hassett (2002) explained that when training directors were asked to rate management support on a scale of Likert scale of 1 – 7, many rated it an 8!

  2. Gather and Maintain all Information. Employees using e-learning have nearly instantaneous access to reference documentation for any and all training received. As a result, employees who previously received skill training (e-learning or classroom) and do not use those skills on a routine-basis, can utilize the e-learning repository to brush-up on information when those skill sets are needed. Boxer (2002) explains that it does not matter if organizations use the Internet, Intranet or both as portals for learning. What is important is that an e-learning center be designed to serve as a focal point within the organization for accessing any and all tools needed to enhance knowledge, skills, and attitudes to increase understanding and value.

  3. Redesign Content for the Web. E-learning requires a new paradigm for corporate training. Early in the history of e-learning, computer based training (CBT) was nothing more than classroom training translated word-for-word and exercise-for-exercise into an electronic format. Even though CBT training was self-paced, for the most part it had to be taken all at once to be effective. The new paradigm for e-learning is to redesign training so that it can be accessed in small independent portions that not only can be taken in shorter periods of time, but can, by themselves deliver stand-alone learning objectives. This does not mean that long-term training objectives no longer apply, but simply that each piece or module of the training puzzle be designed to stand-alone as well as in concert with other modules.

  4. Require E-learning. A common misconception of corporate e-learning is that it is nice to have, but does not command the same level of priority as classroom training (even if the e-learning is replacing vital classroom training). This misconception can lead supervisors and managers to put a lower priority on the completion of e-learning than on comparable classroom training by failing to provide the necessary time to start and complete required learning. Organizations newly implementing e-learning may find it necessary to require course completion for previously mandatory classroom modules. In doing so, they clearly establish that e-learning holds the same level of importance within the organization as traditional classroom learning. E-learning as a method of delivering training is only effective when it becomes an integral part of the organizations infrastructure (Boxer 2002).

  5. Beware of Technology. Hasset (2002) provides; "Focus on the training problem, not the technology solution" (p. 123). The biggest and best, fastest and most current technology may well lend itself to the building of excellent e-learning module; however, if the training is aimed at employees who do not have access to the needed technology to run or operate the module, it becomes nearly worthless. Any e-learning module should be designed to run on all the organization's personal computers, each of which has been individually customized by the user. If a learning module will need a special program to work properly on individual computer configurations (which could number into the thousands in some organizations) it should be expected there will be a number of program failures. Difficulty in accessing and running even a single e-learning program can contribute to and foster negative impressions of e-learning as a whole. When e-learning within the organization has a bad reputation it may not be used.

  6. Beware of Vendors. Every training manager surveyed had problems with second- and third-party providers of e-learning modules. Of biggest concern was the lack of creativity, customization, and upgrading/updating of delivered learning modules. Jeri Burt, senior vice president and director of e-product development for Citigroup in describing outsourced e-learning content:

"You often need to supplement their designs over and above what the subject matter experts provide, either because they do not really understand the material or because they do not want to spend the extra time above the quoted price or budget. Though graphics are commonly proposed, they tend to be extraneous, just to be there, rather than integrated with the subject" (Hassett 2002, p. 124).

  1. Be Careful Predicting ROI. The surveyed training managers agreed that trying to determine a fixed ROI on e-learning was extremely difficult. Instead of trying to determine ROI the organization should focus on whether the course was effective, not only in terms of results, but in terms of completion rates and popularity.


Although technology has been used to deliver learning since the early 1960's, the proliferation of the personal computer in the 1970's, the common use of organizational networks or Intranets in the 1980's, and the accessibility of the general public to the Internet in the 1990's have all contributed toward the move away from traditional learning.

The use of technology to deliver non-traditional learning has transformed the way we communicate and learn. Continued change and refinement of non-traditional forms of learning will be necessary to eliminate or reduce negative issues and ensure the success of non-traditional learning methods. Perreault, et al (2002) suggested problem-solving steps for organizations to help reduce those issues that hinder the full use and acceptance of the new learning methodologies. Of the eight-steps suggested, only four are listed below and they have been rearranged and modified by the authors to more accurately reflect organizational priorities:

  1. Ensure trainers/instructors/teachers are fully capable of using the learning technology so it can be utilized to its fullest potential.

  2. Train the trainer/teacher on how to deliver learning over an emotionless medium.

  3. Make certain learners have the necessary skills to use the technology. Provide training/instruction when needed to overcome gaps in technical skills via self-paced tutorials or via face-to-face instruction.

  4. Provide technical support to both trainers/instructors and students to ensure seamless delivery of learning and prevent technical glitches.

The information age has ushered in a revolution that will forever change the way people learn and communicate. It has spawned new business models and created Intranets for communication and training.


Bolch, M. (2002). Through the eyes of analysts. Training. 39 (9) pp 116-118

Boxer, K. (2002). How to build an online learning center. Training & Development. 56 (6) pp 36-43

Hassett, J. (2002). The e-learning survival guide. Training. 39 (9) pp 120-126

Hicks, S. (2001). Evaluating E-learning. Training & Development. 54 (12) pp 75-76

Molnar, A. (1997). Computers in education: a brief history. THE Journal. 24 (11) pp 63-70

Perreault, H., Waldman, L., Alexander, M. & Zhao, J. (2002). Overcoming barriers to successful delivery of distance-learning courses. Journal of Education for Business 77 (6) pp 313-319

Rashty, D. (2000). ELearning and traditional learning methods. Retrieved on November 11, 2002 from http://www.addwise.com/articles/Learning_Outcomes.pdf

Sweeney, K. (2002). Online education poised for continued growth. Employee Benefit News
16 (7) pp 31

Thomas, T. (2001). E-Learning surges as training tool. National Underwriter/Life & Health Financial Services. 105 (12) pp 11-13

Zolar, A. ABCs of e-learning. Executive Excellence. 19 (10) pp 14


About the Authors





Robert “Guido” Fiermonte is adjunct professor since 1992 teaching business related courses for Park College (now University), Concordia University, Saint Petersburg Junior College, Saint Leo University and American InterContinental University. He has been a distance learning professor (online learning) since 2001.

Mr. Fiermonte is a Doctoral Candidate at Capella University. Originally from Whittier, California, he enlisted in the US Air Force in 1974. Stationed in Las Vegas, Guam, Washington DC, Del Rio Texas, Izmir Turkey, Saint Louis Missouri, and San Antonio Texas. He held managerial and executive positions at the Texas Worker’s Compensation Insurance Fund (1993-1996), Dell Computer Corporation (1996-1999) & MacDill Director of Education for Saint Leo University (2000-2001). He is owner of Fiermonte Education & Research (1999-present) delivering training and consulting services to corporations and institutions of higher learning.

Guido Fiermonte can be reached at guido1@tampabay.rr.com

Dr. Kelly Bruning

Dr. Kelly Bruning has been working in business and education for over twenty years. She is now a fulltime instructor at Northwestern Michigan College. Her background consists of a broad range of business knowledge including organizational behavior, economics, marketing, finance, human relations, and information technologies.

She completed her Doctorate Degree in Business Management and Organization with a specialty in Information Technologies Management in November of 2003. She earned her MBA from Lake Superior State University.

Dr. Bruning has been active in online teaching and training since its introduction to the academic arena. She has designed content for online course and now teaches online courses at both the graduate and undergraduate level. She earned a graduate certificate in online teaching and training while writing her dissertation.

She can be reached at kbruning@nmc.edu.

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