Supporting problem based learning in SMEs through IT facilitated mentoring / ARCHIMEDES


Small and medium sized companies (SMEs) remain vital to the European economy accounting for 98% of companies and 67% employment. 50% of SMEs fail in the first five years, it is important to ensure their survival. Innovative companies have weathered the economic storm favorably. SMEs are geared positively towards innovation as they are relatively flexible in nature. However they often lack the knowledge and expertise and are needed to be assisted them in their approach.
Traditionally training and development in SMEs has been limited to informal approaches or is trainer driven. Employees are flexible in nature adopting new roles and tasks as the company changes. Little formal training is provided and there is little reflection about how training can support ongoing company problems. Significant research has been conducted in encouragingSMEs to make their training more flexible. Many reasons for slow uptake of SME formal learning has been cited; time, cost and lack of relevance. Many projects have focused on addressing these issues through e-learning resources. The readiSME project which investigated e-learning readiness in SMEs found that the main obstacles were the lack of Return on investment (ROI) in e-learning, the lack of relevant content, lack of time to find relevant content and a reactive approach to learning. Despite this research the SME’s uptake of learning has remained unchanged. Based on his findings Admiraal has argued in 2001 that more attention is needed for informal learning processes in organizations aimed at learning problems that really matter in.
As a result of these findings it is important that a tailored approach to learning is developed, that allows those working in SMEs to determine realistic issues the companies are facing and address these with relevant training while maximizing ROI. Problem based learning (PBL) together with informal/social learning allow this to occur while developing transversal skills that can be applied in future situations in the company. It is expected that it will foster a learning culture in SMEs thus encouraging a proactive approach to training, and motivate employees to reflect and cooperate.
These techniques can be embedded into business and work processes in companies increasing the relevance to the organization while maximizing informal learning outcomes. This project aims to develop an e-learning based course to teach employees in SMEs on how to use PBL and to cooperate; it will develop a mentoring framework with formal and informal forms using IT tools to support these employees to use PBL. This will allow SMEs to leverage off of external expertise at a low cost. It will provide practical, relevant training to SMEs.

Main activities

The project will develop a framework for organizational PBL and will support the use of this form of learning combined with other methods which are widely adopted in SMEs such as informal/social learning. It will be realized through formal and informal mentoring processes, e-learning content and IT based social networking.


The main project objectives are:

• Collecting best practices in PBL and other forms of learning used by SMEs
• Development of an organizational PBL framework with effective support mechanisms such as mentoring and ICT based social networking
• Creation of a curriculum and training modules to train mentors
• Creation of a curriculum and training for staff in SMEs in PBL blended with other learning forms
• Accreditation of the training course and recognition of such forms of learning in three Higher education institutes in Europe
• Testing training in several SMEs
• Creation of a learner-mentor network supported by an IT platform
• Development of a transferability model for other companies

Coordination: Dr. Ileana Hamburg