Winning extra interest

Known for their cautious approach to anything new, banks need to know that
they’ll see a return on investment from e-learning. So could such new training
methods pass the test at the Royal Bank of Scotland?

Much is made of the fact that a good, solid business case has to be made in
order to justify an e-learning programme and when the organisation in question
is a financial institution, it really is a case of explaining every penny. So
it’s reassuring for anyone still in two minds about e-learning to find that the
banking sector has been one of the early adopters of online learning.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has been at the forefront of e-learning in
the financial services sector. In 1999, it commissioned learning and HR
solutions provider the AdVal Group to develop and produce a training and
development programme for its retail relationship managers (RRMs) and business
advisors (BAs) working in the bank’s small business (SME) sector.

"We wanted to create a matrix of training that ran over a period of
time for business relationship managers, but we also wanted it to be a driver
for setting up an e-learning infrastructure and bring consistency to
training," says Brian McLaren, head of training and online learning at
RBS.

AdVal undertook a training needs analysis to determine what the target
audience needed and after further discussion developed a hybrid web-based
training solution consisting of 20 hours of online e-learning delivered via the
bank’s intranet (with video and other rich media running from a CD-Rom), 30
hours of supported action- and workshop-based learning, and a 150-page workbook
providing additional workplace activities. A coaching guide was specifically
developed to provide supporting information for supervisory staff monitoring
the training.

RBS had already put a key part of its e-learning infrastructure in place
having had a learning management system (LMS) built to its own specification.
AdVal integrated the programme with the LMS, which tracks and monitors a
learner’s progress (they access the e-learning via their salary reference
number through the LMS, which is integrated with RBS’s back office HR systems).
Commitment and integration from all sides was key to the programme’s
implementation, says AdVal’s CEO Dennis Quilter. "We used RBS’ subject
matter expertise and formed an integrated team. They were prepared to commit
the people their end which is what you need for such a programme to be a
success," he says, adding: "We’ve now gone past the buyer/seller
relationship and it’s become more of a partnership."

Thorough design

The training and development programme started in April 2000 and has since
been delivered to 750 RRMs and BAs throughout the UK and is currently being
rolled out to the National Westminster employees (RBS acquired the Nat West
Group in March 2000 in the largest takeover in British banking history).
McLaren attributes the e-learning’s success to the programme being well thought
through and "thoroughly" designed. "Learners like the fact that
it’s broken up into chunks with quizzes and interaction. The quality of the
overall programme also exceeds people’s expectation of what the learning
experience is going to be like. They think they’re just going to be sitting
looking at a PC and suddenly this thing is talking to them," he says.

Quilter concurs with McLaren’s view of learner expectations. "People
are used to quality: if you go to a cinema, watch the TV, open a magazine or
read a newspaper you expect quality. Similarly, they expect quality of
presentation and richness of media in an e-learning programme."

AdVal, which has a number of clients in the financial services sector and
has just released its first off-the-shelf learning products in the shape of its
CD-based Professional Management Series, has re-organised the way it works
internally over the years to create the optimum environment for e-learning
development. Instead of having separate divisions for various disciplines they
are now merged into the various project groups. "I think it’s a bad thing
to produce e-learning in the same way that you produce video. The division works
well for video, but for e-learning everything has to be more integrated. We
have full in-house capability."

Eleven modules are used to present the main learning topics, covering soft
skills and technical skills, which include a mixture of text, graphics, animation,
audio voiceover and video. A synchronised voiceover is used to present the main
learning content while supporting text summarises it. Such an approach avoids
the production of busy screens, which AdVal says have been shown to detract
from learning. Video clips, meanwhile, are included to demonstrate specific
learning objectives in a workplace setting that students can relate to and
interactive scenarios are created using text and graphics to allow students to
demonstrate their understanding of the learning objectives. Paperwork and
information sources, such as lending forms, that an adviser might call upon
when talking to a small business client have been recreated on-screen and are
interactive.

Using video, audio and interaction was a major part of the design approach,
says AdVal’s senior training designer, John Armitage. "It’s a long
programme so we wanted to engage the learner using rich media," he
explains. Another vital component was the inclusion of Clarence, a character
(played by an actor) who asks the questions that the learner would like to ask,
but maybe doesn’t want to. "Clarence links the whole thing together and
we’ve made even more use of him in more recent editions of the programme by
making him pop up here and there rather than just being in the background –
we’ve ‘magicked’ him a bit more," says Armitage.

To be effective, RBS recommends that learners don’t spend more than
two-and-a-half hours on the programme at one time and the modules can be
bookmarked at any time so learners can resume exactly where they left off. The
training is accessed via a PC in the branch where the employees work. Those
working in smaller branches may have to go to a bigger bank in some cases. The
training is essential for the advisers and is scheduled during the working day,
although some employees have chosen to do it out of hours. Future plans include
allowing employees to access the training from home which is in line with RBS’s
self-service HR practices of letting employees choose flexible benefits wherever
they are.

The programme features both formative and summative assessment elements and
the summative assessment results are available to a line manager for review
before allowing students to continue to the next stage. Since the programme
began in 2000, RBS has been able to monitor the advisers’ attainment of
competence, providing critical information for the organisation’s long-term
strategic vision. For the individual, it provides a clear route map of the
competencies that are expected in the RRM/BA job role. The programme has also
been designed to become part of the Diploma of Customer Relationship
Management, which is accredited by the Institute of Bankers in Scotland and
England.

McLaren reports that the e-learning programme has given RBS a
"positive" return on investment and says there have been other
welcome bi-products. "It’s improved staff retention rates, which we didn’t
necessarily set out to do with this project," he says. It has also brought
consistency to the training, which was one of the primary objectives and which
takes on even more importance given that RBS will now be using it to train
2,300 Nat West advisers to the same high standard. McLaren still sees a
permanent place for traditional methods in the company’s long-term training
strategy, but says it will increasingly use the intranet and internet for what
he calls "knowledge acquisition": "We’ll use methods like
workshops and role-playing to practice new skills, but for actually acquiring
the knowledge needed to carry out these new processes we will be using the
intranet."

In summary
Positive return on investment

Company requirement:

To train its retail relationship managers and business advisers
in its small business sector and put in place an infrastructure for e-learning.

Why?

To bring consistency to training and build an integrated
strategy for the future that combines e-learning and traditional classroom and
workshop-based learning.

Is e-learning delivering?

The training has been delivered to more than 750 advisers and
is now being rolled out to 2,300 Nat West employees. It’s had a positive return
on investment, says Brian McLaren, head of training and online learning, and
has also improved staff retention rates.

In summary
Called to account: Top tips for e-learning

– Build a sound business case and prove that the e-learning
will be both efficient and effective

– Collaborate across the organisation: you must involve HR,
training, corporate communications, IT and all other relevant parties.

– Integrate e-learning with your learning strategy. E-learning
is just part of the training package and you have to give people choice.

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