Learning methods in the spotlight

technology dictating rather than supporting an effective educational process?
These views will be debated at the forthcoming World Open Learning Conference
and Exhibition. We take a sneak preview of this influential event. By Simon

in its seventh year, the World Open Learning Conference and Exhibition 2000
(WOLCE) organised by Venture Marketing Group, is aiming to be the epicentre for
contemporary practice and debate in open learning products and services.

conference, sponsored by Saba and supported by the British Association for Open
Learning (BAOL) and the Forum for Technology in Training, as well as Training’s
sister title Personnel Today, has earned a great reputation over its relatively
short lifespan, and this year has attracted speakers and companies at the
forefront of the training revolution.

year’s conference was attended by 3,000 visitors and delegates, 19 per cent of
whom were company chairmen or directors, 46 per cent senior managers and 27 per
cent responsible for training budgets of over £500,000.

is easy to understand why the event has this kind of pulling power. “Open
learning is becoming the most important issue in the world,” says Dr Ronnie
Singer. “It could even be more influential than the Internet itself.”


is one of the speakers contributing to the Online in Action session on day two
of the conference. As a learning and multimedia specialist from BusinessLab in
Aberdeen, he has a unique view as to the future of open learning and in
particular how corporate learning will develop in the future.

organisations face the same problem,” he says. “They want to retrain their
employees, but they need to do that without the cost of sending them to
university. In addition, many universities do not supply the skills
organisations need, so the only logical step to take is to set up a corporate
university with in-house training programmes.”

Singer feels such learning provision is now challenging the status quo of
traditional education centres. While the public sector continues to face
cutbacks, the corporate sector is able to finance cutting-edge vocational and
strategic learning facilities. “Corporate learning will change the way people
operate. Such universities are about inculcating certain values among employees
and not only will those values exist in their jobs, they’ll live those values
outside their jobs too.”

vision may be a little way in the future, but certainly the required
technologies and systems are already available. Importantly, the conference
will discuss how organisations can realise the full potential of a learning
culture, enabling training to impact on the bottom line.


his opening keynote presentation to Wolce on the first day, the Canadian
corporate development expert Ian Rose will present his ideas as to how
corporate training can gain executive commitment and thereby generate the kind
of impact Dr Singer describes. “To get to the table where key business
decisions are made, you need to ask. You will never just be invited,” says

acknowledges this is something of a Catch 22 situation for training
professionals. “You are not going to be invited unless someone thinks you can
significantly affect the business, and you are not going to be able to
significantly affect the business unless you get summoned to the table to
contribute to key business decisions about organisational performance.”

break this vicious circle, Rose proposes a number of proactive initiatives for
corporate trainers. He argues that training professionals must always use the
language of business not the language of training, addressing business issues
directly rather than focusing on the importance of good leadership or
communication skills.

senior training professional must think and act as the chief development
officer, and not simply as a technical expert,” says Rose. In this way,
corporate training can become a positive force for future growth and
development, for identifying and adapting to future trends rather than simply
being a support function, ready to respond to the perceived needs of a company.
“It is now the responsibility of learning professionals to analyse competitive
disadvantages and to determine how training can help overcome them,” says Rose.

keynote presentation on day two is shared by Dr Anne Wright, chief executive of
the University for Industry, and Dr Paul Taylor, lecturer in the Sociology of
Technology at the University of Salford.


session could well prove the most controversial of the conference. Dr Wright
will begin by describing Learndirect – an innovative e-learning network for
individuals and businesses developed by the UFI, which she hopes will make a
significant contribution to staff development. “It is likely that 40 per cent
of staff development will be delivered online by 2002,” says Wright. “Even in
these early stages of the e-learning revolution, it is clear that new
technologies are set to transform access to learning at work.”

Paul Taylor, on the other hand, holds some very strong views as to the effects
technology is having on educational provision and while he half expects his
presentation to go down as well as Tony Blair’s to the Women’s Institute, his
views may well sound a necessary note of caution.

is under siege, not so much from a sea of troubles, but a flood of
inappropriate technology,” says Taylor. “Information technologies exist –
therefore we are under pressure to use them in as many contexts as possible.
When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

primary concern is that the technology appears to be dictating the way in which
individuals learn rather than contributing and supporting an effective
educational process.

knowledge gained by wide-reading and long reflection has been all but lost to
the popularity of the modular course and the quick de-contextualised nugget of

Internet liberates information from the constraint of dusty book covers, but
simultaneously drags the browser into a quagmire of unverified data,” Taylor
says. “It is an inherently fragmented source of information, and as Clifford
Stoll points out, data isn’t information, any more than 50 tons of cement is a

on both days of the conference are split into three areas:

Line Learning

Effective Implementation

Challenges for Training and Development.

these general headings, topics include learning resource centre management and
employability skills for training and development managers.


Christine-Carter, director of Effective Learning Solutions, is contributing to
the Online Learning session on day one – a beginners’ guide to e-learning and
related technology – and to the Challenges session the following day, this time
focusing on the need for developing the skills of instructional designers.

beginners’ guide to e-learning offers a chance for everyone to catch up on what
precisely is what in the field of online learning.

need to sort out the current mess with regards to definitions, because people
are using terms such as open learning, distance learning, flexible learning,
TBT, CBT and e-learning either to mean the same thing or to mean something
completely different,” says Christine-Carter. “It’s no small wonder that the
average punter or the potential punter is confused.”

believes that while organisations can regard online learning as a good way to
slash training budgets, care and attention has to be given to the quality of
the learning experience.

people will wake up to the fact that garbage in means garbage out, and unless
those who supply web-enabled learning systems ensure that what is made
available in terms of content is all high quality stuff, online learning will
fall into disrepute as the real effects on the bottom line become obvious.”

concurrent Wolce exhibition is the biggest yet, with some 110 exhibitors on
display. Visitors will be able to view state-of-the-art technologies available
to support open learning and view product demonstrations.

such technology will be interactive distance learning (IDL) technology from
Crystal Media, which has been installed at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

the conference, they plan to establish a live open learning link with RBS’
training centre in Edinburgh.


to Brian McLaren, head of training and on-line learning at RBS, the system
enables up to 200 participants to link to a single presenter in order to
receive training in an interactive environment regardless of their geographical

been able to use the system for product training, as well as for senior
briefings and discussions,” explains McLaren.

has developed a multi-channel approach to delivering training which McLaren
will be outlining in the Building Successful Training Organisations seminar.
RBS has invested heavily in technology and now has an electronic communications
channel operating throughout the organisation.

this has had benefits for other departments – notably the corporate
communications team – McLaren confirms the justification for the investment
came solely from the training department. “The business case has been based on
the savings we can make through using the technology,” he says.

the same time, there have been benefits felt in creating a quicker induction
programme and improving staff retention.”

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