• A User's Guide to Online Education

    Feb. 1, 2009
    Howdy In this magazine, I assume that the readers are more likely to be vice presidents of something or CEOs/presidents or executive-type folks. That's


    In this magazine, I assume that the readers are more likely to be vice presidents of something or CEOs/presidents or executive-type folks. That's perfect, because you are the people who need this user's guide FIRST. You are the power that makes it happen. Online is something that I think should happen and also know is going to happen regardless of what you or I do. I'm speaking of online education at all levels of our society, not specifically the HVACR industry. My project is to make it happen (in a positive way) for the HVACR industry. While being an online advocate, one of the more noticeable issues (to me) is that most are unsure what it all means. Writing in this publication allows its readers an opportunity to look through my rose-colored glasses and share a vision or two about what I think this all means to the HVACR industry.


    Before I forget, let me point the most voracious readers to some pertinent information; it's on the Web (go figure) at www.sloan-c.org.

    Pick up the feature article “Staying the Course” and draw some conclusions. This report continues to be one of my main sources for online action indicators, but I must disclose that it focuses totally on academic applications.

    To best serve the expected readership with a user's guide, I'm not going to discuss how you sign up for a course, get your username and password, where you go to log in, why you should read or watch or listen to all of the student assistance materials, who to call or e-mail when you have trouble, how to use the live chat support feature and other pertinent issues.

    Rather, we should have a conversation about using online learning to support your business strategy. The reasons to utilize online, the way to implement a program, what it takes to make it successful, how online education can support your corporate goals and subsequent strategies, these are the issues that I would expect this audience to ponder.

    Your utilization, support and expansion of the HARDI DLN will shore up a number of objectives typical of any business operation:

    • Provide a value-added service to customers (HARDI members in this case).

    • Easily and efficiently increase the depth and breadth of educational offerings available to employees.

    • Decrease costs associated with training and education.

    • Dramatically expand access at all levels to quality education.

    • Provide a consistent educational program across all regions.

    This is a short list of benefits. The additional opportunities and benefits are numerous. Even though I've been in the business up to my eyeballs for years, I continue to hear new ways to apply online education, usually from people who are relative newcomers to the scene. This tells me (along with other input) that we have a long way to go to tap this potential.

    I encourage you to provide leadership to your employees to participate in the HARDI DLN and to also contribute to the DLN with your expertise. There is a key term here — leadership — I bring up front and center to make this additional comment: Experience and research show that there must be champions for online in the organization implementing online. From my perspective, those champions would be the readers of this magazine.

    Now that I've given my rationale, let's get onto the “user's guide” part.

    User's Guide

    Competitive advantage is one of the key terms that I usually promote as a reason for online education. Generally speaking, human capital is the most costly asset in any company. When there is a need to educate a workforce to provide a competitive advantage for the company that employs them, online is an obvious choice. The use of online is a competitive advantage in and of itself, by providing education and training. I have listed the benefits in the bullet points above.

    Focus on core, outsource context. Providing online education and the services that support it is our core business and what we focus on. If you are reading this article, your core business is probably not online education. I would recommend taking a corporate view of your core business and determine how the HARDI DLN can help you with your mission. The options and approaches are many.

    Don't overlook the intangibles. This is an ugly word when trying to make a business case but something very real in educational endeavors. The only reassurance that I can offer on this topic is that progressive companies always educate themselves. You are not going to find a successful company and not see a professional development track for the employees. It is a success investment recognized by leading organizations and treated as such. The HARDI DLN does have the ability to reduce the intangibles due to the scope of its reporting abilities. To have such detail of a student's progress and activities through a learning experience provides a significant metric to the effectiveness of an educational investment.

    Mandate! A well-known consultant to the HVACR industry claims that no one is going to do anything in this industry unless there is some pain or gain involved. After 30 years in this industry, I tend to agree with him. Mandate is a well-known corporate training issue and is directly related to the success of any education initiative. Successful examples include several HARDI members that have embraced online education. The one theme that is consistent with all of the successful implementers is a “mandate” from the leadership to the employees. Several companies have created an educational track in the corporate policy manual to give employees a ladder to climb. The corporate objective was to provide a “fast track” for employees to move into numerous positions that were going to become vacant over the next four to five years. The strategy implemented an online learning track upward through several position levels with an ascending pay scale. Online provides 24/7 unlimited access to the ladder. This has been a favorable experience. The students have given a thumbs up.

    Change management. If you recognize any value for your company in the online learning scene, you will need to determine what your change management objectives and strategies will be and then begin the process.

    I'll conclude my commentary with a quote from Implementing E-Learning, by Jay Cross and Lance Dublin:

    “Corporate decision-makers have a choice. They can throw e-learning out the door and risk eroding their human capital. Or they can join the ranks of high-performing, flexible, knowledgeable, 21st-century companies that embrace e-learning through change management and effectively market their e-learning to generate excitement about it among potential learners.”

    Now that you have read my user's guide, the next step is to implement.

    Chris Compton is the CEO of the Heron, MT-based HVACReducation.net and GreenCollarEdu.net. Contact Chris at 888/655-4822 ext. 1117, [email protected] or visit www.hvacreducation.net or www.greencollaredu.net.


    Positive adaptation to change — including implementation of e-learning — requires taking stock of the changing environment, deciding how to adapt to it, making a logical plan of action, and forging ahead. That's change management. And not only must an organization manage change, but it must also ensure that the desired business impact from the change is, in fact, achieved.

    (defined by Jay Cross & Lance Dublin in their book Implementing E-Learning)