Man and machine in harmony

might see e-learning as a threat to the training profession, but, used
carefully, it can enhance a department’s status. So how can you find the right
approach? By Sally O’Reilly

e-learning can be a tall order for trainers. There is no shortage of
impressive-sounding products or suppliers in the market place, and the
excitement surrounding it is deafening.

how do you set up a system that fits effectively with other training methods?
And, when an e-learning system is in place, will it create new opportunities or
sound the death knell for training departments?

to Stephen Goodyear, professor of educational research at the Centre for
Studies in Advanced Learning at the University of Lancaster, careful
preliminary research is essential. He looked at the role of trainers in
e-learning in a recent study, and says companies must spend time setting up the
right system – and this means looking at the first principles of learning and

can’t expect to recruit people and provide on-line support without developing
your understanding of how people learn,” he says.


ensure the quality of human support is as high as possible, companies need to
research and develop the right e-learning approach – and it can take three to five
years to do this properly.”

Baker, human resources controller at Ladbrokes, agrees. His company has
introduced e-learning to improve the quality of its performance management
system, and he has got to grips with the fundamentals of what staff need to
take control of their own development, and how e-learning can make this happen.

took two-and-a-half years to get it right,” he says. “We saw fairly early on
that it’s not a good idea to accept the first system you are offered.”

worked with Ashridge Management College, using the college’s e-learning system,
but adapting it to the firm’s competency framework.

asked them to map their framework, so we could see where the two overlapped,”
says Baker. “And we are now going through the same process with supplier

aim was to make the system user-friendly, so that Ladbrokes’ 11,500 employees
would be well-disposed towards this way of learning.

only have one chance per person to get them hooked into e-learning,” says
Baker. “If they need to follow two or three instructions and the second one
won’t work, then they will be put off ever using it again.”

avoid this, the training department painstakingly rewrote all the instructions
and manuals – developing yet another skill. “There is no jargon. If we’ve had
one criticism, it is that the instructions are almost too simple,” says Baker.


also need to work as team players across departmental boundaries if e-learning
is to work, stresses Frank Nigriello, director of corporate affairs at Unipart.
His company has just launched the Virtual U, an on-line learning system which
delivers electronic courses to 10,000 employees.

introducing Unipart U – a corporate university – in 1993, the company has been
using on-line learning to take training closer to staff, often through learning
centres on the production floor. 

worked with IT staff, and with subject experts, helping them get their ideas
across,” says Nigriello.

development means a blurring of roles between technology and training:  trainers need more technical savvy and
technical people need to be more aware of training needs.”

Fairbrother, head of research and development of staff training at the DfEE,
shares this view. His department has developed a hybrid e-learning scheme,
buying in components from suppliers NETg, Maxim and Xebec, but says trainers
can ill-afford to sit back and let on-line training systems do their job for

learning is good at providing knowledge efficiently, and in a timely way,” he

fine when it’s going well, but it falls down when we get stuck, or we don’t
understand something. That’s when human interaction is needed and trainers have
to be proactive about using their skills.” Which shouldn’t be too difficult, he

takes a lot of the drudgery out of training – of putting over the same
knowledge components, over and over again. But you do need to be more skilled,
and to interact with people in different ways – on-line, in chatrooms, and via
the telephone, for instance.”

Fairbrother questions the amount of IT skill which trainers will need to make
their role effective.

think you have to be aware of the types of systems around, but not technically
skilled – there are plenty of providers out there to develop packages for you,”
he says.

the bullet

trainers do need to be more skilled at diagnosis, and more aware of the
options. And they also need to have a far wider range of contacts at the design
stage, and better skills in project management, to make sure the materials are
at the leading edge. E-learning does mean developing some new skills, but it
also means building on the interpretative skills which training staff have
always had.”

perhaps, suppliers take a more radical view. Donald Clark, chief executive of
Epic Group, the biggest supplier of bespoke on-line content in the UK, says
training departments which are not embracing e-learning and changing their
training style accordingly are becoming obsolete. “Training departments haven’t
changed much for decades,” he says.

still run the same old courses – such as neurolinguistic programming and
learning styles. Meanwhile, blue-chip companies are bringing in e-learning and
sacking training staff.”

advice to trainers is to bite the bullet and find out as much as possible about
e-learning now – before it’s too late.

who isn’t at least doing some reading about this subject is part of a dying
breed,” he stresses. 

survive, training departments must stop thinking about their scheduling and
make sure they are demand-led, not supply-led.

the moment, this is an innovation which is led by IT, not by HR. If anything,
many training departments are standing in the way of e-learning, and still
prefer the song and dance of the classroom.” 

steps to becoming an on-line expert

– Planning  Remember when you started
The same outlook applies now. Plan for learning using as much knowledge of the
similarities and differences among your audience.

– Define your goals 
Identify clearly the learning outcomes or objectives that you want to achieve
on-line and differentiate those that will depend on the process of learning.
This means differentiating between content and the process-based learning
derived from collaborative on-line learning.

– Concentrate on problem-solving
On-line environments emphasise the use of exercises, test and discussion. Try
to ensure that the assessments you create are a realistic mirror of the situations
faced by your trainees and encourage them to adapt and develop these assessment
through on-line discussion.

– Create group cohesion
Start off with a face-to-face session, providing a basis for e-learning.
Encouraging the trainees to create their own spaces, on their own server or
yours is also a positive and productive element.

– Ensure good technical support and backup
Make sure that your learning environment is fully under the control of your
team and its technicians. A safe and secure environment is essential for
trainees’ confidence. If the system goes down, try to ensure that there is an
automatic backup (a mirror server).

– Make e-learning fun
Use a rich environment to show what the technology can do well, without falling
into the trap of technology-driven content. Jokes, quizzes and puzzles have a
“lightening” effect.

– Keep it simple 
The more gizmos you use, the more things can go wrong – not everyone has the
same level of hardware and software, keep complexity to a minimum.

– Use different technologies
Telephone conferencing can do much of the job of video conferencing. Start from
a technology that most find comfortable. Don’t assume that your learning
environment is the best. Encourage and allow trainees to choose, thereby taking
ownership of e-learning.

– Use appropriate technology
If a book or a video is the best way of stating a particular area of learning,
use it! If electronic periodicals and audio/video streams are as accessible,
encourage the synergy that arises from their use.

– Reflect critically on your capabilities and how they might be improved
Take on board the experiences of others and where possible, undertake
accredited training.    

by John Konrad, senior lecturer in professional development at Leeds Metropolitan
University and course tutor for the postgraduate certificate in professional
development, specialising in e-learning

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