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eConferencing enriches the Learning Blend – Learning on a Global Scale at the United Nations Development Programme


In this feature piece, Hal Richman describes how the United Nations Development Programme has been making use of a number of different technologies for their training programmes.

A number of organisations and firms need to roll-out elements of enterprise-wide human resource management systems (such as performance appraisal) and training systems in a short period of time with shrinking dollars. The usual approach of providing one-time training (either face-to-face or on-line) simply doesn’t ensure that people are using these systems properly and that they can get the help they need, when they need it.

For the past two years the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with headquarters in New York City and offices in over 135 countries, has taken an innovative approach to rolling out and supporting enterprise-wide initiatives.

Two years ago UNDP introduced a new performance appraisal system, the Results Competency Assessment (RCA). The RCA aligns individual performance planning and staff assessment with greater attention on individual results, knowledge sharing, feedback and learning. “The Human Resource branch we are part of came to us at the Learning Resources Centre (LRC) to assist with training over 5,500 people in 135+ country offices in how to use this system. The budget we had to work with was tight and the time frame of just three months was even tighter” says Maria Drago with the LRC.
Knowing that there was no one-size-fits-all solution to this challenge, the LRC tasked their learning design team to come up with the best solution – and fast. What emerged was an integrated system of training that provides learners around the world with multiple points of access to training and support according to their needs and learning styles. The components of this “blended learning” solution included a multiplicity of access points:

  • Placeware (web conferencing) sessions that allowed several offices at once to see and hear a Powerpoint presentation from the presenter; engage in question and answer dialogue with experts; and take a tour of the Intranet to see first hand the other RCA learning and performance support resources. These sessions were recorded and made available for off-line viewing by other country offices and Headquarters units.

  • A repository of questions and answers from face-to-face briefings and Placeware sessions were stored on an Intranet-based FAQ application that permits staff to ask questions and provide comments at any time. Questions and answers from the Placeware sessions were also placed on this FAQ application.

  • A CD-ROM training module to support just-in-time information was produced in one month using the 80/20 rule where 80% of the value is embedded in 20% of the content. This CD-ROM also included recordings of the Powerpoint sessions and linked to other support resources such as the FAQ application.

  • A user administered collaboration space was used as an alternative to an expensive-to-administer intranet. This collaboration space, known as MyLearningPlace, provides a forum, repository of documents, as well as a customised home page with up-to-date information. (MyLearningPlace is powered by "szpaceTM", a product of coachingplatform Inc.)
  • The Placeware presentations quickly turned out to be of highest value in the roll-out because it truly combines a web-based delivery with a human element. However, “There was a break-in period before country offices got comfortable with the Placeware environment,” says Maria Drago, “ we prepared simple, customised instructions, ran test sessions with some of the country offices with audio difficulties and asked our consultant to provide technical facilitation of the sessions to mute noisy phone lines and ensure that the sessions were properly setup and recorded.”
    This approach to training and performance support enabled UNDP roll-out the RCA in a relatively short period of time for significantly less cost than traditional training that often took the form of roving trainers delivering a road show to all of UNDP’s 140 country locations. Plus: a subsequent evaluation showed that it was a big hit with learners!

    Some lessons learned and points to think from UNDP’s RCA experience include:

  • Providing multiple points of access to information;
  • Building in the human element; and
  • Paying attention to small details like ensuring people know how to dial into the audio conference line.
  • In early 2003, the LRC was again asked to provide training for another enterprise-wide system – this time, it was ICT literacy training supplied by NetG so staff members around the world could get their International Computer Driving License. This license covers basic and advanced topics in Windows and MS Office which makes it a vital element for creating a culture of continuous learning in UNDP. The main driver however is the fact that the certification process ensures that the majority of staff would be ready to smoothly adopt a new ERP (PeopleSoft) slated for implementation in 2004.

    “We took into account lessons learned from the RCA and feedback from country offices in designing our ICT literacy training. “ says Adriana Mendoza of the LRC. “This time we provided Placeware sessions in English, French and Spanish, as English is not the first language for many of our staff members. We again called in our consultant to provide technical facilitation of the Placeware sessions, which really helped to integrate all pieces that need to fall in place to make this happen.”

    Another lesson learned from the previous work with the RCA was to make the recorded Placeware sessions available to those country offices with poor Internet connections as soon as possible. The LRC requested the learning design consultant to do this and professionally designed CD-ROMs were delivered to New York within one week of the last session!

    This same approach is now being directed to the implementation of the Peoplesoft ERP, including implementation planning, delivering “big picture” presentations, train the trainer and system training.

    “Speed and co-ordination are critical,” says Adriana Mendoza, “for the successful implementation of the ERP.”

    When UNDP looks back on the past two years, they see that they were able to deliver powerful learning and training to ensure people are using enterprise systems properly and staff around the world can get the help they need, when they need it.

    Hal Richman, Ph.D. is a consultant specialising in using blended learning for the quick, cost-effective and results-driven rollout of human resource, training and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. He is an expert Placeware facilitator and has coordinated Placeware sessions around the globe for large inter-governmental organisations.


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