BBC’s vision of the future of learning

An e-learning pilot launched at the
BBC two years ago is being rolled out across the corporation. But the key to
its success has been how it has been sold to the artistic workforce. Nic Paton

Online learning has been gathering
pace at the BBC since a pilot was begun in July 1999.

This year the process started in
earnest, with the launch of Learning Online, an e-learning function that is
being rolled out across the corporation over 18 months.

Learning Online currently consists
of nine categories: BBC editorial policy, induction, IT office skills,
journalism, management, new media, radio, safety and television. Users can
assess their skills against those required in their chosen career in order to
create a personal development plan of both online and face-to-face training.

Staff are also encouraged to develop
networks through which they can share knowledge with other people across the

The majority of the online courses
are available at desktops via the BBC’s intranet, Gateway. Although 30,000
modules have been completed, Gareth Jones, head of innovation and learning,
admits there has not yet been full buy-in from all staff. "This is
probably something that we are never going to achieve. There is a residual
opinion about the role of e-learning," he says.

As a result, he and Bob Nelson, head
of development and training, have been forced to take a softly, softly approach
to marketing the benefits of e-learning to the 23,000 people who work across
radio, television and online at the corporation.

"We have a culture where if you
tell people to do something, they will tend to do the opposite. It is a very
federal system inside the BBC, very creative. The philosophy has got to be that
people have to be encouraged to see the value of e-learning," says Jones.

Borrowing techniques from the world
of direct marketing, Jones has been selling the concept to 1,000 people at a
time, concentrating on working through individual departments. The key, he
argues, has been to try to offer a tailored message showing why, in that
department, moving away from the old models of training and development would
be beneficial.

Targeted e-mails to staff over the
Gateway system, for instance flagging up known topics of interest or relevant
courses, have also proved useful, Jones says. "We have been getting people
used to the idea that there is this stuff sitting on the intranet. People can
build their company development plan online and can get 360-degree
feedback," he explains.

E-learning needs to mimic the
pattern and model of face-to-face learning, with training booked into the diary
and approval gained from the line manager, he argues.

Another issue has been tackling the
inevitable internal tension from the training department caused by the arrival
of e-learning. "We have to show it is honest, frank and useful advice,"
he says.

When it comes to user performance,
there are a range of standard tests embedded in the software to help measure
progress. And Jones has also carried out a number of studies through follow-up
conversations and by gathering data.

"What we have seen so far is
that those who train online have generally done better than those who train in
the traditional way," he suggests.

However, more rigorous testing will
need to be done before there is a clearer picture, he concedes.

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