Features - Law Firms Increasingly Choose E-Learning to Solve Technology Training Challenges

Kenneth A. Leeser is the Founder/President of Feed-Dog.com, a service which is designed to fill the need to make e-Learning a useable, effective tool for mid-size organizations. Ken holds Bachelor and Masters degrees in Engineering from The Johns Hopkins University. He graduated from the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard University with an MBA in 1981.

Whether it's building complex, sophisticated databases, creating dynamic streaming video for courtroom presentations, or simply continuing to train employees in the most effective ways to use MS Office, law firms are feeling more pressure than ever before to integrate new technologies into their offices. While there is no doubt that these new technologies will provide tremendous long-term benefits, implementation carries its own set of challenges.

While these exciting new technologies will enable lawyers and their staff to do their work more quickly, to truly reap the rewards of these new technologies people must be trained, as quickly, cheaply and effectively as possible. Moreover, any legal firm which fails to keep pace with new advances risks falling behind in an ever-more competitive legal marketplace.

Faced with the daunting prospect of training busy employees to use new or upgraded software programs, legal firms are increasingly choosing a new option: e-Learning courses.

While Distance Learning, completing study outside traditional classrooms, has existed for many years, e-Learning courses, presented on sophisticated, attractive multi-media Internet sites, are a relatively new but increasingly popular learning option. The United States e-Learning market, starting from zero in 1996, is currently estimated to be worth approximately $1.2 billion. Experts estimate that e-Learning expenditures will reach $10-12 billion by 2003, at which time they expect e-Learning to take the lead in the corporate training arena, becoming the predominant way companies train their employees.

In the case of legal firms, there are several important reasons why e-Learning is rapidly becoming the employee training option of choice. These reasons fall into three categories: cost, flexibility and effectiveness.

Cost, and the bottom line, may well be the most important reason many legal firms choose e-Learning programs over conventional alternatives. Bringing in traditional trainers generally costs more than contracting for e-Learning courses. Sending employees out for classroom training is even more expensive, since legal firms must then add hotel, meal and transportation expenses to trainers' fees. Training center hardware and other equipment also add additional expenditures to the bottom line.

The bigger the company, the higher the cost. James Sharpe, Director of Distributed Learning for corporate giant IBM, recently revealed that, "IBM last year saved $200 million by reducing travel expenses for educational seminars through e-Learning projects."

For mid-size and larger legal firms, the use of e-Learning programs can also leverage computer hardware and other technological resources which may already be in place. Plus, e-Learning programs fit seamlessly into company intranets. In addition, these programs free the law firm's technical staff to perform more complex tasks than repetitive training functions, putting staff to more effective use and generating even greater benefits for the company.

But cost is just one reason legal firms are increasingly opting for e-Learning over traditional training methods. The flexibility e-Learning courses can provide is often an even more important factor in this decision. The fact that e-Learning courses do not require advance scheduling comprises one major advantage. Scheduling groups of employees for the same seminar at the same time takes them all away from their jobs, a situation bound to create problems for the firm. When firms operate out of several different locations, scheduling complexities can be overwhelming. By utilizing "anytime, anywhere" courses, training is available when it fits into the learner's schedule NOT when it fits into the trainer's schedule.

The wide range of material available through E-Learning programs is yet another factor which makes them attractive to legal firms. Basic, intermediate or advanced MS Office skills training are examples of the areas covered by e-Learning courses. Skills training in Sexual Harassment Prevention and Workforce Diversity are other areas where effective e-Learning courses are available. Still other types of e-Learning courses allow lawyers and paralegals to review and update their legal knowledge and access training required for them to continue practicing law.

Since e-Learning courses are conducted on the Internet and generally divided into small modules, e-Learning allows each employee to use small periods of time to train at his or her convenience. The courses' modular structure enables attorneys and senior personnel to use "wait time" before their next appointment to learn or review one or more course modules. Like checking e-mail and phone messages, e-Learning thus becomes an activity which can fit conveniently into anyone's day. Since the Internet is available 24 hours each day, 7 days per week, learners can study or review e-Learning coursework at any time, from any computer.

E-Learning courses' modular structure also allows learners to move backward or forward, returning to specific sections as often as needed. Learners can also utilize e-Learning courses to find a specific module they may need to solve problems that arise, something not available through classroom training.

E-Learning modules may also be used in combination with traditional classroom training for Pre-Training and Post-Training. Pre-Training is the phase in which each learner can use his or her e-Course to review material before traditional classroom instruction begins. Utilizing e-Learning programs in this way gives the learner an overall knowledge of the topic's nature and scope, along with an overview of the basics and an initial familiarity with any jargon he or she may need to learn. Experts have proven that Pre-Trained employees learn material more quickly and effectively.

Post-training is equally important. The ability to go back to any or all of the training modules enables the employee to deal with new situations which may not have been covered in the classroom. E-Learning programs can also provide an instant refresher course, with no waiting time or productivity loss. Many legal firms also utilize these programs to help employees adjust to upgraded software versions.

The fact that e-Learning courses have clearly been shown to be more effective than traditional classroom training sessions is yet another reason so many legal firms are choosing them. First, e-Learning courses are sensory-rich, utilizing more of the five senses than classroom training. According to learning expert Dr. William Glasser, people retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they see and hear. These statistics clearly indicate that learning on the Internet is optimal, since it allows people to learn through audio, text, graphics, animation, color, motion and hyperlinks to terms and definitions, truly making the subject-at-hand come alive.

E-Learning has also been proven to provide increased employee retention. Experts have long been aware that retention is highest immediately after classroom training. Employees retain just 50% of the material one week after training, and a scant 25% of the material two weeks after they take a traditional classroom course. E-Learning increases retention significantly for it can continue to provide convenient repetition as needed. This "need-based" training is yet another reason why e-Learning is so effective. Experts have proven that people who get information when they need it remember it for longer periods of time.

Another factor which makes e-Learning more effective than traditional classroom training is the instant feedback e-Courses provide, for the learner and the employer alike. The best e-Courses reward the learner for his or her achievements, as he or she moves through the series of modules. Employers may also use this feedback to assess each learner's progress, then establish and implement their own reward systems.

What criteria should a legal firm use to choose the best e-Learning programs for its employees? The best e-Learning courses have a series of small modules which allow the firm to establish various series of courses, and may easily be customized to meet the firm's specific needs. The ability to move backward and forward within the e-Course and find critical information on a "need it now" basis is another important factor.

It is also important that courses periodically test the learner's comprehension of the material and track his or her progress as he or she completes the course. These same tests and test scores also allow the employer to keep track of each employee's progress toward achieving training goals.

Measuring training results accurately benefits the learner and the employer alike. Tracking employee progress ensures employees that the firm takes e-Learning courses seriously. Employers can also use this data to monitor and appropriately reward those who complete a series of courses, especially one which may lead to advancement within the firm.

It is not by accident, then, that e-Learning comprises the fastest growing share of the market for formalized training within United States corporations, a market currently valued at approximately $62.5 billion per year. Technology is here to stay. While it can provide many advantages for legal firms, employees must learn how to use it before the legal firm can garner significant benefits.

E-Learning continues to prove itself to be an innovative, flexible and effective way to train legal employees. For that reason, many experts believe that e-Learning will be the way most legal firms will choose to meet new technological challenges in the future.