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Title: Digital learning in small and medium-sized enterprises : is it a valid alternative to traditional training?
Authors: Vancell, Joseph
Patala, Teemu
Keywords: Distance education
Small business
Issue Date: 2018
Citation: Vancell, J., & Patala, T. (2018). Digital learning in small and medium-sized enterprises : is it a valid alternative to traditional training?. 11th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation, Seville.
Abstract: This paper will first try to analyse the available literature on digital learning in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). It will then propose approaches that address the SME-specific challenges and demands, including the financial difficulties that SME owner-managers encounter in the organisation and provision of training for their staff, identified in this literature. SMEs currently make up 99% of European businesses. They provide two thirds of private sector jobs and contribute to more than half of the total added value created by businesses in the EU. This notwithstanding, learning and particularly digital learning, are under-researched. The little research that exists is also more often concerned with the owner-managers’ rather than the employees’ needs and demands. However, the scant investigations in digital learning – defined in this paper as that learning that happens through online means – in SMEs in Europe and beyond do offer some important considerations. With its flexibility and accessibility, digital learning can assist SME employees who cannot abandon their job to follow on-campus education or training initiatives, while also coping with family and social responsibilities. The literature also indicates that digital learning is a valid, if not better, social constructivist educational alternative compared to traditional face-to-face teaching and learning provision. Various investigations have also proved that digital learning, if done well, can create thriving communities of inquiry actively involving adult learners and educators in the educational process. This can however be achieved through a good learning design process that applies, for example, advanced interactive methods that develop highly engaging learning experiences and allow simulated practice of work processes. When applied properly, digital learning often provides substantial cost benefits including less time spent on training and scalability. However, the development and implementation of digital learning programs typically requires an upfront investment which might become an obstacle for smaller SMEs that often have limited resources and budgets for staff training. The paper will also review how costs typically emerge in digital learning development projects and offer recommendations on how SMEs can find more economical ways to develop digital learning.
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