NHS gets itself in gear and road tests its online future

What do staff expect from an online university?  Well, why not follow National Health Service’s lead and just try
asking them directly

The NHS is using an innovative multimedia simulation tool to prototype and
road-test the online arm of its ‘bricks and clicks’ university, which is
scheduled for launch in autumn 2003.

Called The Demonstrator and created by Loughborough-based e-learning
solutions provider DeltaNet International, it runs on CD-Rom and has been
supplied to selected members of the NHS as a market research tool. It offers a
glimpse of what will ultimately be the online incarnation of one of the largest
‘corporate’ universities in the world and become the framework for career
development in the NHS.

The NHS has an annual learning budget of £3bn, but currently there is no
central body that controls or co-ordinates NHS training. The Government
announced its intention to launch the NHSU in its 2001 manifesto and it will
serve more than one million employees. The ‘bricks’ version will take the form
of a network of learning and training centres, some of which will be based in
universities up and down the country (it already uses a number of universities
for training in this way).

"The bricks and clicks approach is an innovative concept within the
NHS," says NHSU project manager David Arnold. "Not all our staff have
their own PCs and the idea of using modern technologies to underpin learning
for all staff as a means of improving patient care is a very radical

DeltaNet had created a similar approach for the Employment Service and when
Arnold saw it, he felt it would be the ideal solution to help them commence the
NHS project. As DeltaNet managing director Darren Hockley points out, many
organisations start projects like this with a blank canvas and need to be
kickstarted. "The Demonstrator starts the debate for them. If you’re
developing a multi-million pound project like this, you need a clear vision of
exactly what you’re going to do or else you can waste a lot of money," he
says, adding that the corporate world could learn a lot from the NHS approach.

DeltaNet structured a blueprint of what NHS employees would be able to
access within the online university based on research carried out within an NHS
Trust and drew on its own in-house knowledge of e-learning provision.

Following a number of meetings with the NHSU, this blueprint was refined to
become the basis of the CD. The structure concentrates on making the students
believe that they are working within their own personal network area and is
broken into three main areas.

My development zone

This provides a comprehensive education, employment and training history of
individual employees – basically, an online CV; it enables learners to verify
the competencies they need to complete current or future roles; and allows NHS
staff to plan their careers.

Learning opportunity zone

Provides a database of courses and opportunities for NHS staff and offers
search facilities based on course criteria and allows learners to rejoin online

Interactive discussion boards and chat rooms

This enables learners to communicate as well as develop their career.
Hockley believes that the CD will also help get buy-in to the university from
the workforce at an early stage.

"We wanted The Demonstrator to be more than just an illustration of
what NHSU could offer NHS staff. We knew that it could be utilised as a
communication tool and also as a means of making staff feel part of modernising
the NHS," he says.

"The CD is about stimulating ideas of what the HNSU can achieve. It
poses questions such as: are there any gaps in what is currently being provided?
Is this the medium that should be provided to staff? And, is this what we
should be doing?"

Personnel Today will be following the NHSU project in future issues.


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