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Blended learning at Siemens: A Training Manager’s view


Nick Shackleton-Jones, e-learning manager at Siemens Communications, describes the training needs behind the adoption of a blended learning approach and explains how this was successfully achieved.

Background to the training need.

Siemens Communications, a division of Siemens plc, is one of the UK's leading communications suppliers. With a large Services portfolio and half of the organisation dedicated to meeting customer service needs, Siemens Communications is the largest network independent communications maintainer in the UK. As a multi-faceted global organisation Siemens is subject to constant change. Our engineers need to be kept abreast of the new, highly sophisticated products that the company introduces on a regular basis. It’s critical that our customers have faith in the competency of all Siemens staff because our level of service and support differentiates us from our competitors. The quality of our customer-facing engineers is therefore paramount and as a consequence we are constantly looking to ‘upskill’ and gain qualifications that are valued by our customers.

Training staff more efficiently.

To remain competitive we identified a need to train internal staff more efficiently. Our engineers are field-based, mobile and an empowered and independent group – some rarely visiting a Siemens office. Our challenge was to build their competencies in customer service and move them from a base of traditional telecoms expertise to new IT skills. All this needed to be achieved without compromising their availability to customers. There were cost implications too. With products becoming more complex and the variety of applications growing at an exponential rate, the product training modules have grown phenomenally in recent years. As a result it now takes far longer to educate staff via traditional means. To take an engineer off the road for a day’s training is expensive – even without factoring in travel, subsistence and the trainer’s fees.

Extending learning to customers.

And the story doesn’t stop there. Our training needs go beyond those of our own staff. Our success depends on the success of our customers, who also require training so that they can get the most out of our products and solutions. Historically we sent instructors out to deliver customer training – but in today’s world this may create logistical problems for customers and fail to really address the issue of training longevity – which becomes a critical factor where workforces are subject to significant churn. Nevertheless we recognised that the human touch has real value, so needed to develop a model which could offer our customers the ‘best of both’ worlds.

Adopting a blended solution.

Blending offered us, and our customers, the optimum solution – not because e-learning is unable to deliver hands-on training but because face-to-face training was well suited to building confidence, supportive relationships and addressing specific problems that individuals might encounter. Feedback from our users suggested that front-ending the e-learning associated with technology training, followed by a facilitated workshop and combined assessment worked best. In addition, blending had to be structured according to an ‘entitlement’ model to work, with users only entering workshops once they had passed the prerequisite modules. Between 60 and 80% of our technology training is now delivered electronically and increasingly we are authoring our own product-specific e-learning modules.

Assessing new elements.

Our original decision to go with Skillsoft as a courseware provider was based on extensive trialling and assessment of courseware from a number of potential suppliers. The assessment methodology was comprehensive comprising 31 objectives – 16 relating to courseware and 15 covering factors such as administration, trial results, flexibility and integration. Staff allocated a performance rating to both suppliers and course content. The latter asked them to rank from 1 – 10 aspects such as presentation, ease of use, perceived value, interactive qualities, subject matter, pre and post testing procedures and relevance to their individual learning requirements.

Ensuring availability.

We made the courses available to staff through the Virtual Training School (VTS) - our own internal branding of our intranet-based solution. The VTS consists of about 150+ courses in three categories: IT skills development, telecommunications technology and soft/business skills. Users can download or liveplay courses, with field based staff typically downloading a number of courses when in the office to enable them to engage in mobile learning and synchronise progress when next connected to the LAN.

Gaining acceptance.

To drive the adoption of e-Learning we established a clear correlation between training and salary levels – embedding e-learning in the competency model so that there is a direct link between e-learning and reward and recognition and building custom curricula for different groups. Without a clear incentive we believed that e-learning would go the way of many ‘field of dreams’ implementations, where there is plenty of enthusiasm and marketing but no clear motivational structure or link to the development process.

Reaching out to customers.

Building on our success in deploying e-learning internally we have also led the way in radically transforming the training solution that we are able to offer customers. In addition to the traditional trainer-classroom model we can also offer a three-component blend of e-learning, floorwalking and mentoring, ensuring that users get more personal support and reference material, and businesses see sustained productivity gains as we solve the logistics and longevity issues. We had to set new standards for e-learning interactivity in delivering against our customers’ expectations, and our trainers needed to adapt to the new demands created by one-to-one training and mentoring.

A successful outcome.

The Virtual Training School tracks course completions, reporting to team leaders and posting certificates on a monthly basis. Over 85% of our 1000 subscribers have passed at least one course, and for this group the average number of courses passed is 26 courses. We print about 500 certificates each month, delivering around 2,000 hours of training per month on a conservative estimate. Though our solution is not the largest in the UK it certainly ranks amongst the most successful. The real keys to success have been the tangible outcomes (in the form of certificates), the entitlement blend, the link to reward and recognition and the determination to achieve real returns from our investment.

Significant savings.

By compressing course content into more manageable and divisible e-Learning units we have made significant savings. By blending our training we have been able to achieve our hard ROI targets in terms of delegate day reductions, travel and accommodation costs, training resource and classroom space. To deliver the equivalent volume of IT training by traditional methods would cost the business circa 3million in terms of additional delegate days alone.

Looking to the future.

Learning is now embedded in the Siemens culture so when we introduced referenceware from Books24x7, the appeal of the solution to end users ensured that demand was driven from the bottom-up rather than the top-down. We continue to innovate in the use of cutting edge technologies and course design and contribute to the wider national and global developments in learning. We believe that we will see a growing divide between businesses and individuals who learn, and those who don’t. Successful learners won’t be looking to classrooms to help them keep up.


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