Center Online Learning How to Build an Online learning centers may be

Online learning centers may be
the new construct for training
and development.
How to Build an
Online Learning
By Kenneth M. Boxer and Bernardine Johnson
TDAugust 2002
or technological breakthroughs to
change our daily lives, they must not
only bring something new, but also
must enable us to make better use of
what we already have. The automotive age, for example, didn’t begin
with the internal combustion engine. It began when
Henry Ford (and others) integrated new technology
with traditional crafts—leather workers, woodworkers, metallurgists—in a system of mass production.
Online learning centers may prove to be a
comparably significant organizing construct for
training and development. Much like Ford’s innovations, a learning center effectively blends powerful new technology—the Internet, intranets, and
e-delivered courses—with traditional learning
media such as audio- and videotapes, instructor-
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led courses, books, and articles. The result is a
powerful, accessible learning information source
for an entire organization.
W.R. Grace, a global specialty chemicals company, launched its online learning center in 2001.
The result is a global focal point for learning within
Grace as well as a powerful new employee communications channel. The Grace Global Learning
Center supports employee development world-wide
cost-effectively, while linking learning to performance and talent management, strategic communication, and individual development planning.
The blueprint
W.R. Grace’s HR leadership wanted to provide managers throughout the company fast and easy access to a
wide selection of skill-building tools. Recognizing that
not all learning solutions
Sample Learning
She moved from China to
Center Offerings
require training, the comthe United States 11 years
Internal classroom training
pany wanted managers to
ago and now works as a
External courses
have access to on-the-job
technician associate. Her
CD-ROM courses
learning strategies they
personal and professional
Self-paced learning tools
could reference easily to
development priority is imStreaming video
address all kinds of emproving her command of
Internet learning conferences
ployee development needs.
E-learning courses
Surveys indicated a wide“I want to speak correct
Coaching tips for managers and mentors
spread desire for enhanced
English to my boss and coAudio- and videotapes
professional and personal
workers to be sure I say
Books and articles
development support that
things clearly and they unCorporate mission, values, and strategy
employees could readily
derstand,” she explains. Bo
Strategy guides suggesting specific
use on their own.
adds that it’s equally impordevelopment actions, on-the-job and
Grace recognized that
tant for her to understand
in the community
the learning center coninstructions in English to
Corporate and industry news
cept developed and proavoid rework from misposed by Strategic Partners
would provide the answer.
Bo taps the Global
Specifically, it would
Learning Center’s tape
● keep Grace’s learning strategy fully aligned with
rental library for audio programs that help her deits rapidly evolving business strategy
velop her grammar, vocabulary, and communication
● provide a focal point for worldwide learning and
“I started to rent tapes when the center was first
● ensure fast and easy access to a comprehensive
launched, and I listen to them whenever I have time
range of valuable learning content, deliverable via a during the day, also on the way to and from work. I
find it’s a very efficient way for me to learn things,”
of media
she says.
● link learning content to core competencies
Grace’s director of HRD, Ron Pepe, also sees the
(competencies identified as essential to fulfilling value of the center in practical terms. “Now, manGrace’s business objectives)
agers are working with people who are more intent on
● actively promote and enable open, ongoing comdeveloping their skills and talents. They see job skills
munication about learning, employee development, and experience as the currency of the future, part of
and key business processes
the reward of being in an organization,” he says.
● ensure easy, ongoing addition of evolving learnPepe also thinks complexity is driving a difing content and technologies.
ferent approach to managing. “Managers can’t have
The result is Grace’s Global Learning Center. all of the answers anymore; it’s too much for one
The center was piloted with Grace employees person.” To help, Grace’s leadership development
in the Americas in March 2001. Within six months, programs give managers at all levels tools on the
its success led to the official launch of the center, Global Learning Center site to support them with
now available 24/7 to Grace’s 6000 employees in development ideas and resources, as well as the latEurope, Asia, and Africa. Global Learning Center is est forms and guidance for performance review and
a place for them to explore and pursue fresh devel- development processes.
opment opportunities, order audio and video
instruction, enroll in courses, and keep abreast of Anatomy of a learning center
As Grace has found, an online learning center is a
what’s new in learning at Grace.
treasure trove of learning resources, a career develIt’s empowering
opment mentor, and a powerful channel for corpoGrace employee Luhong Bo provides a case in point. rate communications together in one place, which
TDAugust 2002
employees can access
Why a Learning
own units. Under considCenter?
easily via the Internet or
eration is the addition of
Access. A learning center provides easy
corporate intranet.
foreign language pages for
access to a wide range of learning content,
A learning center’s ofemployees who don’t
delivered via diverse media appropriate to differings might be orgaspeak English as their priferent learning styles.
nized any number of
mary language in the
Empowerment. A learning center helps
ways based on corporate
people throughout the organization take
values, primary business
Decisions about
responsibility for their professional and
objectives, or compoadditions to the center
personal development.
nents of the organizaand its direction are
Focus. A learning center visibly and
tion’s mission—or a
among the important
tangibly links learning and development to
functions of the center’s
business priorities.
Grace chose to orgaGlobal Steering ComManagement. A learning center gives mannize its center around a
mittee—made up of repagers direct access to an array of practical
set of core competencies
resentatives from all of
tools to improve employees’ performance
which, together, define
the business units and
and proactively guide career development.
the knowledge, skills,
drawn equally from
and abilities all employGrace’s Americas, Euees are expected to atrope (including Africa),
tain. The center’s visitors
and Asia Pacific business
can use the search option to explore and access re- regions. Through regular meetings, the committee’s
sources relevant to a particular topic or to instantly role is to keep the center attuned to the real developaccess a range of relevant tools and action options.
ment needs of employees, including managers; to
Training sessions is a list of Grace-approved internal promote the use of the center in each of the regions;
and external programs, including e-learning op- and to provide HR leadership with feedback on how
tions, for developing each core competency.
the center is doing meeting identified needs.
Recommended readings is a list of the best books on
Last but far from least, the learning center is
each topic (ordered by email), as well as download- a powerful channel for communicating manageable articles.
ment messages and sharing learning success stories.
Rental library is a place for ordering audiocassettes, Every six weeks, the center sends an electronic
videotapes, and CDs for self-paced learning. Employ- newsletter, Career Advantage, to every employee’s
ees throughout North America can have such learn- desktop.
ing tools delivered to their desks within a few days.
Career Advantage’s mission is threefold:
Strategy guide lets visitors browse a list of quick 1. Keep all of Grace up to date on what the learning
ideas, learning assignments, and other direct actions center offers.
to develop a competency.
2. Report on the wide variety of ways Grace employAmong the most popular features in the center ees are using the center effectively.
are links to the guidelines and forms for complet- 3. Encourage Grace employees worldwide to
ing an annual performance development review. make the most of the center as a learning and
Grace intends to make it possible for managers development resource.
and their staff to complete and submit all review
Links embedded in the e-newsletter take readers
documentation electronically.
directly to whatever part of the center is being
To come are links to external resources such as Har- described. Just as with all e-initiatives, internal marvard Business Review and a section dedicated to Grace’s keting, promotion, and communication are imporSix Sigma initiative. Because Grace’s business and tant to success. Career Advantage helps provide
functional units are diverse in the markets they serve continuing visibility to all employees.
and types of worker knowledge required, employees
will soon be able to access information about key How to ensure success
learning and organizational initiatives within their Based on our experience, here are the keys to
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successful implementation:
Who’s Ripe for
Learning Centers?
els regarding relevant
competencies and, if a
Line up strong senior
Here are some characteristics of organizaquick brush-up is retions we think are especially ready to implemanagement support.
quired, identify the best
ment a learning center:
That’s always a smart
● geographically dispersed learners
Keep it visible. The frething to do, of course,
● technology-friendly employee population
quent appearance of Cabut it’s especially com● drive to maximize learning ROI
reer Advantage helps keep
pelling when imple● strong senior management commitment to
the center visible to emmenting a learning
learning, and attracting and retaining top talent
ployees right at their
center. At Grace, senior
● t&d staff overextended in trying to meet
desktops. Other promoexecutives quickly
needs and fulfill commitments.
tional strategies for maingrasped the advantages
taining visibility include a
of a learning center,
comprehensive global
and they’re still solidly
behind it. VP of HR Mike Piergrossi frequently launch campaign with articles in other employee
refers to the center as “the easiest sell to our execu- media, posters displayed in cafeterias and other
gathering spots, and rewards for successfully comtive team I’ve ever made.”
Build gradually. Resist the temptation to quickly pleting an online scavenger hunt.
construct a grand technology temple. It’s far better Ensure that the content is fresh. Not surprisingly,
to get a modest learning center up and running first, employees expect to find something new and difgather feedback from users, make any needed ferent each time they visit an online resource. The
learning center’s regional administrators keep the
adjustments, and then build on that.
Invite involvement. People tend to support what center up-to-date with the latest course information
they help create. Grace established the steering and learning resources. The center’s easy-to-use,
committee to give its HR staff, business leaders, secure administration system lets designated employand other employees around the globe ongoing op- ees in each plant or location add course information
portunities to help shape the center.
to the site. Once it’s reviewed and approved by the
Provide a variety of learning tools. Address diverse authorized administrator, it’s posted instantly.
learning priorities and styles with a broad mix of inWill online learning centers revolutionize trainhouse
and ing and development in this century, much as
external learning resources. Make the learning cen- Henry Ford’s production line revolutionized
ter valuable to each part of your organization.
transportation in the last? Grace’s experience with
Make the learning center a focal point. Many organi- its center suggests that potential. Paul Norris,
zations have corporate intranets and have implement- chairman, president, and CEO of W.R. Grace, sums
ed e-learning and a learning management system. The it up: “Targeted, practical learning—the kind
learning center should be the focal point for use of all of learning fostered through our Global Learning
learning tools to increase the value of learning to Center—is how people achieve professional growth.
the organization.
And professional growth will take us all where
Make it part of the whole organizational system. we want to go.”
Although the center is the learning focal point, it
Online learning centers is a concept for our times.
must be integrated with core processes and systems Expect to see many more of them, soon. TD
such as performance and talent management, communication,
rewards and recognition. At Grace, employees,
including managers, find performance review
forms at the center and will soon be able to link to Kenneth M. Boxer is president of Strategic Partners,
current job postings and employee referral systems. Potomac, Maryland; [email protected] Bernardine
An employee considering applying for a new posi- Johnson is director of HR for W.R. Grace, Columbia, Marytion will be able to quickly assess his or her skill lev- land; [email protected]
TDAugust 2002