Learndirect centres give UK firms e-learning edge

E-learning took a major step forward in becoming an integral part of the UK’s training and learning infrastructure this week with the government-backed Ufi (University for Industry) rolling out a further 468 learndirect centres across the country.

It brings the total to 700, with 36,000 people already having sampled the Web-based courses during the pilot phase, which started last November. The learndirect network is also set to play a major part in business, with Sainsbury’s the latest organisation to announce it will be using the on-line learndirect courses as part of its in-house training programme.

Learndirect aims to give everyone the chance to learn in places that offer an alternative to the traditional academic setting, being located in sports and shopping centres, football and rugby clubs, community centres, churches, railway stations and even pubs and funfairs. The hubs that host the centres are local partnerships made up of local learning providers, employers, trade union and local authority representatives and community organisations.

"Learndirect puts people in touch with the skills they need and makes learning an everyday part of life and work," says Ufi chief executive Dr Anne Wright. "Once registered, people can learn from anywhere they have access to the Internet."

There will be 800 courses available by March 2001 and they currently range from getting started with computers to advanced and specialist courses in finance, people management, customer care and business communications, as well as reading, writing and numeracy skills.

As well as Sainsbury’s, BT, Unipart and the Army will also be joining the learndirect network. "It’s encouraging that organisations like Sainsbury’s see there’s something here for employees, whether it is development of IT or personal skills. It also offers real just-in-time learning – people can learn the skills they need for that day," says Wright, who sees the on-line courses potentially capable of relieving some of the training pressure on HR departments.

"They can benefit from the national infrastructure of high quality courses. These are also pay-as-you-go courses so are good value for employers."

Courses are designed in bite-sized chunks, with some as short as 20 minutes for a subject like giving a presentation, explains Wright.

The learndirect network is fully supported by a web site (www.learndirect.co.uk), which gives access to a searchable database of over half a million courses. There’s a special business section on the site which, although primarily designed for smaller businesses, has a useful collection of downloadable business fact sheets, as well as a taster course – conducting an interview, when we visited – which gives e-learning novices an idea of what to expect. The Dfee is committed to supporting Ufi during its development phase and has allocated funds of £84m to it for 2000-01.


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