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17 April 2003

SMEs getting Schooling at Home

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There are 19 million small-to-medium sized businesses in Europe. Their directors have many responsibilities and must be up-to-date with all aspects of their market. (Apr. '03)

There are 19 million small-to-medium sized businesses in Europe. These are the businesses that create the majority of all European jobs. Their directors have many responsibilities and must be up-to-date with all aspects of their market.

To develop their businesses, they need to engage in training courses, but there are very few people who can afford to take weeks away from work. To meet their training needs without needing them to leave the workplace, SME managers have a new option: to following an Internet-based training course.

GAMBIT is pitched prmarily to SME managers as its structure suits their timetable and obligations. “The key advantage of e-learning is its accessibility as employees of small businesses are highly reluctant to take time away from their workplace to attend conventional courses,” Comments Reginald REA, the Gambit Project Manager. Trainees can do their practice exercises at their own pace and in their own time, at home or at work. “The flexibility of studying whenever it suits you means that it’s not as structured as formal studies at school or university. It also gives you the advantage of having all the information at your fingertips,” explains Adele Curran, one of the SME managers that accepted to trial the project.

SME owners usually dislike the traditional academic methods of teaching, as there is a large practical element. However, the Gambit Programme has limited formal requirements: two afternoons every month the trainees attend a course to work collaboratively on their marketing plan with their mentors and other managers. The rest of the course is taken through the Internet, where the managers’ knowledge is tested with various exercises.
“Your coursework is presented to you in the form of briefs and hand-outs. You then go away and work through the marketing plan at your leisure on a computer off-site or somewhere at home or work,” explains Adele Curran.

The students prepare their marketing plans themselves, with guidance from mentors and peers. This approach is successful because many managers are ready to accept advice from peers or mentors more readily than from academic instructors. Through case studies, SME owners can be shown illustrations of common business mistakes and be taught what not to do.

The benefit of e-learning is that the trainees prepare their marketing plan themselves, with the help of mentors and peers. According to Fern Heasty, another manager trialling Gambit: “the best thing about the Gambit programme is that when the course is finished you’ve got your final marketing plan and your objectives set for the next 3 to 5 years.” As they draw up their plan themselves, they will also be more likely to follow it once the course has finished. In the case that it has to be altered they can go back to seek advice from their mentors.

“E-learning, for me, is a completely different approach to the whole adult learning thing because it provides a framework” comments Fern Heasty. Also, as the trainees attend classes with other SME owners, they build a network of people who have the same problems and difficulties the same area.


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