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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Interview with Jonna Ward, Visionary Integration Professionals: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Lifelong e-learning is essential in one's professional development and career trajectory. Much of the ongoing training and development is available in a situated learning context, which is facilitated by the existence of integrated technology and content. Bringing the elements together is often challenging, but has been made possible because of the vision and sense of mission of individuals who are willing to take risks when bringing together human resources development and education. Welcome to an interview with Jonna Ward, founder and CEO of Visionary Integration Professionals. Her companies have been pivotal in increasing access to content and efficiency in processes.

What is your name, affiliation, and connection to e-learning?
My name is Jonna Ward; I'm the founder and chief executive officer of Visionary Integration Professionals, which is a global information technology solutions provider. VIP is the parent company of Meridian Knowledge Solutions, a company that provides software (including learning management systems) and services for delivering, tracking and analyzing training over the Internet. VIP employs approximately 800 people, and Meridian is one of our important divisions. We acquired Meridian in 2006 because we saw (and continue to see) repeated demand from our clients for integrated solutions that bring analytics, data, and learning management together.

How does your organization administer and / or develop e-learning resources?
Meridian takes the lead for us in this regard. Many of the employees who work for us at Meridian have been with the company since Meridian's founding in 1997, so they've seen the evolution of e-learning content, e-learning standards, LMS and LCMS technology and mobile learning. VIP's purview spans much more than developing e-learning. Because we're implementing IT systems across entire organizations we are always looking for ways in which learning can be woven into the fabric of everyday work.

Through contact with customers, industry pundits, primary research and our customer advisory board, Meridian's R&D team stays abreast of which e-learning trends are picking up traction and which are fads to be forgotten. For example, over a decade ago, Meridian was among the first, if not the first, LMS provider to incorporate collaboration features into its system.

Today, online collaboration is a prerequisite to having a competitive LMS, but Meridian's R&D team knew about this and developed a viable system well ahead of the trend. So we rely on some really great minds at Meridian to tell us what we should focus on as an organization, and, at an executive level, our divisions work with one another to capitalize on opportunities to incorporate e-learning into various enterprisewide projects.

How does elearning relate to your vision of developing human resources, and matching organizational needs with people?
Organizations of all kinds collect and rely on employee performance data to make decisions, but that data is rarely connected in a meaningful way to the information learning systems use to manage employees.

Our vision is that these disparate systems work together, so a company (i.e., managers, mentors and peers) can develop an employee in much the same way a sports team cultivates its talent. This stretches beyond employee performance, too. The performance data that's collected for business units, divisions and an entire organization ought to be synchronized with learning management information, too, so executives can spot a dip in performance, identify its cause and prescribe a course of action (which can include learning of some kind) to bring performance in line with goals.

What is your philosophy of learning? What are the elements of it that are perhaps a bit unusual and not seen every day?
Learning isn't something that happens at a particular place or time; we're always presented with opportunities to learn, but we don't always seize the opportunity. Other times we have the opportunity and desire, but not the tools. Identifying why someone doesn't capitalize on a chance to learn is the secret to not only motivating employees but helping your workforce, employees and business partners succeed.

When does e-learning matter most?
When you want to train people at a moment's notice or over a wide geographic area, e-learning really pays for itself. E-learning is obviously one way to learn, but within any e-learning course you can embed video, audio or even access a virtual world to conduct a training exercise that might be too expensive or dangerous. It's the maleability and versatility of e-learning that matters most.

How can e-learning tie in to the most pressing issues facing a corporation, association, or government group?
That's a great question, and the answer depends on the people who are in charge of training as well as their vendor partners. Top training professionals within any organization have to truly understand their employer's business in order to tie e-learning to the most pressing challenges. For example, if you're in charge of training for, say, an airline, you have to know how market forces are affecting your routes, customer attitudes, profit margins, government regulations, services, facilities, aircraft maintenance and the like before you can develop the strategies that e-learning can support.

If, on the other hand, you're an expert at training but have less insight about what's bearing down on the business, then you're flying blindly. Pun intended. Training vendors owe it to their clients to learn about more than the training organization's challenges, too. A great vendor assigns people to an account who know the industry dynamics, not just how to implement and troubleshoot software.

Finally, can you recommend a book that made you see the world in a different way?
Anyone who reads the book, The World is Flat, has no choice but to see the world in a different way. The book emphasizes the need for people to change and adapt to remain competitive in a global market where historical and geographical boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant. As the world becomes more able to collaborate and share with others of different cultures, languages, and religions – we will find that we need better education and training to compete with the most brilliant minds around the globe and to adapt to the needs of the world.

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