Busy managers climbing on board Qantas A380 planes this month will find there is no excuse for not being clued up when they disembark at their destination. The airline is about to install an online learning tool: access to the recently launchedDeloitte Leadership Academy in all its television screens. The managing partner at the academy,Tom Richardson, says Qantas' adoption of the e-learning package is a sign of how much education is changing. "The terminology is about a shift towards snack learning," he says, referring to busy executives who want to make the best use of their time. "It doesn't mean traditional long-term programs will be replaced; rather [they will be] supplemented by snack learning."
Richardson says snack learning is characterised by 10- to 20-minute modules with points of view and insights. An example might be used by a chief financial officer who identifies that he or she needs to bone up on change management. In the past, that might have meant a course, scheduled to start months away.
Now executives can flag it with human resources and have bite-sized content pushed on a regular basis and delivered to his or her BlackBerry, where it can be accessed on demand.
Although Richardson doesn't believe snack learning means the end of traditional classroom education, he thinks the balance will shift. "Snack learning is working as an overlay but we will start to see a drop in enrolment numbers in traditional classroom training," he says. "It is already happening, slowly. People don't have the necessary flexibility to attend a fixed class, and the cost of those classes has increased."
The other issue he sees as contributing to the decline in popularity of classroom training is that, by nature, it has to cater to the many, rather than the individual. "Modules are set for you, and that is affecting retention rates," Richardson says.
But Deloitte isn't setting the leadership academy up to go head-to-head with established business schools. Rather, it seeks to work alongside them, using their intellectual property on its portal.
The leadership academy h as 16 content providers, including business schools, institutions, associations and professional services firms.
"Business schools know they have this IP they deliver through the classroom channel and they are looking for alternative vehicles to deliver it through," Richardson says
Education industry participants stress that online learning does not signal the demise of more traditional class-based instruction.
At Mt Eliza Executive Education (part of the Melbourne Business School), business development executiveGreg Campbell talks of providing a blended approach to teaching, where online and classroom programs complement each other.
Mt Eliza offers three different types of programs: the open, generally available ones; the tailored approach, where an off-the-shelf plan is remodelled to suit a particular need; and customised schemes built from scratch.
Many of its off-the-shelf programs, which can range from five to 25 days, have an online portal for discussion and extra learning.
It's the same for tailored plans, where an online component can be designed.
"We are increasingly getting more demand for it, particularly in the customised space, where e-learning is used to support face-to-face learning," Campbell says.
But he can't envisage a future without physical classrooms. "It is still the major component of what we do," he says. "We rarely offer an e-learning solution on its own."
And although Richardson touts the leadership academy, he also says class-based education is suited for particular types of learning.
"There are things that require personal interaction and focus on aspects of the individual's personality," he says. "But in terms of capability development and understanding the best thinking around a topic, that can be done well online."
But e-learning offers an unlimited amount of information at an executive's fingertips.
"We could look at what is being said on change management currently, then look at it from a more theoretical viewpoint," Campbell says.
The biggest attraction of e-learning programs is what executives on Qantas flights are about to discover: you can have access to education when you want it.
CFO Magazine, Fairfax Business Media
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