NHS e-learning: A lesson in every portal

The NHS is about to launch a huge e-learning resource, called the Health e-Learning portal. It’s one big learning beast.

The NHS has never lacked examples of good e-learning practice, many of which have been featured in Training & Coaching Today over the years.

However, given the disparate nature of the organisation, one of the challenges has been how to disseminate this good practice rather than see it remain as pockets of activity. An initiative driven by an e-learning provider attempts a level of inclusivity that will ensure the benefits of online learning can be felt by trusts everywhere as well as provide a vehicle for sharing expertise and resources.

The Health e-Learning portal will offer NHS employees and training managers a one-stop site for a raft of training information, courses and services – many of which will be free for trusts to access.

Community

It is the brainchild of Ken Wood, managing director of London-based e-learning developer Course-Source. He also hopes that the portal, which will feature online forums and collaborative Web 2.0 tools, will also help to create an NHS community of training professionals who can share ideas and resources.

“Our philosophy is to work from the bottom up, not the top down, enabling each trust to do their own thing but take advantage of economies of scale,” he says.

The portal will go live when the current NHS Connecting for Health Essential IT Skills European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) portal closes this month. Course-Source provided the software, hardware and IT services behind the ECDL programme since it started five years ago, and the Health e-Learning portal will run in a similar way.

Differences

The key difference is that it will be able to host, manage and track any e-learning, not just ECDL. Content could include health- and medical-related courses, as well as those on soft skills. Each trust will have its own sub site, its own administrative system and separate access rights. If they want to customise their site with branding, key messages or integrate with HR or other systems, the trusts can do so from a cost of £500.

Wood explains that the basic platform is free to NHS organisations, and this includes hosting, tracking and monitoring of courses they own, have created themselves or have other rights to, as long as the are not available commercially. Additionally, they can buy off-the-shelf courses from major UK providers such as Video Arts, Learning4Business, Skillboosters and Advance Learning, using a per-enrolment pricing model (so just one person could enrol on one course if they wanted).

Trusts can also buy content development tools to create their own e-learning courses to sell to other NHS organisations within the portal.

Infancy

Wood believes Web 2.0 in the corporate environment, and in particular the NHS, is still in its infancy, but he hopes some of the collaborative technology and tools available to course designers and builders will start to influence content. “What is important is that the focus for the NHS should be on delivering engaging learning content so the user’s experience of e-learning is positive.”

Later this year, the NHS plans to launch a national learning management system (LMS), but Wood doesn’t see the Health e-Learning portal competing with that. “Our portal focuses more on commercial training and will have much broader functionality,” he says. “Also, unlike the planned LMS, we provide online hosting for learning content. This will be available nationally so NHS trusts won’t have to contact their IT department every time they want to add a new course.”

Much of the success of the portal will depend on training managers to recognise its benefits and be able to extract maximum use from it.

To help promote this, Course-Source will be offering them an internal marketing pack with templates, resources, hints and tips to help engage their training team with end users. It has already involved them in the pilot, with Wood commenting that one of the lessons learned from the ECDL portal is to ensure you consult with those delivering and managing the training.

“As is typical in large implementations, this kind of initiative is often done without consultation,” he says. “Users find themselves caught in a monolithic system that might not suit them. We’re currently running a pilot portal and holding workshops for training managers to ensure they get the portal they want, not one dictated by central authorities.”

Top tips

How training managers can get the most out of the Health e-Learning portal:

  1. Sell learning to line managers: you need their buy-in.
  2. Allow staff time to do the learning, ideally allocate a set time period each day or week.
  3. Create learning labs – dedicated rooms with PCs so learners can work away from the distraction of the office.
  4. Market e-learning to the learners. Use the same techniques as commercial companies, such as e-mail shots, banner ads on intranet sites and incentives.
  5. Provide coaching. Coaches don’t need to be subject matter experts, just someone who takes responsibility for learners, tracking who is doing (or not doing) courses and following up with each learner by phone or e-mail.

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