The business of e-learning
As the pharma industry continues on its growth path, companies are using e-learning to train (and re-train) employees for new challenges. Garima Arora explores the e-learning curve
Today, as technology evolves and businesses expand, employees often do not have the skills to keep up with the pace. This skills gap can adversely affect employee productivity, performance and business results. Organisations are finding out that continuous learning, as opposed to separate learning events, is the key to overcom this gap.
Organisations looking at continuous learning options have to also consider other factors. With sky rocketing attrition rates, vast distances and cost cutting measures, companies have to choose the most cost-effective solutions. Thus, revolutionary online multimedia courses that deliver continuous learning directly to the desktops of employees, for a fraction of the cost of traditional training methods, or what is more popularly known as ‘e-learning’, fits the bill in all respects. E-learning is a methodology of transferring knowledge supported by multimedia content and delivering it synchronously and/or asynchronously over an electronic network. It is not a replacement of instructor led or classroom training, but acts as a supplement to reinforce crucial knowledge and helps overcome physical and logistic limitations of traditional training methodologies.
Though, traditionally, e-learning solutions have been more popular amongst the IT/telecom and banking sectors, many pharma companies are today adopting similar packages, especially for sales rep training, assessment and performance support. “The Indian pharma industry is fast changing from a low-price manufacturing/copycat research based industry into a knowledge intensive, high value IP centric industry. This has brought forth a new set of challenges in terms of training manpower in new areas of R&D and drug discovery, IP, global regulatory and compliance laws, clinical research guidelines, and global sales and marketing systems,” says Shameema Parveen, Knowledge Officer, Edutech. Unlike an FMCG product, which involves direct advertising and the fact that it is seen on the shelf guarantees its purchase, a pharma company has to make a winning case before doctors in order to ensure that they prescribe their drug, thereby, driving up sales. “It is imp-ortant that medical reps communicate correctly with doctors. For this, constant training and communication is mandatory,” says Uday Vijayan, Managing Director, Excel Software and Systems.
On an average, an Indian pharma company has hundreds, and sometimes, thousands of on-field sales reps. Managing classroom training for so many people at the same time is next to impossible. Besides, 60-70 percent of the training budget would be depleted in managing logistics for so many people spread over as large a geographical area as India, which makes it a very expensive exercise. “Classroom learning has the limitation that it cannot be conducted at any time. So when a person joins, there is a waiting period involved, where the person has to wait for the class to be scheduled. This can lead to suffering of productivity,” says Anil Chhikara, Founder President 24x7Learning. Hence, today we find more and more companies opting for virtual training sessions to traditional classroom training. E-learning offers repetitive training, ensures quick and on-time delivery of training to the learners, ensures consistency, lowers the training logistics and administration overheads and is available anytime, anywhere. As the company pays for only the training content, the cost per student decreases as more and more individuals undergo the module, unlike classroom training that has a fixed cost, which multiplies with the number of times a session is taken.
So how does one go about creating the perfect e-learning module for a pharma company or institute? “The perfect e-learning solution, whether for a pharma company or for an institute, can be put together if three factors are kept in mind at all times—the objective of the learning (what are the knowledge gaps to be filled), the profile of the learner (demographics, technology savvyness, language preference, age, gender, occupation etc.), and the motivation for the learner to take up the training (benefits gained from this training),” says Shameema. These factors define the approach for the best suited instructional design, creative inputs and the technology components that would go on to complete the e-learning package.
Since e-learning provides for a two way communication, where the management expects constant feedback from its employees and their performance based on their understanding of the content, a perfect package consists of a series of questions at various stages of the module that are to be answered by the employees undertaking the training. Typical classroom data is converted into power point slides. There are tools that allow one to add audio inputs and questions to be asked within the module. The module presents a concept and then checks whether the employee has understood the concept or not. After the employee has gone through a set number of slides, he is presented with a question. This ensures that the learner understands, as he goes forward. At the end of the module there is a full-fledged assessment that maps the module code objective. The scoring of this is tracked by the learning mapping system at the back end. To make the interface user friendly, the questions are published as Flash content. Today most Internet browsers have Flash installed. This has become the default way of viewing multi media content on the web.
Though e-learning offers many benefits, most experts believe it can never completely substitute the traditional way of learning. “One of the biggest shortcomings of e-learning is that one misses the personal link that one would otherwise share with a mentor. Besides, isolation can be challenging for many people,” says Chikara. “It works best in combination with class room learning. They can complement each other very well,” says Udayan. Many believe that in a country like India, infrastructure problems pose great hindrance in proper deployment of e-learning modules nationally. However, this too is changing now, as there are many regions across the country where Internet and PC penetration is increasing. “There has been a growth of high-speed Internet access centres from companies such as Reliance and Sify across India, and these centres can be great hubs for e-learning for corporate or academic learners, who may not have the required infrastructure at their homes or offices,” says Shameema. Today the e-learning industry in India is worth approximately $10-12 million. Most experts believe this is likely to grow twice the size in the next two years. This seems guaranteed as e-learning meets the goals of both the employer and employee. The management sees productivity growing by leaps and bounds, thanks to new levels of flexibility in training that allows their employees to learn at home, work or even when on the move. For the employee, e-learning is an ideal way to upgrade and hone their skill sets, improving their market potential.