Comunidades de Prática, E-learning e PME's.

Improving eLearning strategies in SMEs21 Nov 2007. 142 visitas Autor**Ileana Hamburg**, Main researcher, EU Project coordinator, IAT, FH Gelsebnkirchen external image media14203.pngResearch carried out in different European and national studies and in projects shows that eLearning is used mainly in big companies. In this paper after the presentation of some reasons of the low use of eLearning in European small and medium sized-companies (SMEs) examples of training strategies for improving this situation including the development of communities of practice within an ongoing project are given. It is important to help SMEs to build participative suitable models of training based on eLearning i.e. within communities of practice because often SMEs lack of resources and time to do this alone.
1. eLearning and SMEs

Some years ago, the introduction and use of eLearning in small and medium sized companies (SMEs) has been seen as unproblematic and, in fact, as a “royal path” to answering training needs in SMEs (Sun Microsystems 2003). It was assumed that managers of SMEs would recognize the problem of meeting adequately the continuous training needs of their staff for innovation and that the updating of professional knowledge and skills could be supported by eLearning, as cheap, just in time training taking place on-line and/or at the working place.

Research carried out in different European and national studies (i.e. Attwell et al., 2003) and in projects (e.g. ARIEL, financed within the eLearninginitiative –; Beer et al., 2006) show that eLearning is used ever since mainly in big companies. SMEs use Internet and eLearning predominantly for product advertising (particularly through web sites) and only 7 % for human resources.

These studies and projects (Hamburg et al., 2004; 2005) also show that the low use of eLearning in European SMEs is mainly due to:
  • Training culture within the SMEs which is often dependent on trainer and conventional training methods; skills needed for a more independent approach and the use of new media for learning are missing. There is a lack of “long-term” vocational strategies for the staff based on deep analysis of their qualification needs – another used learning strategy in SMEs is “learning by doing”.
  • SMEs managers have not enough knowledge or are not convinced of the effectiveness of eLearning. The Staff has a lack of time and motivation to test new learning methods.
  • Appropriate software and contents for SMEs are missing. The major part of commercial eLearning software is modelled on the requirements of big enterprises or higher education and SMEs can not afford to pay tailor-made ones. The existing training offers in supporting specific business needs of SMEs are often inadequate and/or unattractive. A continuous cooperation between eLearning-developers, -providers (eLearning market) and SMEs which could improve this situation is missing.
At present most European SMEs act alone in facing their training problems. For future development it is necessary to strengthen cooperation with other SMEs, with large enterprises, with training providers and public institutions (e.g. Chambers of Commerce). One suitable solution for SMEs is to build communities of practice (Palloff et al., 1999; Johnson 2001; Wenger et al., 2002) to share knowledge, to apply best practices in technology-enhanced learning and to develop business-oriented models of eLearning for them. Such forms of co-operation could stimulate new experiments, new actions and new directions for learning.

The European Commission and almost all European Member States provide support in some form or other to the fostering of eLearning in SMEs, but in many countries education and training are fragmented with responsibilities in different policy areas and agencies. As a result there is a lack of integrated support services for SMEs in which learning, and in particular eLearning, is a key component in the portfolio.

2. Examples of training strategies for SMEs based on eLearning

Based on the results of ARIEL and other projects, the European project SIMPEL started this year within eLearning initiative ( It is aimed at improving the eLearning use in SMEs by participative development of sustainable eLearning based training strategies and models. These strategies and models will be developed and disseminated including also good practices in eLearning for SMEs. One of the activities within the project is the organization of workshops and seminars in all partner countries with representants of SMEs, eLearning developers and providers, trainers, eLearning experts, regional authorities and researchers. The first meetings were used to discuss different eLearning based training strategies and for searching ways to convince SMEs about the advantages of eLearning. The tasks for next workshops and seminars are the development and dissemination of training models for the most suitable strategies.

Two general strategies for introducing eLearning to be followed by the companies discussed on the German workshop within SIMPEL are the following:

A) The strategy of minimal change e.g. introducing of new media and training concepts should involve only minimal changes in the structures and processes of the company. Through a latent implementation the acceptance of the new media by trainers will be assured and the staff is automatically introduced to the new tools and learning methods.
B) In contrast to the minimal change strategy active change includes a review of the organisation, its infrastructure, learning culture and business strategy as appropriate to the new learning objectives, concepts and methods.

For more efficiency, strategy B should be followed. For reasons of acceptance often the starting point is, however, strategy A. Actors concerned with the introduction of eLearning ought to be conscious of the fact that the minimal change approach may be suitable as long as eLearning is seen as a first experiment. As soon as a serious commitment is made to eLearning any conception has to rest on active change.

Another discussed problem at the workshop was the starting point in developing and implementing a training strategy for SMEs based on eLearning. Firstly, the business objectives of the companies should be analysed, the existing problems and needs which can be solved by improving the training strategy of the company and by the use of eLearning. The introduction of eLearning should be integrated into the whole qualification programme of the company and supported by technical and organisational measures. The advantages of eLearning should be known by managers and staff (i.e. in rapport with the competitors) and evaluation procedures should be carried up regularly for the eLearning programmes. Knowledge about eLearning market and a “long term” cooperation with an eLearning developer/provider are necessary.

Within SIMPEL a European community of practice was initiated to promote models of eLearning good practices and to attract staff who are engaged in support, training, design/development, use, consulting and policy formulation concerning eLearning in SMEs in the European Union, starting with the countries, where SIMPEL partners are active. The community will provide professional support for SMEs in using eLearning. Access to documents and discussions are supported by a Moodle-based platform offering accessibility and flexibility (Hargadon, S., 2006; Busse et al., 2007). The choice of Moodle was based first on an analysis of some open source virtual learning environments referring sustainability and viability (that influence the costs for adoption and further developments of the system) and of the pedagogical rationale of the environment. Secondly, we decided to use Moodle because some of the partners already have good experience and competence with this environment.

At the moment the active part of the community is in Germany. It starts the activity of adaptation the frames for the development of training strategies by using eLearning (which have been developed within SIMPEL and which can be use in Europe) to specific situation of German SMEs.Representatives of German SMEs and eLearning experts/producers are contacted to join the community.

The language used is German and the community works more virtually but also face to face meetings are planned. The experience gained in Germany will be used in all partner countries.

3. Conclusions

In order to work efficiently in new upcoming contexts SMEs are required to improve their learning strategies. eLearning can contribute to the achievement of needed competences and at the same time can meet the pronounced needs for flexibility in SMEs.

Experience gained by authors in this context within national and European projects (e.g. ARIEL, SIMPEL shows that it is important, to help SMEs to design, implement and evaluate suitable models of training for them based on eLearning i.e. within communities of practice because many SMEs have not always the resources and knowledge to do this alone.
Important aspects to be considered are re-examination of SME’s current position and business goals, development of solutions to improve their situation, a professional establishment of vocational training needs of the staff in this context and to include eLearning as a part of the company training plan that addresses and resources infrastructure, development, media and a didactic approach.


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“Comunidades de prática” e comunidades virtuais de aprendizagem: vantagens, dificuldades e factores de êxito

26 Set 2007. Autor**Patricia Margaret Gannon-Leary** , The Northumbria University **Elsa Fontainha**, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, ISEG – Technical University of Lisbon external image media13543.JPGUma “comunidade de prática” virtual (CdP) é uma rede de indivíduos que têm uma área de interesse comum e sobre a qual comunicam em linha. Estes praticantes partilham recursos (por exemplo experiências, problemas e soluções, ferramentas e metodologias). Esta troca resulta no aprofundamento do conhecimento de cada participante dessa comunidade e contribui para o aumento do conhecimento nessa área de interesse. Uma comunidade virtual de aprendizagem pode implicar que se proceda a pesquisa fundamental mas é mais provável que se destine a aprofundar o conhecimento dos participantes, através de ensino formal ou de desenvolvimento profissional. As comunidades virtuais de aprendizagem podem ter como objectivo principal a aprendizagem ou gerar eLearning como corolário.

As “comunidades de prática” virtuais (CdPs) e as comunidades virtuais de aprendizagem estão a generalizar-se no seio das instituições de ensino superior (IES) graças à evolução tecnológica que permite um acréscimo de comunicação, interactividade entre os participantes, e incorporação de modelos pedagógicos colaborativos, nomeadamente através das Tecnologias de Informação e Comunicação (TIC). São estas que potenciam a combinação da comunicação síncrona e assíncrona, que permitem os contactos com, e a partir de, comunidades geograficamente isoladas e a partilha internacional da informação.

É evidente que há vantagens decorrentes da partilha e da aprendizagem dentro e fora das IES. A interacção contínua cria um sentimento de conectividade, de paixão partilhada e o aprofundamento do conhecimento. O desenvolvimento do conhecimento pode ser contínuo, cíclico e fluido. No entanto, existem dificuldades nestas CdPs virtuais e as autoras definem-nas e ilustram-nas citando fontes académicas que estiveram envolvidas nas CdPs.

São abordados os factores críticos de êxito (FCEs) para uma CdP virtual. Entre outros estão a utilisabilidade da tecnologia; a confiança e a aceitação das TIC para comunicar; o sentimento de pertença a um grupo; a atenção prestada às dimensões transnacional e transcultural da CdP; a compreensão mútua; o sentimento dum objectivo comum; a netcortesia; uma linguagem acessível e a longevidade.

As autoras reconhecem o enorme potencial de desenvolvimento das CdPs, devido às discussões geradas nas listas de difusão electrónicas e nas plataformas de debate, mas sentiram elas próprias as dificuldades inerentes ao arranque duma comunidade deste tipo. Estas dificuldades são corroboradas e ilustradas por citações das entrevistas feitas no meio académico. Grande parte da literatura sobre CdPs tem a sua origem fora da Europa apesar dos artigos relacionados com eLearning terem aí uma grande disseminação. As autoras sugerem que se explore mais este tema, através da identificação e do estudo das CdPs e das comunidades virtuais de aprendizagem nos países da UE.