Switched on to health and safety

It can be weeks, months or indeed years before some employees catch sight of their managing director. But ScottishPower, the international energy company which employs 14,000 people and serves five million homes and businesses in the UK and in the western United States, has found a way to ensure they see him during their first week. He appears at the beginning of their online health and safety course, which is part of their induction. As well as enabling staff to put a face to a name, it also reflects the importance the company places on health and safety education.

The audio-visual programme provides training on staff responsibilities and emergency and security procedures and best practice. It was launched to coincide with European Health & Safety Week, and has made a name for itself by scooping the inaugural 2004 Scottish E-learning Award from the e-learning Alliance, and by delivering a 70 per cent return on investment.

The programme was created in-house using the online content development tool WavePool, from BrightWave. This software enables users to design, create, deploy and manage bespoke interactive e-learning material, but unlike other DIY authoring programmes, it is not an off-the-shelf product. BrightWave, whose clients include T-Mobile, Nestl, Proctor and Gamble, BOC, UK government departments and the NHS, modifies both the software and services it offers to suit the needs of the client.

Despite creating bespoke content for clients, it acknowledges that the DIY approach is an important strand to its business, says Charles Gould, managing director of Brightwave.

“We enable a client’s in-house team to function as a mini e-learning development team using our software,” he says.

Target learner

The programme was initially aimed at new employees in the customer service and sales division, but is now being rolled out to the rest of the division’s 4,700 staff owing to its success.

Breakdown of the course

The course is part of a wider blended induction programme, which also introduces new staff to the company’s learning culture.
Delegates sit the hour-long course, and must pass an assessment to demonstrate the appropriate level of knowledge of health and safety risks to protect themselves, their colleagues and customers.

It opens with a video of the company’s managing director, and then takes the learner through a series of interactive exercises demonstrating what should be done in a range of circumstances, including a fire in the building and a terrorist attack. Exercises feature text, audio, graphics, and software devices such as ‘drag and drop’.

At the end of the programme, there is an online self-assessment questionnaire. This has also been put on the intranet, so that staff can carry out assessments at any time.

Built-in reporting tools are vital on such a course to demonstrate that employees have undertaken the e-learning. But an additional benefit of these tracking capabilities is that it allows ScottishPower to identify the questions that delegates most commonly get wrong. This may help to highlight areas of the course that need improvement.

Course details

The health and safety course was one of the first collaborations between BrightWave and ScottishPower. The e-learning company designed the overall user interface, navigation and structure, and provided ScottishPower with a way of collecting data for the course’s content.

Since it began creating e-learning in-house, ScottishPower has built teams of e-developers who work with subject matter experts on each of the courses. Jackie Henry, e-learning manager at ScottishPower, says that part of the reason for its success is that the e-developers are “first and foremost trainers with learning and development backgrounds”.

“We have worked hard over the past three years to design and develop effective and interesting e-learning tailored for our company,” she says. “The ongoing support from BrightWave means that we can continue to push the boundaries and stay at the top.”

Clearly ScottishPower’s core team of e-developers have become skilled at using the software over the years, and the WavePool product has been developed to help in-house creators of e-learning stay on track.

Gould says: “One of the worst things you can do is create screens without thinking carefully about the design beforehand. WavePool forces you to think about some of the key design decisions, such as: who is the target learner? Or will there be content that gets out-of-date quickly?”

Look and feel

The design and navigation was deliberately made simple, so that users could spend the hour focusing on the content and acquiring the necessary knowledge to pass the self-assessment test at the end.

“One of the big risks of e-learning can be that you expect people to learn how to use the tool as well as learn the content,” says Gould. “When the programme is only an hour long, you don’t want learners wasting 15 minutes figuring out how it works.”

Main challenges

Henry cites two main challenges with all projects of this nature: “First, to get total business buy-in, including an understanding of how the project will be launched, and second, to scope the project effectively.

“By ensuring a well thought-through project, the e-developers, project sponsors and subject matter experts were fully aware of their responsibilities, minimising problems and keeping the project on track.”

Future plans

The e-learning programme gave ScottishPower a 70 per cent return on investment, which was calculated as a saving compared with an instructor-led alternative.

The success of the first programme has spurred it on to create several others which already use WavePool, including management performance support, company policy, risk management and technical training.

“Our philosophy is to deliver the most effective learning and development interventions,” says Henry. “If e-learning is the most appropriate mechanism, as in this instance, then it will be used.”

Top tips

– Get total business buy-in from the outset. Ensure the programme’s relevance to the business

– Make everyone aware of their responsibilities

– Develop in-house talent and work with a supplier to help you break new boundaries.

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