Expanded world of learning

Next month’s Wolce conference reflects the impact of e-learning in the open
learning mix. Patrick McCurry reports

Agreeing an open learning policy is one thing, but putting it into practice
effectively is another, and increasingly the role of e-learning has to be
considered in open learning strategies.

These are just a couple of the key issues to be discussed at the World Open
Learning Conference and Exhibition next month in Birmingham.

Now in its eighth year, the exhibition hosts more than 100 companies, which
will be showcasing new products and technologies in open learning.

For the first time at Wolce, e-learning forms a major component on the
exhibition floor alongside other forms of training. Wolce focuses on four

– E-learning

– Effective implementation of open learning

– Standards and best practice

– Management development in HR and training

The keynote speaker on day one is Professor Bob Fryer, assistant
vice-chancellor of Southampton University and a board member of the University
for Industry. He will be looking at how far electronic and distance learning
has come in recent years, but also how far it still has to go. Challenges to be
tackled, he says, include developments in teaching, learner support and

Jim McLaughlin, director of learning at ScottishPower, gives the keynote
address on the second day, examining the practical steps organisations can take
to put open learning into place.

"Many organisations see open learning as a panacea and a way of cutting
training costs, but it’s clear that it must be part of a blended approach with
classroom training," he says.

At ScottishPower, open learning has become increasingly important since the
company expanded from its Scottish base to sites in England and the US.

The company has evolved from beginning with open learning centres, where
staff could access technology-based training, to being able to deliver
e-learning at most desktops.

"The challenge is recognising that a cultural shift is required to
effectively deliver desktop learning and that staff must be taught how to learn
in new ways," he says.

Being able to embed open learning in the organisation’s culture is an
ongoing task, says McLaughlin, "For example, how do we ensure that call
centre staff have the time in a busy working day to spend half an hour doing
desktop training?"

Peter Ward, UK development director at e-learning provider SkillSoft, argues
that the programmes put in place by organisations need to match the skills
needs of the business as well as the skills needs of the individual.

Ward, who will be chairing a session on collaborative learning, says that if
individuals are allowed to develop personal skills for themselves over and
above the business need, they are more likely to be motivated to learn and to
be more loyal to their employer.

He favours a blended learning programme, but with the key focus on online
courses. "This allows large numbers of courses to be offered to cover all,
or most, needs and the learner can do them when they please for their own
benefit or that of the business."

Recruitment consultancy Adecco has put in place such a programme and head of
client training services Fiona Walsh will speak about its experiences.

The company has set up an online programme for its 35,000 temps. "We’re
also opening training centres for individuals who have no experience of online
learning," she says.

Another challenge is evaluating effectiveness. Paul Pastrone, vice-president
international at DigitalThink, who will chair a session on this topic, says,
"People understand that open learning is a much more efficient way of
training many people, but you also need to be able to measure success."

In many ways, he argues, evaluation is easier than for classroom training.
In a classroom it can be hard to measure individuals’ learning in an ongoing
way and success rates may vary depending on the tutor or other factors.

But with online learning, it can be easier to measure the uptake of
material, he says, and factors such as the different learning speeds of
individuals can be more easily accommodated than in classroom training.

Nevertheless, a clear system is still required to evaluate online learning.
"The organisation needs to be clear about what the business goals of the
training are, to translate those goals into learning objectives and then
translate those learning objectives into a measurable regime," he says.

How to get to the show 

– Wolce is at the Birmingham NEC on 10 and 11 October. The exhibition, which
is free, is open from 10am to 5pm on the Wednesday and 10am to 4pm on Thursday.

– The accompanying conference opens with a keynote address on both days at
10.15am, followed by 75-minute sessions until mid-afternoon.

– Conference session prices start from £90 with some discounts. To register
for both events, call the hotline on 020-8394 5171 or visit www.distancelearning.co.uk

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