The right chemistry

The key to bringing together a blended solution is ensuring all its
component parts work well together. Would Bayer’s mix of online learning and
face-to-face mentoring succeed?

It is not the end of the world if your first experience of e-learning
doesn’t quite go to plan. Hopefully, you emerge from the experience stronger,
wiser and more enlightened as to what methods work best for the company.

It certainly isn’t holding back global healthcare and chemicals giant Bayer
– whose products range from antibiotics to coatings and colourants to
bioscience solutions – from committing to a training future where e-learning
plays a vital part.

Karen Murphy, development consultant, Bayer Business Services, says:
"There had been an attempt to use a bespoke e-learning tool to support a
major application, but it was not well received and the product’s functionality
did not live up to our expectations." Murphy is one of the people driving
the company’s latest enterprise-wide learning solution, which combines
e-learning with face-to-face and telephone mentoring.

Bayer had a compelling reason to give e-learning another chance. Many of its
business units have a high proportion of remotely-based staff – in some
divisions as high as 50 per cent – and Bayer didn’t want a group of individuals
to be disadvantaged due to location, working pattern or job function. And there
was another reason: it made good business sense, with Murphy making a sound
financial case for implementing the e-learning programme from the start.

Bayer employees based in the field have a high reliance on technology, being
required to use IT systems to produce reports, extract information from
databases and customer relationship management programmes, as well as
communicate with customers and head office. "Process improvement
initiatives are using technology to deliver business results more and more
frequently," says Murphy. "Business unit directors identified a need
to improve PC skills and individual confidence with technology. Without the
ability to use and exploit technology, people could not continue to deliver
results."

Bayer set out five main criteria for its learning programme, and it had to
deliver on all counts for every individual in the workforce:

– To identify skills gaps – monitor existing skills and build upon them

– Offer flexibility – provide consistent training to office and field staff

– Time saving – offer tailored content specific to user requirements

– Learning retention – provide a post-course support tool to maximise the
benefits of training and increase knowledge retention

– Support and mentor – assist users with the cultural move to e-learning

It appointed blended solutions provider Global Knowledge and its certified
business partner, Trainers IT. Bayer had already worked with the latter on a
number of key IT projects and Trainers IT assessed Bayer’s needs and came up
with a blended learning solution. It is based on Global Knowledge’s training
product SPeLWEB, (self-paced e-learning web) which allows the user to access
e-learning courses through a standard browser. SPeLWEB would be used alongside
a managed mentoring programme by Trainers IT. When accessing technical content,
users need a Flash and Windows Media player installed (both of which are free)
but SPeLWEB facilitates everything else.

Client security

Peter McClintock, Global Knowledge sales director for the UK and Ireland
explains: "In Bayer’s case, certain firewall restrictions have caused us
to move the content inside the firewall, however, it is still accessed through
a standard browser. The main challenges of the job were due to client security
and limited bandwidth. We worked with Bayer to overcome this, and a dedicated
server was installed on the client’s intranet."

Initially, the courses available were largely technical, but Global
Knowledge’s portfolio includes training in major systems from manufacturers
such as Siebel, Lotus, Microsoft and Oracle. Bayer now has a number of
e-learning projects at varying stages, ranging from a small pilot being run at
a remote location, to much larger projects where participants have completed
compulsory models and are now working on their elective modules.

"Each project team agrees a defined learning path for participants.
This reflects the specific skills needed for each job role, and helps focus on
developing those skills," says Murphy. "We have a number of blended
e-learning solutions for soft skills, covering areas such as managing
performance, managing recruitment and facilitation skills. Again, some are at
pilot and some at completion."

Mentoring is a vital part of the training solution, and Trainers IT provides
this by phone or in person to bring a proactive face-to-face component to the
training. The assigned mentor meets delegates in the classroom launch session,
then contacts each learner by telephone during their first week of going live
with the e-learning.

Janie Brown of Trainers IT says: "If necessary, the mentor will talk
them through any lessons or address any technical queries. Depending on the response
in terms of support required by the user, the mentor might call regularly. For
some users the mentor arranges a face-to-face session, which we consider to be
personal coaching rather than mentoring."

Mentors are assigned to the helpdesk team so that when a user calls the
helpdesk for support, they can usually talk directly to their mentor.

Bayer hopes to train more than 150 people in the UK this year via e-learning
– 100 of whom will go through the PC skills blended programme. Murphy explains
that most will complete their compulsory modules in the first quarter, their
electives in the second quarter "and the rest of the year is available to
them to explore content of interest to them, regardless of whether it is key to
their job role," she says.

So far, the training programme has received good feedback from learners, who
have said being able to learn flexibly suits them. They also report its
usefulness as a research tool, since they can tap in a question and it will
retrieve the answer.

Cost-savings also seem to be stacking up, with a saving of 113 per cent
against the classroom rate being achieved so far. "Time-savings have yet
to be calculated, but early indications are that they are significant,"
says Murphy. "One participant said he had saved about 45 minutes a day by
being able to automate some of his routine tasks."

Bayer has also speeded up its return on investment by running its training
as a business, and charging business units for the training. Murphy claims to
have already recouped its outlay by providing internal customers with the
blended solution: "Our customers pay for this unique but highly
competitive solution and we have been able to recoup our investment and
reinvest in the development of more blended products.

"Our strategy is to offer blended learning solutions wherever
appropriate and add value to the development process. Many of our training
departments are offering unique e-learning solutions to the challenges that
face a diverse business operating at country, regional and global levels."

Bayer’s TIPS for e-learning success

1. Make the experience feel as familiar as possible, ie,
booking onto a programme using your standard booking forms

2. Encourage ‘buddy’ studying for those delegates who feel they
will be learning in isolation

3. Help delegates to learn in this new way – most of us were
taught in a classroom and learning online is a very different experience

In summary
Project pays off

Bayer’s aim: To create a blended training programme for
its workforce, with the initial aim of training 150 people in the UK this year

Why? A high proportion of its workforce is based
remotely (in some divisions as high as 50 per cent) and Bayer wanted a training
programme that would be inclusive for the entire workforce. Additionally,
employees have a high reliance on technology and if they can’t use it properly,
it could affect business results

Is e-learning delivering? Bayer has already seen a
return on investment as it charges internal business units, which have
recognised the high-quality, competitive, blended training programmes. It
claims a saving of 113 per cent has been made against classroom training
already.

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