Online induction: Something old becomes something new

Induction training is undergoing a makeover: thanks to e-learning, it’s breaking out of its traditional first-week confines and becoming a continuing, on-demand training programme.

“We call traditional induction the fire-hydrant approach: you get a lot out but lose a lot of it, too,” says Emil Reisser-Weston, director at bespoke specialist e-learning WMB. “The approach we take is to provide something people can track and refer back to, rather than something they do just once.”

The company has been involved in e-induction for two years and is one of several that provide organisations with tools and expertise to create online induction courses.

While some areas of e-learning have struggled to make a sound business case, e-induction can easily justify itself. For example, it has a relatively low entry-level cost. E-learning WMB’s e-start customisable courses cost from £20 per user. This compares favourably with standard classroom-based induction, which is more likely to be about £175 per head.

New recruits can undertake induction (or part of it) before they’ve joined the company, taking away some of those first-day nerves and enabling them to hit the ground running in their first week.

For companies that only run induction at set times of the year, this is especially advantageous. This also suits organisations with workforces that are geographically dispersed.

“Web-based induction allows them to apply consistency across the organisation,” says David Hill, managing director of Echelon Publishing, which produces a range of courses and e-induction templates under its Learning Matters brand.

Where to start

Organisations can create their own online induction course with some of the do-it-yourself e-learning tools discussed in last month’s issue of Training & Coaching Today. But, to get the best results, it may be worth enlisting the help of a company that develops customisable template-based or off-the-shelf induction courses.

They will help to tailor the course for your organisation and get you up and running with the programme. The cost will depend on how much customisation you require but will likely range from £5,000-£20,000. That should include the content management system or tools that would then enable you to carry out upgrades and further customisation yourself.

Sometimes the developer will host the course on its own or a third-party server before installing it onto your intranet. This provides plenty of hand-holding in the early stages.

London further education institution Westminster Kingsway College asked Echelon to build an online induction course and initially host the service. It has now brought the course in-house and is running it from its own intranet.

“We have six different sites and have a lot of teaching staff who only work at one site and a lot of part-time staff. We wanted to provide something that would give an overall sense of belonging and enable them to understand what happens at each college,” says Peter Armah, head of personal and organisational development at the college.

The course includes practical information on areas such as health and safety policy, a video message from the centre director and a video tour of the sites.

“We now have something that gets across the diversity of the whole college,” says Armah, adding that the programme is updated in-house to keep pace with change at the organisation.

“We’ve given access rights to different departments of the college to update their areas. The software is easy to use and doing it ourselves means we’re also supporting the college’s teaching commitment to e-learning.”

Choosing the content

Before going to a developer, it is important to have a clear idea of what content you want included on the course, especially if you are to extract maximum value from the online medium.

Health and safety information is typically included and has formed the starting point for many companies’ forays into online induction. Information about the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act is also increasingly being included – especially since learning management systems and online post-assessment tests allow you to demonstrate that an employee has sat a course or complied with regulatory demands.

Other typical content includes information on company culture and values, practical information about phone and IT systems, contact directories, job descriptions and roles, best practice information and virtual tours of sites. Plus mission statements from the CEO, which are often used to open induction programmes.

“It can be difficult to get the CEO and senior people together on the same day when holding a traditional induction course, but you can get round this in an e-learning course by using video,” says Charles Shields, business development manager (education) for Innovation 4 Learning, one of the teams based in the business development division of the University of Derby. It has built induction programmes for Heinz Europe, the British Museum and fashion retailer New Look (see below).

When considering how much content to add to the course, it is also worth remembering that hotlinks can be used to the internet or elsewhere on the corporate intranet to take users to more detail on specific areas such as policy or legislation.

The blended approach

E-induction is by no means replacing face-to-face induction altogether. In many of the examples given here, it is used to complement and enhance it. Similarly, workbooks can be downloaded and printed off if people prefer information on paper.

Balance Learning, a specialist blended learning developer, has devised a customisable induction for county councils that combines a comprehensive online induction course with a half-day workshop on the culture and ethos of the organisation.

“We felt it was important that we continue to run a short workshop as it offers a chance for new employees to meet others who have joined at the same time,” says Cheryl Hickman, Cambridgeshire County Council’s blended learning project manager.

The council, which hires about 30 new staff, consultants and agency recruits each month, developed the course in partnership with Balance Learning, with the aim of improving the efficiency of its induction course. Other councils can also take advantage of the template that has been created.

“Councils have lots of needs and material in common as well as common logistics such as firewall issues,” explains Chris Horseman, managing director of Balance Learning. “The customisable course makes it easy for councils to change the branding and make it look different, as well as pick and mix and add new content.”

The process of induction will undergo something of a rebirth. More online induction tools and templates are likely to come to market and more companies will switch on to the benefits of using e-learning for familiarising staff with their new company.

The only thing that sounds amiss is that it is still called induction – suggestions on a postcard please.

by Sue Weekes

Case study – New Look’s induction goes online


The ‘one-size-fits-all’ induction no longer met the changing needs of the high-street fashion retailer. It wanted an induction programme that would reflect the size of store or space that the manager is responsible for. New Look had acquired store space from Littlewoods, which meant many internal moves were likely and the induction programme had to bring new managers up-to-speed quickly. New Look also wanted to verify that managers had done the induction and had the knowledge and experience they needed to go live with their own stores.

The course

Called Let’s Go Online, the course follows the pattern of a trading week in different size stores and includes an online element and practical exercises. New starters also receive a hard copy induction diary or portfolio. Exercises include analysing sales figures or co-ordinating a store move. After completing the tasks, users go online to test their understanding and to log and review their progress. Line managers can then access the programme to check progress.

The programme was developed in partnership with Innovation 4 Learning, one of the teams based in the business development division of the University of Derby.

“The system looks easy for the end-user but it is complex behind the screens,” says Elaine Oliver, training and development manager for New Look retailers. “Store managers who have seen it love it. I believe this is a huge leap forward for induction training, which puts us ahead of a number of our competitors.”

Online induction: five top tips

  1. Change your mindset from thinking of an induction course as something employees do in one sitting to something they can go back and refer to as and when they need it.
  2. Be clear about the content before going to a developer but be open to their suggestions and take advantage of their experience with other clients.
  3. Think about the online medium and how you can extract maximum value from it – consider the use of video and multimedia to deliver messages from the CEO and virtual tours.
  4. If the programme does include multimedia, check with IT that the desktop PCs can cope with it – do they have speakers for sound, for instance?
  5. Remember online induction doesn’t have to replace traditional induction but can complement it. Traditional induction provides a way for new employees to meet each other. Consider running a short workshop that supplements the programme.

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