Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a central role in the European Union. To ensure these essential entities continue to flourish, they require special economic and social policy considerations, namely, access to education and continuing vocational training. The flexible nature of online learning environments makes e-learning an obvious answer to this continuous learning comes in the form of e-learning.
Success is predicated on key two factors: e-learning should have a top-down approach and the commitment of the decision makers. This does not negate the need for motivation from the end-users motivation.
Having this particular scenario in mind, a European partnership comprised of CECOA, Vocational Training Centre for the Trade (Portugal), BFI - Austria Berufsforderungsinstitut (Austria), Forschungsinstitut Betriebliche Bildung (f-bb) gGmbH (Germany), University of Tartu, Open University Centre (Estonia), Confederacio de Comerc de Catalunya (Spain), ProfitWise (the Netherlands) and NKI Distance Education (Norway), launched in 2005. This partnership created a project called E-learning Quality for SMEs: Guidance and Counselling.
The project, which promotes the use of new multimedia, is aimed at entrepreneurs, managers and other decision makers, and training consultants. Potential end-users include subject matter experts, training centers, social partners, and other public authorities of the training and quality fields.
While e-learning seems like a great solution to ongoing development needs, the SMEs need to hear e-learning success stories before they are willing to jump on the e-learning bandwagon. To provide these examples, the project partnership analyzed 18 e-learning experiences in European small and medium-sized enterprises.
Results showed that SMEs have particular demands and that e-learning may provide a better option in terms of skills improvements, more competitive business results, reduced costs, and higher levels of interaction and collaboration among workers. Results also showed that training providers and large enterprises have an important role in advising, mentoring, and guiding the small and medium-sized enterprises.
According to University of Oslo Professor Torstein Rekkedal, there are several important criteria for judging the quality of SME e-learning programs:
- the credibility of the institution offering e-learning: Is the institution's reputation acceptable? Is the institution, the e-learning program, and the course accredited?
- quality assurance: Does the institution have acceptable formal systems for quality management and quality control?
- pre-enrolment information and guidance: Is the information about the e-learning courses sufficient for deciding whether the course suites to the company's and the learners' needs?
- course costs: Is the cost of the course, including price and non-economic costs, in accordance with expected results and benefits?
- support for the e-learner: Does the course include subject related, social, and/or technical learner support? Is the support provided sufficient for satisfying learners' needs and for reaching the course objectives?
- individual preferences: Is the e-learning course designed to allow for different learner preferences concerning structure, communication, and learning styles?
SMEs need to see results and performance improvement. E-learning can provide various learning scenarios; nevertheless, e-learning is only effective if people get what they need when they need it. The challenge is to communicate the value of e-learning, to present evidences of the e-learning advantages, to provide continuing feedback, to prevent errors, and to continue to improve the e-learning quality systems.