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elearning in action: Building foundations for growth


Laura Overton and Clive Shepherd explore how learning technologies can have an impact on both business growth and the bottom line.

In our booklet ‘What every L&D needs to know about elearning’ we explored some of the ways that technology can improve the impact, accessibility, flexibility, timeliness, cost-effectiveness and environmental friendliness of L&D interventions. The tools are clearly available but how do we make sure that they deliver results, particularly with audiences traditionally used to face to face support?

Over the past four years, I have been tracking the progress of the Priory Group’s journey with elearning. Priory Group is one of Europe's leading providers of independent mental health care for acute, secure, rehabilitation and specialist educational services. It depends on the skills of a huge diversity of staff ranging from clinicians to chefs, which present a daunting learning and development challenge.

The group started using learning technologies back in October 2005 under a programme known as Foundations for Growth.  Prior to 2005, each individual organisation within the group was responsible for the learning programmes of existing and new staff  which were delivered through face to face interventions either in house or off site. But in the face of rapid growth and an increasingly competitive market, maintaining these standards presented significant challenges and a radical reworking and centralisation was required.

When I first met the L&D staff at Priory Group back in December of 2007 and they were enjoying the first fruits of success- just over 4,300 staff were actively accessing the programmes and had completed an average of 17 elearning modules each - over 38,713 training hours had been delivered online. However many new initiatives are often ‘one hit wonders’  that  fade away as elearning  fatigue sets in and business priorities shift.

Like everyone else, the Priory Group has faced it’s fair share of change over the past two years - the organisation has been battling the recession and have expanded into new services but the Foundation for Growth programme has gone from strength to strength.  There have now been over 8800 active learners since the programme began  in 2005 and over the last two years the number of modules completed has increased by over 200%, the number of hours spent learning has increased by nearly 300% and staff are completing an average of 26 elearning modules each.

But the real question is has this adoption made any significant difference to the growth of the business?  "Priory aims to deliver consistent services of the highest quality, and FFG is vital to this. It is wonderful to go to a Priory site and see staff of all grades using FFG as part of their work. The result is better trained staff, improved service delivery and higher patient satisfaction’’ explains Matthew Franzidis, chief operating officer at Priory Group.

So what has contributed to this successful adoption? Priory group illustrate the six strands of behaviour that influence elearning success (previously discussed on TrainingZone.) 

1.      Aligning to need 

From the outset, Foundation for Growth has been aligned to the corporate vision of the group. But since it’s inception, the programme has now responded to new demands to support individual needs for CPD, is addressing an increasing number of clinical issues through distance programmes and is proactively supporting the rapid business growth.

Jan Cowie, the group’s  learning and development manager highlights how Foundations for Growth has helped L&D to respond faster to changing business needs and uses the example of staffing four new care homes: "Traditionally, it would have taken us three – four months to bring new care home staff up to speed in a way that ensures that staff comply to industry regulations, with Foundations for Growth, we were able to reduce this time down to two weeks," she explains.

2.      Learner context

It has always been a priority to ensure that the programmes contained content that was relevant and practical for each user group. Now staff also have the opportunity to update a personal learning record online creating a portable CPD log critical for many roles within the organisation.

3.      Work context

The programmes are closely aligned to working practices (such as probation periods) and line managers are involved in every step of the way – courses link out to local assignments and managers, supported by the centralised tracking system, are closely involved with  signing off staff progress.

4.      Building capability of L&D

Two essential elements of the success of this programme are the core infrastructure (LMS) that links all of the different businesses together which provides both efficiency and consistency and the focus on creating blended learning solutions that combine both online content, work assignments and distance learning programme (outlined above).

In addition, the L&D teams are now able to engage the extended  supply chain of the organisation – providing a platform for involving drug companies with clinical staff training or by providing training to external contractors on site at no additional costs. The success of Foundations for Growth has stimulated more demand and L&D staff are now engaged with clinical experts in designing new programmes – such as managing patients with depression which has been created with the group’s professors of psychology.

5.      Engaging stakeholders

The original implementation had a strong focus on engaging stakeholders across the business - a 19 strong internal working party from all operational areas was established and nurtured champions across each site that included unit directors or school principles and site learning administrators - a role designed to provide the link between corporate and local learning and development, and to ensure there is always a human face to Foundations for Growth. An extensive communications plan designed to motivate and engage also helped.

6.      Demonstrating value

The LMS has proved invaluable to Priory Group allowing Jan Cowie to compile reports for different local services at the click of a button. She keeps track of costs, time and resources so that she can demonstrate value back to the business. "This programme was a business imperative for Priory Group, but in addition to the business benefits we have achieved through consistent learning through Foundations for Growth, we estimate that this programme would have cost at least £9million more to implement over the last five years if we had maintained with our original approach to learning," she says. "This level of saving has been achieved as a result of time savings and administration efficiencies - not taking into account the savings resulting from minimising travel and expenses!" she adds.

Getting started with e-learning may be daunting for some but the Priory Group’s journey has shown that  a strategic approach to implementation can help L&D professionals to deliver real business value and transformation.

Laura is the managing director of Towards Maturity ( an independent not-for-profit organisation that provides free research and case studies to help organisations improve the impact of learning technologies in the workplace. You can read more about how the Priory Group started their elearning journey here.

Clive Shepherd and Laura Overton are the authors of What every L&D professional need to know about elearning which can be downloaded free. Join the discussion group on Training Zone on engaging e-learning.

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