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Barriers to elearning in Small and Medium Enterprises

March 9th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

I have been doing some thinking recently on the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Or rather the lack of it. Some six or seven years ago we did a project on this finding that although there was much use of technology for informal learning, there was very little awareness, take up or implementation of elearning systems in SMEs (the book of the project is available on our publications page).
Since then there has been considerable public expenditure in Europe encouraging the enhanced use of technology for learning. Small and Medium Enterprises are seen as a key sector for creating employment and for innovation. Training and Continuing Professional Development are critical to innovation and the growth of SMEs. SMEs do not provide sufficient training because they cannot spare the time for staff to attend external training programmes and because internal training is too expensive. Therefore use elearning – so goes the logic. But the logic is clearly flawed. SMEs have not rushed to embrace the possibilities of elearning, despite pubic subventions. So what are the barriers and constraints. The following list is based on a series of meetings and consultation albeit in the somewhat specialist field of careers guidance, which, in England, is organised through private careers companies under contracts with local and national government. Indeed, one of the problems, I think, is that we have tended to treat SMEs as a homogeneous entity, whilst, in reality, the possibilities and approach in different sectors varies greatly and there is also big differences between an SME of 250 workers (the EU says an SME is any organisation employing less than 300 staff) and small enterprises with say 8 or ten staff.

  1. Lack of resources. Lack of formal based learning courses or resources. Most training programmes and Continuing Professional Development opportunities are face to face. This may reflect culture, lack of awareness of potential of e-learning and lack of technically proficient specialists to develop e-learning resources, plus of course the cost of producing high quality learning materials.
  2. Poor infrastructure. Many careers companies have a poor network infrastructure and are using out of date computers with even more out of date web browsers etc. Furthermore many of companies have set up heavy firewalls preventing access to social networking sites.
  3. Lack of competence or confidence in use of computers by some careers advisers. May be some reluctance by staff to become involved in elearning.
  4. Lack of awareness by senior managers and staff development officers of potential of elearning. Lack of local champions for change
  5. Despite all these problems and barriers, most careers advisers use computers as part of their everyday job. There are requirements to use networked systems for record keeping. In addition many use the computers for informal learning and especially for browsing for resources, also using the computer in direct work with clients. However such activity is not viewed by managers as ‘learning’ neither is it accredited.
  6. Lack of time. It is difficult to persuade managers to provide time for informal (or formal) online learning, especially given present financial climate. Many do appear to use computer for work purposes at home and in their own time.
  7. Cost. Many online resources are expensive and at present careers services are under heavy financial pressure. Is also worth noting that practices of companies in paying for online access by say mobile phone varies greatly. Staff may be unwilling to use mobile devices if are expected to pay themselves.
  8. Confidentiality. Much of the work is confidential. This may mitigate against the use of open social software networks.
  9. Organisational structures. Careers companies have to bid for contracts and may be unwilling to share learning opportunities or resources with other companies who may be perceived as competitors.
  10. Lack of functionality to share informal learning. Are only limited networks and community applications for sharing learning. there are some signs this may be changing but most learning is hared and disseminated face to face or by email.
  11. Much of the work of careers advisers take place outside the office. Access to resources including internet may be limited.

These barriers could be categorised as social, pedagogical, organsiational and technological. In reality the different categories probably reinforce each other and overlap. But each area needs to be addressed if progress is to be made.

I would be interested in other opinions as to barriers in developing elearning in SMEs – in this or other sectors

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One Response to “Barriers to elearning in Small and Medium Enterprises”

  1. Don Presant says:

    Our approach is to work through regional and national sector councils for collective solutions, such as common frameowrks and learning networks. It’s not perfect, but can work.

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