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New Marriott School research initiative focuses on learning economics

Will help corporate educators align their goals with business objectives

When Darrell Hill created a web site for one of his information systems classes at Brigham Young University's Marriott School last year, he didn't anticipate the high number of hits and e-mails it would generate. His site--which examined the economic value of knowledge--attracted attention from high-profile companies, identifying a topic of concern for many organizations worldwide.

While many believe education is a worthy investment, it's not always easy to measure its value. Consequently, company managers face the difficult task of showing decision makers how increased employee education and training will improve the company's bottom line. In the near future, managers may be able to use research data to justify educational programs. A new research initiative has been established by BYU's Rollins eBusiness Center and the Learning Economics Group, a nonprofit entity focused on appraising knowledge, to study the subject.

The new Learning Economics Research Program will pioneer research about learning economics and develop tools to help corporate educators align their goals with business objectives. Learning economics is a newly defined field of study intended to show a return on investment for things like employee training and company team building.

"Knowledge enhances competitiveness and firms are recognizing that," says Nile Hatch, assistant professor of organizational leadership and strategy and adviser for the learning research project. "Managers believe they need better educated, analytical employees, but they're not sure how to go about training them."

By facilitating the gathering and dissemination of research, the project intends to help professionals answer practical questions such as "What type of training is a worthy investment?" and "Can online training effectively replace other types?" Although research projects will likely originate from within the Marriott School, Hatch says he hopes to receive proposals from outside institutions as well.

Three main groups are expected to benefit from the LERP. Students at the Marriott School will get a unique opportunity to conduct research; faculty members will receive research funds; and corporations will gain access to research findings and be able to suggest ideas for future research.

"The establishment of the Learning Economics Research Program with BYU's e-business Center provides focus for original research in the field," says Tom Hill, program manager of advanced learning technologies at Hewlett Packard and co-founder of the Learning Economics Group. "This program will increase understanding of learning's value in the global enterprise."

A number of companies and organizations--including Hewlett Packard, IBM, Xerox, Genentech, SRI International and the University of Santa Clara--have expressed strong interest in learning economics and joining the initiative. Directors expect the LERP will be accepting academic proposals by spring 2005.

Writer: Sarah Chamberlin

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