4"Some companies strive for 100 percent distance learning, but we don't believe that's the right way to do things," says Nancy Lewis.
An interesting statement coming from the director of management development at ibm—the Armonk, N.Y.-based technology behemoth that spends $1 billion annually on training for its 307,000-plus global employees.
ibm is synonymous with cutting-edge technology and innovative thinking, but people remain the center of any company—regardless of its business, Lewis says.
"I didn't grow up learning through technology or learning on the Web," she explains. "It's about human behavior ... a change initiative to reinvent how learning is best delivered to meet the changing needs of our employees in a fast-paced, mobile e-world."
Distance learning does constitute 100 percent of some training initiatives, depending on the skill and content to be learned, but most training programs have a more blended approach to delivery, containing both distance learning and traditional classroom instruction.
One highly successful "blended" initiative for ibm is Basic Blue for Managers, which combines three tiers of technology-delivered training (75 percent of the program) with one tier of weeklong classroom-based learning activities (25 percent) over a 52-week period. More than 5,000 new ibm managers from every geography and business unit attended Basic Blue in 2000. The company rigorously measures the impact of its programs and pegs Basic Blue's return on investment at 57-to-1.
Basic Blue's founding principle maintains that learning is an extended process, not a one-time event. The 12-month program helps infuse new managers with the leadership abilities and skills necessary to effectively lead and manage teams. And the blended approach allows managers to learn online via simulators, tutors, virtual collaboration and individual study, all the while blending it with classroom experiences.
"It's a successful blending of e-learning and face- to-face learning," Lewis says. "Some learning is better offered through the Web and some is better in the classroom."
So touted is the program that it's being adopted by other parts of the company as well as being sold externally by ibm Learning Services. Accolades have rolled in for the innovative program, including three citations for "Excellence in Practice" by astd.
Basic Blue for Man-agers delivers five times the content of previous new manager programs for one-third the cost. Additionally, the com- pany has saved nearly $1 million through the reuse of templates by other ibm organizations, avoided more than $24 million in program costs (travel,
living expenses, manager time), and significantly increased leadership knowledge, skills on the job, and improvement in business results.
The four-tiered leadership development curriculum, designed by ibm Management Development in 1998, uses online resources of best practices and best thinking to master basic skills that are reinforced by classroom learning.
In tier one of the blended e-learning model, a manager can research best thinking on more than 70 leadership and people management topics, calling on resources such as ManageMentor from Harvard Business School Publishing and specific action worksheets.
Tier two combines interactive Web learning with simulations created from tier one research. More than two dozen simulations address a wide range of topics such as business conduct guidelines, work-life issues, retention and personal business commitments. In tier three, groups of learners get together in cyberspace to learn collaboration skills and build real-life learning networks.
Finally, the fourth tier encompasses classroom learning interventions. The in-class experiences require the learner to master the material contained in the earlier tiers so that precious time spent in the classroom can target deeper and richer skill development.
Innovative blended programs, such as Basic Blue for Managers, benefit everyone at ibm, according to Lewis. "Being able to deliver a richer and more effective learning process is a real advantage for the learner and the company."