Booz-Allen e-Learning Program Combines High Tech and High Touch
In designing an executive education program for its management consultants, Booz-Allen Hamilton faced a number of challenges. First, the 50 participants were spread across the United States and around the world, including managers in Hawaii and Japan. The company also wanted to preserve billable hours, so making its managers spend valuable time shuffling to a central location was not a good option. The focus of the program was on e-commerce, so e-learning seemed a natural solution. But past experiences with distance learning had been a bit flat.
Working with Wharton, Booz-Allen created an online program that blended the best of both worlds. On the one hand, it offered the high-tech reach, efficiency, and flexibility of online programming, including pre-recorded audio sessions, real-time virtual programs, threaded discussions, and virtual team collaboration. On the other hand, it offered high-touch access to faculty, teaching assistance, and staff, as well as face-to-face sessions at the company headquarters in McLean, Virginia, at the beginning and end of the program to bring the virtual learning down to earth.
"Before the program, we were a little concerned about whether an online course would be strong enough and whether managers would interact enough," said Chauncey Morris, Learning Partnership Manager at Booz-Allen. "But afterwards, people were really excited about the level of interaction and participation." As one participant commented at the end of the program, "I was skeptical at first, but now believe this online experience was second only to the live classroom."
Even the virtual classroom had a real feel to it. For example, if there was ever temptation to multitask or drift off during the online classes, Wharton Professor David Croson was known to cold call students just as he would in a physical classroom. "You couldn't relax in class because you knew he might call on you with a question," Morris said.
The Right Design and Technology
The program used a portfolio of sophisticated technologies for interactions. It employed WebEx and Vspan synchronous web instruction technology, simultaneous phone conference calls for five 90-minute, real-time instruction sessions with faculty. The sessions were scheduled in the evening on the east coast, to reduce conflicts with work and make them more accessible to participants on the West Coast and beyond. To make these live sessions more efficient, each one was preceded by short pre-recorded instruction sessions with key content that participants could access in advance.
During the live sessions, participants could "raise their hands" by clicking a button to ask a question of faculty, or directly communicate with teaching assistants or classmates through a chat window. Although participants were required to attend all of the online sessions to receive certification (with one excused absence allowed), the sessions were also archived for later review. Outside of classroom sessions, the participants used Wharton's WebCafe for online discussions and interaction with faculty and other key program staff.
Teams of five participants were also required to work together on a Business Improvement Project, applying the lessons about e-commerce to current business challenges. These projects were presented during the closing, real-time session in Virginia. The teams had "live" virtual team meetings and structured virtual office hours with team tutors to provide support for their projects. During the face-to-face session at the end of the program, the teams reported out in an interactive session with faculty, classmates, and executive sponsors. "Professor Croson really drilled them during the session to prove that this was the right solution," Morris said.
Secrets of Success
What did Booz-Allen discover about successful e-learning in this process? Among the insights:
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