e-learning on the up in professional services

by Viv on August 3, 2009

Does your firm have a culture that supports e-learning? In a recent REDTRAY survey law firms tend to agree quite strongly (4.3 on a scale where 5 is strongly agree, 4 is agree and 3 is neutral) whilst accountancy firms generally agree (3.5) on the same scale. Both of these scores represent a significant improvement since similar surveys in 2007. Viv Cole recently facilitated a roundtable discussion for L&D managers from the UK’s top 15 law and accountancy firms where culture was one of many topics discussed. Whilst organisational culture is a nebulous thing, there are three key factors that are changing it to embrace e-learning more.

It’s the recession, stupid

Budget cuts have moved the goalposts; it used to be a choice of “face to face training or e-learning”, increasingly it’s a choice between “work it out yourself or e-learning”. This has driven up e-learning usage and consequently driven down scepticism.  There is still scope for improvement as using e-learning can be seen as an admission that you’re not as chargeable as you should be (and hence are dispensable if the redundancy axe comes). The flipside is that client facing staff have been more willing to act as subject matter experts and author their own e-learning content. In this context, time spent authoring e-learning is seen as recognition that you have eminence in a field that the rest of the firm can benefit from. One firm reported having achieved the landmark of a partner developing a course in Articulate – almost unthinkable 5 years ago. 

It’s more how we work

The trends towards firms becoming more global, security worries and travel budgets being slashed mean that more client and team meetings are being conducted by conference call/ video conference. This makes the medium of virtual classrooms feel more familiar and hence firms are increasingly finding more ways to use this technology as part of the learning mix.  Interestingly, although firms seem increasingly happy to use Web 2.0 technologies as part of their recruitment tool set, IT security has a tendency to bar usage of tools such as Facebook as soon as graduates join the firm.

Firms still like their big stick

The vast majority of e-learning being produced is still compliance-led i.e. staff have to complete the e-learning as part of a regulatory or professional requirement upon pain of unpleasant threats from the Risk Partner. There are relatively few examples of e-learning where a business case has been identified and then e-learning developed to meet the learning needs.  The perception that e-learning is for dull compliance topics is one that will take significant effort to shift for many firms.

What next?

The risk averse nature of people in professional firms is a brake on cultural change. This is countered by the sector being joined by hundreds of the most talented graduates, who expect that the technologies used at work will be as up to date as the technologies they use in their leisure/ at university. Whilst there is gradual cultural change amongst the longer established professionals, the cumulative influx of fresh blood will lead to a tipping point where e-learning becomes the preferred channel for formal learning. Over the years, surveys have shown that staff in professional firms prefer face to face training to e-learning.  I predict that the point when face to face training and e-learning are viewed equivalently will be in 2011.

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