Return to learning

Back in 2003, Marconi employees had lost interest in e-learning. A downturn in the telecoms market meant that training and development had been restricted throughout the company. An online catalogue accessed through the Marconi University portal was available but the usage was steadily decreasing, and was down to less than 5% of employees by the end of the year.

“We were getting a poor return on the investment we were making,” says Neil Grant, head of global learning and talent management at Marconi, who joined the company in May 2003. “We needed to change online learning into a learner-driven environment, supporting people in their day-to-day jobs and allowing them to take control of their learning opportunities themselves.”

Today, e-learning usage is up to 30% and the company is saving 30,000 in comparative training costs. This has been achieved through a mixture of learning methods and a major shift in the approach to learning and development.


The first task was to understand the company’s business strategy so that learning needs could be identified and addressed. Grant and his team conducted in-depth interviews with each of the company’s executive directors to gain insight into the company’s plans and future direction.

“We then built a learning programme that aimed to address the business needs,” explains Grant. The programme made use of a mix of learning methods.

Clearly the e-learning offering had to be reviewed, which coincided with the current supplier’s contract coming up for renewal. A number of focus groups were set up consisting of staff with a range of different skills based in a variety of locations around the world. Each group was assigned to review Marconi’s existing course content with similar material supplied by e-learning company SkillSoft. The majority of participants rated the SkillSoft material higher, which prompted Marconi to switch suppliers.

As part of the new learning strategy, Marconi also decided to make learning more performance support-related, ensuring that employees had access to learning and resources that would help them do their jobs. Learning would also be multi-lingual.

The new system also had to be able to carry existing bespoke Marconi e-learning content and any courses it wanted to retain from specialist suppliers.


The decision was taken to transform the Marconi University into a new learning portal. Called MyLearning, and accessible at any time from any place as long as you have an internet connection, it was made available to everyone within the company through SkillSoft’s learning management system, SkillPort (available via the internet or Marconi’s intranet).

Employees can keyword search SkillSoft course content, Books24x7 content, in-house content, bespoke material and content from other learning suppliers all from the one portal.

In addition to this, the mix of learning materials included job aids, online mentoring, test preparation, ‘ask the expert’ facilities, toolkits and simulations. To implement the whole portfolio, SkillSoft employed a dedicated project manager who was based full-time at Marconi.

Because Marconi has a small internal learning and development team, SkillSoft also made its senior management team available for advice at any time.

“Marconi now has a mix of learning to support informal learning,” says SkillSoft managing director, Kevin Young, who was directly involved in the project. “There’s an immediacy about it. The learning enables employees to bring something back to their jobs to improve performance.”


With the learning infrastructure in place, Marconi’s next task was to motivate the employee base to give e-learning another chance. The starting point for this was making them appreciate that learning in general was very much back on the agenda at Marconi, and that they should take personal ownership of their learning.

A series of intranet articles were sent out to employees which explained the shift in the learning strategy and regional presentations were run by learning professionals and SkillSoft support staff. Presentations were also made to the worldwide HR team to illustrate the capabilities of MyLearning.

To help steer them towards the learning that was most relevant for them, the SkillSoft project manager grouped the content so that it was specific to key areas of the business such as sales, engineering and customer service. Courses and content relevant to each of Marconi’s seven corporate objectives were also bundled together, and work is now under way to integrate e-learning with other training interventions such as instructor-led development and consultancy-based work.

“We tried to target different groups and address their specific needs,” explains Grant. “So for technical people, we gave them the opportunity to follow certification paths. The e-mentoring was also popular with them, because they could ask a specific question.”

Skillsoft has a bank of 50 mentors who are available 24 hours a day to respond to specific questions. There are 70 certification courses available, and they are experienced in all of these.

The online books were universally successful, says Grant, who adds that Marconi will be introducing a set of executive summaries as well as a selection of high-profile business books. These could be loaded from CD or onto an iPod.

“We have also recently become involved in partnership with a Chinese company, so we’ve made sure there are executive summaries available on joint ventures and partnering,” says Grant. “It’s all about catching the moment.”

Grant set an ambitious first year target of increasing employee usage from 5% to 25%, and exceeded it by hitting a total of 30%. Most regions recorded a 70% usage rate between January 2004 and June 2004. In total, 9,551 courses were accessed, and 129,395 HTML ‘book reads’ of Books24x7 were recorded. The time spent accessing courses and books by Marconi staff amounted to 8,073 learning hours, and Marconi claims the comparative cost saving against instructor-led training was equal to around 30,000 per month.

“By the end of 2005 I hope we’ll be up to 50% usage,” says Grant.

Other plans include using virtual classroom technology to create short learning programmes based on dialogue sessions that can be recorded.

“We have an ambitious target but I believe we can make it,” Grant says. “We want people to learn and we want them to take responsibility for their learning. We’re not going to make a big deal about course completion rates and things like that – we want to provide them with a performance support tool that gives them what they need to do their jobs.

“People had lost their appetite for learning – it was more about keeping your job,” he adds. “But now people are taking learning on again. There’s more of a feel-good factor.”

Top tips

  • Assess business needs and align training accordingly
  • Make staff responsible for their own learning
  • Make sure the learning gives staff something to take back to their day-to-day work

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