No learner is an island

If you have a global workforce, bringing the team’s knowledge of a new
product up to speed via conventional training can be costly and impractical,
which is where e-learning comes in. Sue Weekes reports

Cable & Wireless is a major global telecoms organisation, operating in
70 countries. It has two divisions, Cable & Wireless Global, which focuses
on IP (internet protocol) and data services and solutions for business
customers, and Cable & Wireless Regional, which provides telecoms services
to 27 countries.

Included in the regional division’s sales patch are exotic locations such as
the West Indies, the Solomon Islands, the Falklands and the Maldives – nice for
site visits but not the easiest locations for co-ordinating global training,
which is where e-learning comes in.

Towards the end of last year, the company launched a range of internet
products and wanted to ensure its sales force in the various regions fully
understood them. It decided to run a pilot e-learning project to train its
employees.

Cable & Wireless had used e-learning before and already had a long-term
relationship with London-based bespoke learning company Fuel, which provides it
with instructor-led and online training. It was the first time, however, that
the regional division had tried e-learning.

Individual assessment

"The purpose of the project was to see if e-learning was a viable method
of delivering education to Cable & Wireless Regional and to see if our
staff would accept it," says Simon Joy, strategic e-learning manager
within HR at Cable & Wireless Regional.

The pilot system was rolled out to 500 employees based on 30 islands across
the West Indies. For the e-learning project to be effective, the sales team
needed some prerequisite knowledge to fully understand the benefits of the new
products and implant in them an underlying technical knowledge. Fuel knew that
learners would be at varying knowledge levels and so composed an online
pre-course test to assess each one. This meant the full-blown course could then
be created to an individual’s requirements.

Fuel designs all of its e-learning programmes to work with a standard browser
and via a 28k modem and upwards. "Most users will access the training on a
corporate network but it is also created for access from home so we make sure
it will work across 28k modems," says Fuel CEO Steve Dineen, who
co-founded the company in 1994 with Chris Campbell.

"We also created a web-based learning management system, an LMS
‘light’," he explains. The LMS, which is designed to be plug-and-play and
is accessed through a standard browser, has since become a commercially
available standalone product.

Easy does it

Fuel prides itself on creating engaging content and took a lively, visual
approach to the training with material broken down into bite-sized chunks.
"We made it analogous and tried to contextualise it wherever possible – so
to explain a network we would use a motorway and traffic," explains
Dineen, who is clearly pleased that the material appears to look ‘very easy’ on
the screen. "It’s actually very hard to make technical content look easy
on screen," he says. The course also employs the use of highly visual and
fun-to-play breakout games for the user to test themselves.

Although Fuel already had an existing relationship with Cable &
Wireless, Joy says it knew it needed a partner that could create educationally
effective and engaging content on its products. "Poor content is probably
the main reason for the failure of e-learning in some companies, along with bad
internal marketing," he says.

All of Fuel’s e-learning consultants have worked in instructor-led training
and it also employs educational psychologist Charles Low as head of e-learning
education, whose background is in teaching and adult training. "It is
important not to overwhelm your learners and for Cable & Wireless we
created a structure that could be broken down easily. It is also always
important to have consistency on a technical level, consistency of message,
look and feel so learners can comfortably move on to the next level,"
explains Low.

The more diverse the audience, the harder his job, he says, adding:
"it’s a case of putting your stick in the ground somewhere. If you pitch
it too low, you lose them and if you pitch it too high, you lose them. If you
can hit around 90 per cent of the audience you’re doing well."

Evaluation

Feedback from the Cable & Wireless pilot scheme proved more than
encouraging from both the pre- and actual course. It was marketed to staff via
a punchy e-mail, which included the web address for accessing to the training,
from the CEO of Cable & Wireless.

"The online evaluation completed by all those taking the course has
given us unbiased, instant feedback from the start – that 94 per cent of them
say they would like future training to be delivered by e-learning is a powerful
endorsement," says Joy.

Although initially pitched at the sales force, the training is available for
anyone in the regions who wants to improve their product knowledge and has been
accessed by secretaries, admin staff and billing clerks.

Low was also pleased with the uptake: "Users liked things such as the
mini breakout games and feedback showed that most were happy doing the training
at their desks. The average scores on the pre-test were 36 per cent but on the
post-test it was 70 per cent. Of all who took the post-test, only 1 per cent
failed, which is pretty good. At two hours though, some people did think the
course was too long."

Around 1,400 employees have now registered for the training which is being
rolled out to offices in Spain and Panama (the course was originally designed
in Spanish as well as English). The pilot proved the value, acceptance levels
and cost-effectiveness of e-learning to Cable & Wireless Regional, says
Dineen, who adds Fuel is now embarking on a joint venture with the telecoms
giant.

"The feedback has consolidated our views and helped shape our future
plans. For instance, it is helpful for resource and facility planning to know
that just 10 per cent of staff are uncomfortable about learning at their desk
and want to learn in a dedicated training area."

Moving forward

The cost of the e-learning solution to Cable & Wireless was less than
£150,000 and Joy believes the bill for traditional education for what they’ve
achieved would have been up to £2.6m. In terms of cost savings, it has already
provided a return on investment, he says, but the benefit goes far beyond that:
"In terms of educating our staff, our customers are already realising the
benefits. Many of our team are now able to engage in much richer conversations
with each other and our customers," and, as a final endorsement, he adds:
"We are planning to move 49 per cent of our education to e-learning."

As part of the next phase of the programme, Fuel will be meeting the Cable
& Wireless directors – including those representing HR, marketing and
finance – in order to work alongside them to develop a longer term strategy for
the organisation’s educational needs. This is likely to involve skillset
analysis to align training with business needs and also put in place competency
frameworks.

Certainly the Cable & Wireless experience proves the benefit of a pilot
and Joy emphasises the importance of implementing one going sooner rather than
later if you think e-learning may suit your needs. "Do not spend years
planning an infrastructure strategy and then plan a content strategy
afterwards; these activities run parallel. You will learn a lot from your first
experience that will allow for future planning, so get the pilot going
quicker."

In summary
Pilot testing

Cable & Wireless Regional’s
requirement: To implement a pilot programme of new product training, initially
to 500 people across the West Indies.

Why? Although the product training in itself was important, the
programme was also a pilot project to see if e-learning was a viable method of
delivering education to the regions and to see if staff would accept this
method of delivery

Is e-learning delivering? The pilot was judged a success on the
basis of staff feedback and results. Around 1,400 employees have now registered
for the training. The cost-savings mean the training has already paid for
itself, says Simon Joy, strategic e-learning manager within HR at Cable &
Wireless Regional

In summary
Cable & wireless e-learning tips for success

1 Content is king; get key members of
staff to trial a few hours of e-learning from different vendors before making a
decision

2 Internal marketing and motivation
is as important as the technology

3 Get your pilot project up and
running – you will learn a lot from your first experience that will allow for
future planning

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