Sold on e-learning second time around

Three
years ago e-learning was almost written off by management consultancy and
technology services company World Class International. Second time around, the
experience couldn’t be more different

For World Class International (WCI) feedback from its first foray into
online learning was rather negative to say the least. Added to that, there was
widespread resistance from the trainers and technical staff and the take-up was
disappointing. So no-one could have blamed the organisation if it had cast the
whole concept aside.

The company was established in 1986 as a provider of supply chain management
and business process expertise, and has built up an international customer base
which includes clients such as Pfizer, Microsoft and Guinness. So it could
expand its service offering, it merged with technology provider 2GL in 2000,
which led to the development of WCI’s Connected Enterprise philosophy, which
aims to help clients become world class through process design, web technology
and managed services.

WCI has offices in Europe and the US and around 300 staff working with
clients all over the world – in many cases managing their requirements on site.
It set up the WCI University to meet its training and development needs, and
used traditional instructor-led learning. The organisation felt that finding an
e-learning partner was a natural next step.

Turning point

As a business proposition, the concept of e-learning had quickly convinced
WCI of its potential.

"It didn’t take long to work out that condensing a traditional day’s
external course into two or three hours’ learning would produce
cost-savings," says HR director Carol Evans. "Historically, our
consultants would be out of action for the day before and the day after a
training session – allowing for travel time from wherever in the world they
happened to be."

However, the company’s bad user experience first time round quickly devalued
any such benefits. Just as WCI was about to drop the whole programme and go
back to the drawing board, it received a timely invitation – from the newly
formed management team behind the merger of e-learning providers SmartForce
(WCI’s original supplier) and SkillSoft – to attend a forum for early adopters.
The company’s attendance proved a turning point, recalls Evans.

"The forum was tremendously useful and it was comforting to discover we
were not alone in the type of problems we had experienced," says Evans.
"It also gave us the opportunity to quiz others about how they had made
e-learning work for them. We took this knowledge, added some ideas of our own,
and formulated a strategy for moving forwards."

WCI went on to form a working partnership with SkillSoft, talking through
the issues arising from the initial programme. The e-learning provider then
spent time training the trainers and the support team, helping them to find
their way around the system. Evans admits that one of their biggest mistakes in
their first experience was not getting buy-in from line managers and trainers
and not educating them in the value of e-learning.

"By showing them the benefits, such as being able to identify skills
gaps and track staff development more easily, it gave them the encouragement
they needed to allow people the time to do e-learning courses during the
working day," she says.

According to Julie-Anne Walton, who heads up the WCI account for SkillSoft,
the company’s experience very much mirrored what had gone on in the wider
picture. "The first round of customers who tried e-learning didn’t
necessarily get good value or response from the approach," she says,
adding: "From my experience this is mainly because it was delivered as a
standalone component of business development and lacked cohesion with other methods
and business processes."

Effective learning

WCI’s e-learning programme is accessed via the internet with intranet access
planned for the future. It does not have a dedicated learning management system
but uses facilities within the SkillSoft system for reporting, tracking and
assessing learning.

A number of mechanisms have been put in place to ensure the e-learning is
effective. WCI now analyses how each individual prefers to learn, and this is
matched against their job roles and company aims. Everyone is now required to
fulfil at least one of their educational requirements through an e-learning
route, but learners cannot sign up for a course until they have gone through a
personal training session to show them how it works.

All training is now aligned to personal development plans (PDPs) and
managers are responsible for identifying the training and development needs of
their staff and constructing and monitoring PDPs. They have also been given an
objective of delivering at least 20 per cent of training via e-learning.

E-learning is now perceived as a valuable addition to the training
portfolio, working alongside instructor-led training, coaching, mentoring,
on-the-job learning and desktop research.

The addition of ReferenceWare through SkillSoft’s subsidiary, Books24x7, has
added another dimension. Employees can type a word or a subject into the search
engine and 4,000 technology and business books, White Papers and other
documents are scanned in seconds and relevant chapters and sections returned.

Time-efficient tool

Another facility offered by SkillSoft is the LiveLab, which enables staff to
learn and experiment with Cisco and Microsoft networking technologies in a
virtual environment. WCI technicians can access the Lab wherever they are via a
standard browser and configure technology and software. This means they can
test the configuration in a safe learning environment before it is installed at
a customer’s site.

"It’s a bit like playing in a sandpit – all fun and no risk," says
Evans. "And if technicians have any queries they can access SkillSoft’s
Learning Paths to find the answer or book a 24/7 mentoring session on the spot
for one-to-one assistance. Partnering these elements with the LiveLab facility
creates an extremely powerful time-efficient tool."

E-learning was originally an HR initiative but now that the internal
training team is fully committed, it manages the whole process. From its shaky
start, the system has won favour from the team, not least because it finds the
assessment and testing facility invaluable in helping to address skills gaps
and identify competencies. On the practical side, it also makes the trainer’s
job easier because training can now be completed in manageable chunks which fit
into an employee’s work schedules more easily.

Using skills effectively

Both the business and employees are benefiting from e-learning, believes
Evans. "We can train more people for less cost and have no mixed audience
issues. We are also making savings due to less unbilled time – not least because
there’s no travel time to and from training locations.

Additionally, our workforce is better qualified, which means that we can
utilise its skills more effectively. In our experience, well-trained employees
are generally happier employees so this, in turn, will impact on our staff
retention – a reduced need to recruit means less cost to the business. And the
ability e-learning offers people to gain knowledge on demand improves
performance.

"E-learning promotes a culture of self-development it puts people in
control of their own destinies – providing them with greater opportunities to
gain additional skills, which can benefit them individually as well as
impacting on the business."

In summary
WCI’S ‘anytime anywhere’ system

WCI’s aim: To find an e-learning
system to complement its traditional instructor-led learning at the WCI
University which would enable it to meet its ever-increasing development needs.

Why? The concept of ‘anytime-anywhere’ training fitted
in with the company’s growing needs. Traditionally, consultants are out of
action for the day before and after the training session because of travelling.
While the business benefits were recognised early on, the contribution to the
efficient use of time was the biggest benefit.

Is e-learning delivering? Second time round the
e-learning programme has been much more successful and has gained wide
acceptance with trainers and learners. HR director Carol Evans says they expect
to see a return on their current investment towards the end of the year.

Top tips
Making e-learning work for you

– Ensure you engage your internal trainers and don’t make the
mistake of assuming people will pick up e-learning and ‘run with it’

– Make sure managers understand e-learning and the need to
release time for training. It should not be seen as something people do in
their own time

– Don’t make the mistake of thinking that e-learning is a
replacement for other methods of training. It should be seen as complementary
and a valuable addition to your training portfolio

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