All organisations meet their own unique set of challenges when developing training programmes. Few, however, have to contend with one of the most high-profile inquiries halfway through production.
The Hutton Inquiry took place while the BBC was putting together its editorial policy training programme, aimed at 20,000 staff and contractors.
“The BBC’s editorial policy is what sets the BBC apart, and it evolves rather like case law,” says Andy Tedd, director of interactive products and services, BBC people development. “The guidelines are affected by events such as this.”
The BBC’s editorial policy department is the custodian of editorial policy, and the guidelines traditionally take the form of a printed silver book. There is also a hotline that programme makers can use if they have a query or need areas of policy clarified.
Training on the policy guidelines would normally comprise a two-day workshop. Given that some 16,000 people needed to sit the course, the BBC felt it would be more cost-effective to do it online, which also makes it easier to amend the policy when necessary (although the revered silver book will continue to exist). The corporation already knew the benefits of e-learning, having delivered 60,000 hours of training online last year.
“We also felt it would give us a consistency of approach,” says Tedd.
The BBC has an in-house production capability and a budget to outsource. Because of the timing of the project, it made sense to outsource the editorial policy programme. It commissioned learning and communications provider Line Communications Group, which had won awards for its BBC multimedia education programmes Bitesize Maths and Science. The editorial policy programme itself recently won a bronze award at the International Visual Communications Association Awards in the Internal Multimedia category.
The learning programme is aimed at everybody involved in programme making. This amounts to nearly 20,000 BBC staff and contractors, and includes editors, reporters, researchers, producers and assistant producers. Users would range from those who had been at the BBC for some years to new recruits undergoing induction, so there are two levels of the course. But Tedd is keen to point out that inexperience doesn’t indicate a lack of talent, so it was important to get the tone right for both.
“[Participants] may be at different levels of experience, but they are all of the same calibre intellectually,” he says. “They are all up to the job.”
The online course is made up of two modules which can be undertaken in different sessions. Similarly, learners can dip in and out of each one, and don’t have to sit a module all in one go.
The learning programme takes a scenario-based approach. The BBC wanted to bring its editorial policy to life and to put it in context for employees, and came up with a range of scenarios. It worked closely with Line Communication’s team of designers to create them, using a mixture of video, audio, animation, graphics and written content.
In one scenario on the course, participants have to choose a panel for a Radio 4 debate on the Gulf War. In another, they select alternative storyboards from hospital drama Casualty to deliver a dramatic sequence that is appropriate for its pre-watershed slot.
Tedd was keen to emphasise the “fierce intellectual debate” that goes on within the BBC.
“The [learning] programme had to reflect the intellectual, probing nature of the BBC and challenge in an intellectual way,” he says. “It had to be of the culture of the BBC.”
The Gulf War debate scenario is a good example of this. “It’s extremely difficult to get the balance right,” says Tedd. “It’s almost impossibly hard.”
Piers Lea, CEO of Line Communications, was also very aware that the training programmes had to speak the BBC’s language.
“We knew the scenarios would be judged on how true to form they were,” he says. “It was difficult to get scenarios that reflected the whole organisation – in a two to three-hour training course, it had to be relevant to everyone.”
Technically, the main challenge was upgrading the computer network infrastructure to ensure the learning programme could run in full motion video across the organisation. The programme was integrated with the BBC’s proprietary learning management system, and accessed via its online learning portal, Learn.Gateway.
Rollout and feedback
Because it was such a crucial launch, Line and the BBC built feedback devices into each stage of development, to verify whether they were on the right path. Their efforts paid off as when the course was rolled out last November, it was extremely well received right from the start.
“Right now, 12,819 people have completed module one against 15,444 starters, and 9,865 people have completed module two against 11,949 starters,” says Tedd. “Additionally, around 1,000 CD-ROMs of the course have been sent out to locations with an inadequate IT infrastructure.”
As well as providing the BBC with a cost-effective way to train staff in editorial policy (and track who has and hasn’t completed the course), the programme has also bolstered the image of e-learning within the corporation.
“We did 60,000 hours of training online last year,” says Tedd, speaking about the BBC’s online training overall. “Originally, e-learning wasn’t something that was broadly perceived as being relevant, but we’ve now gained organisational buy-in at programme-maker and senior manager level.”
Line is now working with the broadcaster on a legal course, which is due to go live in September 2005.