Learning Utilization: Avoiding the ‘Cricket’ Risk

» Posted by Jeanne Meister  » Posted on 12.03.07

Published March 2004

That kind of silent non-response is a risk faced by many learning organizations and corporate universities today when it comes to utilization. Having spent millions on developing content, close analysis of how many are actually taking these courses is leading many companies to say, “Crickets.” Course cancellation rates (due to low enrollment) exceeding 30 percent monthly, 60 percent to 70 percent of classes being conducted below their “minimum” numbers—this is what’s happening out there for many organizations today, and it’s not good.

Low utilization is a warning sign that learning programs are not achieving the levels of usage, business impact and investment return necessary to call them a success. If you’re a company in the learning field whose revenues depend in part on usage reports, you’re feeling this problem intensely. As Josh Bersin wrote in his recent report on “E-Learning Program Management” (see www.bersin.com/research/program_mgt_overview.htm), successful learning programs are rarely driven by content alone. While they are pursuing excellence in content development and blended learning strategies, companies also need to be working on programs in change management, marketing, infrastructure and business process integration that will drive up usage levels.

Here are some tactics that are useful in combating the “cricket” risk of utilization:

  • Create programs tied to business outcomes. Rather than offering a library of courses and expecting high utilization, try focusing on creating programs that have buy-in as being critical to achieving business results.
  • Create online programs that are prerequisites for classroom training. Programs can be designated as prerequisites to more in-depth classroom programs, giving them a much better chance of being taken by your audience. This strategy is particularly effective for getting people’s feet wet if they are not regular users of e-learning. Think of this as a staged approach to building engagement and utilization for online learning.
  • Link completion to career advancement. A related strategy is to develop programs that must be taken in order to advance in one’s career. This happens all the time for classroom programs, so use it for online programs as well. Work with the HR department and line business leaders to ensure that these “career advancement programs” are linked to business strategies and that employees will be given the time to complete these in order to advance in the company.
  • Use a cohort approach. Convincing people one by one to take advantage of online learning opportunities is an arduous task. A better approach is to create teams of online learners. University of Phoenix and other for-profit universities use a “cohort” approach successfully so peer pressure is applied to encourage online learners to engage in and complete the programs. Learners will participate and retain more as members of a cohort group.
  • Link the course to actual performance needs. If your learning content is integrated with business processes, utilization will be higher, as will its impact on performance. Avaya University recently rolled out new sales training where learners come to the course with actual account information. They walk away with a set of value propositions and selling techniques that they can use immediately.
  • Develop an internal marketing and customer support function. Sometimes low learning utilization stems from inadequate attention to promoting the availability and benefits of the learning. Oracle University, for example, recently advertised for a marketing professional for its inside sales team with experience in the education market, as well as bilingual skills. This professional could be the answer to ensuring business partners take advantage of learning.

What’s working (or not working) for you and your organization when it comes to raising learning utilization rates?

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