E-learning and E-assessment has been quietly seeping into staff development programmes amongst larger organisations. Small businesses are increasingly looking at ways to utilise E-learning packages for their staff, but many are either too busy with the day-to-day running of their business or not convinced of the benefits to pursue implementing such packages.

The benefits of E-learning and E-assessment may not be obvious to small businesses that are stretched for human resource. However it is exactly these types of business that are in a position to gain massively from an investment into e-learning. By utilising flexible technology, employees can have access to learning materials, work portfolios and guidance anywhere at anytime.

Off-site training tends to be ‘one size fits all’ – although specific, it can be too rigid and does not always engage the learner. It happens at a set time in a set location – whereas online training is accessible any time and can be tailored to the individual’s needs.

The Internet is a crucial aspect of E-learning. It allows support of the learner in real-time and increases motivation by providing an engaging medium. Staff can collaborate with others such as tutors, colleagues and with their employer, ensuring that they feel valued and part of a team. Moreover, they may view their organisation differently, not just as a workplace, but also as an arena for personal development.

Knowledge management is an over-used term by business consultants, but it is an important success factor. The issue is to retain and build on a firm’s knowledge to provide a competitive advantage. E-learning technology can help, not least through increased staff retention, but also by its development – the courses and learning packages can be honed over time, increased in quality, and can include specific learning that relates to your business. Managers have much less control over off-site training since much of the knowledge gained is transient…it leaves when your staff do.

So how can this learning and technology improve the bottom-line? Expensive training days out of the office can stop, where not only the actual cost is very high, but also there is the cost of not having staff available for that time. Increased staff retention means reduced recruitment costs, motivated staff means increased productivity and knowledge retained means increased long-term efficiency.

Competency-based or vocational training (which normally includes NVQs, Key Skills and technical certificates) suffers as much of the work is practical, requiring involvement from many people, including a third party training provider. The learner, tutor/assessor, workplace manager, internal verifier, external verifier and training provider co-ordinator all require access to the learner’s portfolio of work. Portfolios can end up being the size of two lever arch files! This is very difficult to manage. The processes are not fluid and the net result is usually a long and drawn out process. E-assessment systems allow the online portfolio to be available to everyone at anytime.

There are many options and packages available to small businesses and a good starting point is to discuss E-assessment with your third party training provider if you have one, or to contact organisations such as The Open University and LearnDirect. Other reputable training providers include Studyflex (www.studyflex.co.uk), which delivers Chartered Management Institute qualifications, including Management and Team Leading. Entrust (www.entrust.co.uk) delivers competency-based training in the areas of Management, Health & Safety and Learning & Development.