e-Learning: A Quantum Leap for Legal Training

Historically, legal organizations operate at a cautious pace when exploring new and innovative approaches to technology. As technologies evolve to accommodate increased workload, better time tracking and document management, firms must take definitive steps to increase the technical expertise of attorneys and legal support staff. Firm wide assimilation of a new technology is a significant challenge for trainers and information technology managers alike. Unfortunately, technological advances being rapidly assimilated by corporate clients, and, to a lesser extent, the Courts are forcing many firms to bring in new technology at a pace that is unprecedented. With each technological leap, comes an equally large knowledge vacuum created among end users. Law firms and legal organizations are facing an ever more challenging landscape of training needs with trainers often teaching a wide array of technologies to individuals who may or may not have sufficient computer skills. As a result, staff proficiency levels only reach 50% or less on any given product, and the firm slowly bleeds money in the form of inefficient software usage, lost productivity (particularly in the area of document formatting) and down time. One study estimates that these factors contribute to a £500,000 loss for any firm implementing a new technology. This loss is calculated using an average period of lost productivity equaling 2 weeks after the implementation of new software and multiplying the number of attorneys by their hourly billing rate for that entire period. This simple calculation demonstrates how losses related to productivity really add up. Trainers are subsequently faced with this training challenge; reduce the down time, inefficient use and lost productivity, and do so in a way that can accommodate an attorney’s tight schedule. e-Learning has now come of age and has many of the qualities to make it an ideal solution for legal training. Despite its obvious advantages, like any new technology, e-Learning has been met with some skepticism as to its effectiveness versus classroom training, in a traditional environment such as a law firm. “Will people use it?” “Does it Work?” e-Learning in a Law Firm Environment While cost savings are often touted as e-Learning’s greatest, and sometimes sole, benefit, there are in fact many other facets that must be considered when comparing e-Learning to traditional training methods.

Individual Compatibility
One of e-Learning’s greatest assets is its ability to conform to the specific needs of individual students. In a typical training room, an instructor is dealing with a wide range of skill levels among students. A class may contain 10% over achievers, 60% average students, 20% who will struggle, and 10% who are either unwilling or unable to understand the lesson being presented. (This final group may be significantly larger when dealing with technology related subject matter). The instructor is then faced with the question of “who to teach to?” The answer is to teach to the average student, subsequently disassociating nearly half of the class. In a corporate training environment this translates to 40% of students not improving skills, and in many cases achieving an inadequate level of competence. e-Learning, on the other hand, allows students to focus their energy on their area of individual need and thus becomes an ideal tool for reaching a technically diverse audience. What are the retention rates from classroom training? Some consultants say that, once past college years, retention is as low as 4 – 8% (even when the knowledge is utilized immediately after the class). Other tests show that retention is around 15 – 30%. In either case, this is a very low return on investment as classroom training is expensive both to deliver and to receive. Studies indicate that e-Learning increases retention rates from 40 - 80%. This is partially due to the user’s ability to revisit coursewar e as often as they like. An asynchronous e-Learning module (i.e. self-paced interactive training) allows students to work at a pace that is appropriate for their skill level. The most advanced students are free to move quickly through courses saving their valuable training time to be applied to more advanced topics. Average students are able to spend more time in areas that they find difficult without feeling the pressure of “holding up class”, and the least competent students are able to concentrate on developing the

fundamental skills that they lack at a pace that would be unacceptably slow for a classroom, but is easily achieved through e-Learning. The end result is a unilateral “raising of the bar” for minimum skills in a corporate environment, and a new freedom that allows the most technically competent individuals to become greater assets to the organization.

“Standards” is quickly becoming one of the most critical words in the corporate lexicon. New standards in technology, business ethics, and personal behavior are rapidly being codified throughout the world, and the need to provide consistent reliable training on those subjects is absolutely critical. e-Learning excels within this environment. By its very nature, e-Learning delivers a precise, consistent message to each individual student regardless of timing or location.

Scheduling is often the greatest barrier to learning in a professional environment. In many cases, professional men and women are simply unable to isolate large blocks of time to dedicate to training. This obstacle may be overcome by delivering shortened (but complete) e-Learning modules tailored to the specific needs of an individual job or classification. Busy learners may find that four 15-minute modules delivered on demand are far more palatable than a full hour of training delivered in the middle of their day.

Understanding what employees do and do not know is a critical function of any training organization. A quality e-Learning product will provide a built in mechanism for tracking not only student participation in critical training programs, but also their level of comprehension of any given subject matter. The availability and accuracy of this information is essential in areas such as compliance training, core competency training that is linked to performance review or CPD credits.

In any learning environment, there will be times when a student requires refresher training. e-Learning provides the most efficient method for delivering this type of training. Beyond the fact that it is a constant resource available for students to reference, a quality e-Learning program will allow students to seek out training on the specific skills that they lack without taking or retaking a complete course. Not knowing how to execute a function can cause considerable frustration among users and loss of Feeearning hours. Some Firms estimate that each call into the Help Desk costs around £21. (Average length of call 7 minutes, cost per minute £3). Having a Just In Time training tool on the desktop does reduce “How Do I….?” calls and reduces support costs and User frustration accordingly. Cost eLearning, as a general rule, is far less expensive than its more traditional counterparts. When eLearning is properly implemented, this cost saving can directly contribute to achieving hard-savings. In an October 2002 article published in Workforce, Cisco Systems asserted that the ROI for internal eLearning is 900 percent per course. While this number may vary from organization to organization, eLearning’s affordability gives it a natural advantage when calculating its overall value. Cost savings that typically accrue include: Achieving more with existing resources Reduced need for external resources Reduced Travel and Accommodation cost Acceleration of implementations Reduction in time taken to train users (e-Learning generally takes half the time of traditional methods), thereby reducing lost billable hours Reduction in Help Desk costs e-Learning’s Effect on Learners Even with the aforementioned advantages, e-Learning sometimes can meet with resistance. This can be attributed to a perception that e-Learning is an inferior training method. The overall effectiveness of e-Learning has been the focus of debate since the inception of the genre. Traditional classroom based training enterprises have long asserted that students learn best in instructor

lead environments, and that e-Learning or other distance based methods are inherently inferior. However, there is a large body of work which states otherwise. According to research, students in on line courses achieved scores equal to or better than their instructor lead counterparts, even in academic subjects. Data supporting the “no significant difference” phenomena has been validated in over 355 studies over many years. Studies showing on-line learning as a superior teaching method are more recent. This may be due to a number of factors. Better understanding of on-line instructional design, improved connection speed, and improved delivery methods all may contribute to a significant rise in the impact of on-line learning. A 2002 study at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Centre for Academic Transformation found that students in an on line environment outperformed traditional students by 13% in a nationally administered test. Similar findings were found at LSU in 2002, Michigan State University in 2001, and at Langley in 2000. In short, e-Learning as a delivery method is extremely effective when the instructional design is sound, and the material is relevant to the user.

Implementing e-Learning
The legal community’s challenge of training revenue earning attorneys is well known. In the face of increasing competition and an internal drive to execute billable hours, most firms can not afford to have 1– 3 days down time among attorneys so that they may be fully trained on any given piece of software. Numbers vary from firm to firm, but typically range from 5-15% of attorneys showing up for on site training courses. Even individual 1:1 training sessions attract a high cancellation rate. This results in an inflation in the number of support staff required to support the under-trained population. In the light of this environment, introducing any training is a challenge. However, a well-planned e-Learning strategy can reach a much greater number of difficult-to-pin-down learners. Moving to e-Learning requires a change in the learning culture of an organization. Depending on the Firm’s business imperatives, e-Learning can be introduced in various levels to different groups of users and for varying training purposes. These levels may be broken into three levels; Transition, Transfer, and Transformation.

The stage is not always necessary and is always best combined with a mixture of Stage Two “Transfer”. In many cases e-Learning is an entirely new concept to learners and a transition is appropriate. During transition students are asked to utilize e-Learning in a more traditional training environment such as a classroom or training room. In this scenario a learner would still report to the training room for a course, but would actually sign in to an on line learning module and take the course at their own pace. An instructor is still be present to answer questions, but would not actively be teaching the course. This form of proctored e-Learning introduces the concept of self paced training to students who have an expectation of being taught in a class. During this time they may familiarize themselves with the model of a selfpaced course and become acclimated to taking written directions rather than being directed by an instructor. In certain highly active envir onments where a student is likely to be frequently interrupted at their desk, turning a training room into an “e-Learning zone” also provides the isolation necessary to train.

As the Transition stage described above only offers limited simultaneous access to students, (just like traditional classroom training), it can hamper the speed of roll-out of new applications. So where new applications are being rolled out and where a Firm wishes to increase productivity rapidly across the board, wider access to e-Learning should be offered on the desktop. This means all users can train simultaneously irrespective of their location.

Successful ways of introducing e-Learning on the desktop include streamlining training content to make it specific to the user’s practice or job function. For instance, “Survival Skills for Litigation Attorneys”; “What every transactional secretary needs to know about Word” etc. Other successful methods include devising Core Competencies for specific groups of users or making some levels of training mandatory, or accrediting them for CLE points. Making it clear to users when and how they are expected to use the e-Learning and giving time limits, gives users a clear goal to achieve. Linking completion of e-Learning and mastery levels into Performance Appraisals (bonuses), also works wonders. Allowing the Help Desk to e-mail users with a URL link to the training they require (either before or after their question is answered) helps reduce support calls and familiarizes users with the e-Learning. These measures will ensure that every member of the organization is exposed to the on-line learning environment and will solidify the expectation that on-line resources be used. In addition, new hire training may also be moved to digital delivery. This sets an immediate expectation in every new hire that e-Learning resources are available and should be utilized.

Once the general populace of an organization has been transitioned into e-Learning, it is time to transform the bulk (if not the entire) corporate curriculum to a digital format. In doing so students will utilize an electronic portal to enroll in, take, and monitor their progress in their individual training path. The role of the trainer is then altered to focus on curriculum development, course marketing and highlevel workshop delivery, rather than in-class teaching of the basics. e-Learning does require planning, innovation and co-ordination with other departments for effective implementation. Once these steps have been put in place, an e-Learning program will transform the Corporate Learning culture; saving valuable time and money and greatly increasing User Skill levels.

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