According to a survey in the September 2003 issue of Training, 39 percent of organizations responding said that cost was a significant reason for limiting their use of e-learning. E-learning can offer plenty of benefits, but many organizations—and their employees—are left out in the cold because the cost is too high.
Don't give up. There are ways to get around the cost barrier. By making intelligent use of what you already have, finding free and low-cost collaboration tools, being savvy in dealing with vendors, and deciding which features you really need, you can create quality e-learning even if your budget is pathetic.
Don't believe me? What if I said that the most commonly used office software can help you to do all kinds of learning tasks that you never thought of? Or that there are all kinds of free tools and content available on the Web, just lying around for you to pick up and use? Or that your own company probably has resources you've never thought of?
"There's just so much out there to get you started without spending a lot," says Michael McGinniss, a training manager at Bose Corp. in Framingham, Mass.
But wait, you say. What about the learning management system (LMS) issue? If I can't afford an LMS, how can I have any budget for anything else? Let's start with a simple truth: You don't have to have a robust LMS before doing anything else. The need for an LMS may be a long way off. Vaughan Waller, chairman of the E-learning Network, a nonprofit organization in the UK, notes: "If your budget has been decimated by the LMS, then you will have no money for the learning content. It's analogous to having a superb library which has no books."
McGinnis asks, "What do you really need? Will anyone ever look at those 96 different reports? All I really need to be able to do is show our managers and our auditors that certain employees finished certain courses." Sometimes that can be achieved with nothing more than a printable completion form, or a test created with a free survey or quiz engine.
Even if you want more, McGinnis adds, "You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a lot of functionality." There are a number of free vendors offering open-source LMS products (the best known are Moodle and A-Tutor), and several of the bigger vendors now offer "boutique" or "LMS lite" versions of their products.
If you really do have to take the LMS plunge with limited funds, Josh Bersin offers hope. In an article on customer satisfaction with LMSs in Training's April 2005 issue, he reported that those who were happiest with their LMS purchases tended to be the ones with the smallest budgets. That's because they were only able to afford what they really needed, then added on absolute essentials one piece at a time. That same logic can apply to your e-learning program—you can create much more than you realize, and add on as you're able.
Use What You Have