SpotLight: Elearning, the latest tool for professional and executive development.
By Sarah Muxlow ~ exclusive for 4Hoteliers.com
Wednesday, 3rd May 2006
In our international Hospitality community there is a keenness to continuously learn and develop key business skills. Elearning, a new tool to the industry, is proving popular in its uses. For many, learning in an independent manner, using computer based training programme is convenient when working.

Technology has been used in traditional style Hospitality Training Institutes, Colleges and Universities in many ways for sometime now. For example, language programmes used in language labs, have been found to be beneficial for struggling students to catch up, advancing students to work at a quicker pace and by teachers as an alternative means to train. However, until recently, computer based modules are used as an additional resource tool or medium and have not been considered a replacement for real interaction and emersion training.

What is elearning?When talking about elearning we are looking at computer programmes that enable robust, engaging, rigorous, and interactive online learning experiences. Programme designs are derived from several media sources. Courses include interactive simulations, discussion forums, ask-the-expert audio clips, charts, as well as text. Completed work is assessed by the instructor and course generally encourage self-assessments.

Instructors still exist and motivate the students to keep working once the course is started. They also help students understand content and encourage them to apply the theory into their current workplace environment. Projects are related to where they are at in their job. Students actively participate in groups, discussion forums and are part of an online community.

Creating real and workable content and learning outcomes that are interesting and informative takes considerable expertise and therefore time and money. Real-time classroom content can't simply be posted on the web as a side kick to the College. It isn't an alternative to correspondence style courses either.

Elearning as a Hotel SchoolHotel School training traditions are expanded upon by eCornell, an eSchool offering hospitality as a course option. The Cornell School of Hotel Administration, (75 years of hospitality experience) has sold its 10,000th online course. 'This achievement reflects our commitment to give hospitality professionals a convenient and affordable way to build new skills and accelerate their careers,' says Tom Kline, the School's director of Executive Education. 'We have put much energy into developing a curriculum that delivers practical value for our students. Moving forward, we will continue to broaden and refine our offerings.'

Looking at the electives chosen by students to date, the most sought after subjects are: Principles of Financial Accounting (968 registrants); Managing People More Effectively (856); and Leading through Creativity (766).

In response to the launch of this medium, Cendant Hotel Group has announced a partnership with Cornell University, "The use of e-learning enables us to quickly make the most advanced programs available to our franchisees. Speed to market and superior quality programs are of critical importance, and we are delighted to partner with one of the world's best and most highly regarded hotel schools." says Daniel Dannenmann, Cendant Hotel Group International vice president of training, quality assurance and organizational development.

Evaluated benefits are that it is an answer to the growing need for busy hospitality professionals to continuously learn new skills. Having the operational and practical skills established and learned on the job, on line module courses enable regular up-skilling.  

Hospitality School Training

This new method of training doesn't however detract from the importance of the need for college based hospitality training .Going to college, for many is the starting point in their hospitality career. It is a place to make life long acquaintances. Good college training shapes a positive professional outlook and insists on professional grooming within it's in-house environment.

Similarly to eCornell, many teachers in hospitality are ex-hospitality professionals, particularly in practical subjects. They have theoretical and working knowledge of the subject and industry and mentor and coach with a hands-on applied style. Many colleges insist on real practice by gaining experience of running restaurants and holding banquets in-house. This is where basic experience in solving problems that occur in real time within a real context commence. Practical experience is essential to many hospitality employers, and this is reflected in Diploma and Degree course that insist on the completion of industrial experience before moving onto the next level of training.

Schools provide opportunity to forge links with associations and increase a working network/community. A thorough training in hospitality usually has a rounded approach to practical skills, learning and applying theory raising industry awareness, promoting high standards and emphasises the importance of being part of this international, exciting and booming industry.

A question at bay for new hospitality students, as opposed to mature ones is: Do online courses really replace being empowered by human contact? One cited benefit for elearning for any course is that it positively breaks down barriers of learning for the shy, or private students. A concern in the hospitality context is that hospitality at large is a people focused industry. An ability, desire and over time experience interacting with people, is essential.

Learning in an artificial environment for many hospitality professionals goes against the essence of hospitality. Hospitality is still considered a very hands-on people industry. Communication has a lot subtleties and good people management theory still takes years of on-the-job practice to apply. College training is a good time to start this training.

Who's using it in Industry?A form of elearning is used by the Hilton group where online programmes are considered an innovative way to enable ongoing education. Their in-house programme was designed to help with the internal learning demands and educate new recruits with the in-house culture.

It is fairly unrealistic with the complexity of the jobs in hospitality today to learn everything at once in a 3-4 year diploma. The benefits of elearning in this instance is that courses are appropriate in content, useful to the given workplace environment and are easily accessed.

Whilst elearning is considered a flexible learning tool, the need for a trainee to complete course components within a time frame still exists. Flexibility with learning has it own draw backs. It requires high levels of self discipline and commitment to complete the courses. The trainee however, does not need to travel to night school, try to find the right course to fit around work shifts or be under continuous training pressure to grasp theory and practical ‘on the job'. Assertiveness, conflict management, advanced financial management or customer care skills are needed at certain times in any given career by different people.

SpotLight is the weekly column exclusively written for 4Hoteliers.com by Sarah Muxlow, it is highlighting the challenges and issues which the global hospitality is facing today.

Sarah is writing for hotel and restaurant owners, hotel chain managers, producers/growers/sellers of food & beverage, restaurant associations, governing bodies and hotel schools. She is looking at the problems they face...competition, trends of branding, staff shortages, unskilled staff, turning out students who are looking for good in-house management training schemes with hotel chains, what makes a good quality training course at a hotel school and more... 

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