Through the square window

The BBC is the world leader in TV and radio programming and its blueprint
for training and development intends to keep it in front. Training Magazine
takes a virtual tour through its learning portal to find out how

When Training Magazine first met Nigel Paine earlier this year, he had just
taken up his post as head of training at the BBC, and director-general Greg
Dyke had voiced his ambition to make the broadcasting company the most creative
organisation in the world. Paine stated this would only be achieved through
strong training and staff development.

Our second visit witnessed Paine forging ahead with his plans to ensure
learning and training stay ahead of the knowledge needs of the corporation, and
that it is also able to deliver ‘just-in-time’ tailored training for the

The man who describes himself as a ‘learning technology specialist’ rather
then a ‘generic training specialist’, knows that the key to making this all
happen is creating a technology infrastructure that can facilitate learning and
training in all its guises – face-to-face, blended and online.

But this will involve far more than providing a vehicle to deliver and
access training. The vision in Paine’s mind is, in his own words, "to provide
a neural network" for BBC staff to plug into, as well as having a central
hub of learning material, breeding community areas that promote networked and
continuous learning.

"There is still a lot of joining up to be done," he says, and one
of his missions involves forging a link between the corporation’s knowledge
base and its learning. And when you have been broadcasting to all corners of
the globe since 1922, that is some knowledge base.

To find out exactly how the BBC is achieving its aims, Training Magazine was
taken on a tour of its learn.gateway portal by Jane Saunders, team leader of
the BBC’s training advisers. Learn.gateway is the user interface of the
learning infrastructure currently being put in place, and our tour began on the
BBC’s corporate intranet, from which the portal is accessed.

Anatomy of the portal

Launched in its present form in July this year, learn.gateway can be
accessed by all BBC staff from their computer desktop via the intranet’s home
page. The majority visit learn.gateway once a month and more than a third do so
more frequently. It has been designed with the same look and feel as the BBC’s
main website,, with a prominent search engine and a
training-related news story which is regularly updated (when we visited, it was
about the new Minerva operating system).

The main menu of features and facilities (described below) are accessed via
tabs at the top of the page or from an expanded menu running down the right
hand side. There are also click-through buttons to a range of other areas that
assist in training and development on the bottom half of the page.

The portal provides access to details of every course available to BBC staff
and also holds a growing bank of online courses, the majority of which are
produced in-house (exceptions being the management courses Harvard Manage
Mentor and the Institute of Management’s Checkpoint).

Courses can be found using the search engine, and there are currently 146
available, comprising 717 modules. More than half the BBC workforce has
completed an online course from learn.gateway.

Online courses range from the 10-hour production safety course, which must
be completed by all production staff and can be bookmarked and taken in
bite-sized chunks, to the five-minute course on using a microphone. The latter
is very much in the spirit of building what Paine describes as "the
five-minute learning experience". An online version of the BBC induction
course, called Upfront, can also be accessed from here, and is aimed at those
who cannot make the mandatory residential version.

Elsewhere on the homepage, learners can see at a glance what the most
popular courses of the moment are (production safety, emotional intelligence
and mini-disc for radio were all in the top five on the day we visited), and
view the most searched-for terms and most recently viewed items.

Learn.gateway undergoes a relaunch next spring. A powerful new search engine
will be added, which will go some way to achieving Paine’s aim of "joining
things up".

"We’ve refined it to deliver a better user experience and bring them
closer to all the information they need on a particular subject," he says.
If a BBC employee has to refurbish a studio, for example, the search engine can
retrieve all the information and elements that will help them do so from a
whole range of resources held digitally at the BBC.

Features of the site

– My Future: This offers employees tools to help them plan and map
out their career at the BBC and includes personal development plans, career
advice and the ability to plan a ‘learning journey’.

"This is a personal development area," Saunders explains. "We
want people to be proactive when it comes to their careers and training, and
here they can view entire learning journeys which detail all the courses that
they need to take for a particular job or to reach a certain point in their

– My BBC: A personal online tour of the BBC as a whole and to
particular departments is typically accessed by newcomers to the corporation.
New features that have been added recently include a BBC jargonbuster and
essential employment information. You can also link into what the BBC refers to
as its ‘village sites’. These are community areas set up by departments for
exchanging ideas, which feature documents and discussions on various subjects.

Training and development has its own ‘T&D Town’, explains Paine, and it
proves a useful indicator of current hot topics for the department.

"I think there are 44 issues listed on it at the moment and I know from
just how many people contribute to each one what should be high on the agenda,"
he says.

– My Network: A community area where employees can share news,
opinions, advice and talk to each other via the talk.gateway discussion forum.

"These areas are really important because there is so much knowledge
and information at the BBC, but it is in danger of disappearing down an
information black hole if there isn’t a vehicle to share. All our community
areas are there to do this," says Paine.

At the bottom of the homepage are ‘click-throughs’ to a number of other
areas, including the ‘Live and Learn’ section, designed to help employees learn
from each other.

"The Live and Learn team go in after someone’s completed a project and
interview those involved. They can then capture the information and publish it
on the site," explains Saunders. "It uses shared experience as
another form of learning material."

Paine currently describes it as ‘small’ but like the community areas, it is
a growing and potentially ‘big and powerful’ section.

There is also a ‘Stories’ section where people relay their experience first
hand, a monthly bulletin updating staff on any training news and regulations
that are relevant to them, and an NVQ Assessment Centre where employees can
find out about professional qualifications relevant to their job.

Blueprint for blended

Few corporations are blessed with the kind of creative and production
facilities the BBC has, so it is little wonder that its courses are produced
in-house (with the exception of the management ones mentioned earlier) and the
training and development team recently designed the BBC’s first truly blended
learning course. As part of the process, they also created a prototype online
reference tool that has the potential to transform skills training across the

The training is designed to support the implementation of VCS dira!, a new
digital radio and music playout system, which demands a fundamental new way of
working and affects hundreds of people within the corporation (it was listed as
the most viewed course on the day we visited).

The training programme features face-to-face training with three online
modules held on learn.gateway. The technology represents such a radical shift
in working practices that the course joining instructions include links to two
online modules that provide staff with a quick introduction to VCS dira! and
the concept of digital playout.

"When people come to the face-to-face training, precious time doesn’t
need to be spent introducing the technology," says Wendy Bithell, who
produced the modules in collaboration with Radio 1 and 4’s external websites to
ensure the colour schemes and styles of learning modules were in keeping with
that of each station. "So when Radio 1 staff begin their courses they will
have an online support tool that looks and feels like Radio 1, making the whole
training experience a personal one," she explains.

The face-to-face training that follows ranges from two-and-a-half to five
days, and comprises a mixture of talks and hands-on experimentation with VCS

An online training manual has been put together to offer further support
when employees are back at work. It features a sophisticated search facility
and interactive on-screen demos, which allow staff to refresh their learning
and practice some of the more complex digital procedures on screen before
trying them out in the studio.

"When you have to work with new technology for the first time, there is
a real fear that you will make expensive mistakes," says Simon Major, who
is involved in radio training. "The online support takes this fear away by
allowing staff to make their mistakes on screen, rather than on air."

There is further post-training support through the forum and discussion
groups created on talk.gateway.

The online manual, which is created in Microsoft Word and can be CD-Rom or
web-based or exported to a PDA (or printed out, of course), has wider
implications for blended learning at the BBC, because it will be used as the
technology backbone for support manuals for other skills courses.

Paine is the first to admit that his blueprint for the perfect learning
infrastructure is still in development. He still needs to overcome the major
obstacle of courses remaining unavailable outside the BBC firewall, which
currently prevents employees from doing any e-learning courses at home. This
also knocks many freelancers out of the training equation, and it is a
situation that must be rectified, he says.

"We have around 10,000-14,000 freelance workers who are vital to the
corporation. It doesn’t endear them to a company if the training isn’t extended
to them."

But he is adamant that his holistic vision will and must be realised, and
that all potential resources will be ‘joined up’ and accessible to all. What we
see today is only a glimpse of an infrastructure that is already facilitating a
level of knowledge and experience-sharing that many large organisations could
benefit from.

This time next year, it may well be the neural network that all companies
will be striving towards. To be continued.

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