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Knowledge management and e-learning in the public sector


Despite a severe lack of funding and outdated working models, the public sector is under immense pressure to meet the same customer and employee satisfaction levels as global commercial businesses. Christoph Michel, CEO of Hyperwave, looks at how local government can provide an environment where knowledge can be shared and used for continuous training to keep pace with today’s knowledge economy.

According to the UK online government website, there are over 440 local government bodies in the UK, employing over 2 million people (excluding teachers and police). As the emphasis on improved service delivery increases throughout every sector, including local government, new methods of training are being adopted to boost employee skills and productivity, and also retain employees in a dynamic marketplace. One method which seems to have been ignored is e-learning, something that should be seen as an integral aspect to any smart knowledge management strategy.

The average local authority currently spends approximately £152 per year per employee on training and staff development has never been such a hot issue. As local authorities are assessed on staff performance and budget reductions, training has become a challenge for the public sector. In the current climate of rapid change, where knowledge can quickly become obsolete, the time, cost and frequency of traditional forms of training are no longer appropriate. Learning now needs to be rapid, constant and cost effective to deliver maximum value.

In today’s knowledge economy people are expected to become proficient 'knowledge workers', performing effectively in virtual teams – essentially working ‘smarter’. As a matter of course, they are expected to network and share their tacit knowledge with their colleagues. KPMG Consulting’s report on the High Performance Workplace has indicated that organisations on the whole have generally failed to enable employees to work in this way.

The arrival of knowledge based e-learning therefore offers the public sector an opportunity to transform the way that government staff work together and are trained. By implementing a knowledge infrastructure that harnesses the corporate data throughout the 440 local government bodies and integrates e-learning training technology, public sector employees can gain access to a range of training information in multiple formats, from text documents to streamed audio or video presentations. Increased collaboration through various workspace functions within a knowledge management system means it can be incredibly easy for a local council in the north to share and communicate with one based in the south. Access to the collective experience of the local authority and every person within it should be available to all civil servants.

E-learning is not intended to replace conventional methods of training such as classroom teaching. Its aim is to create an augmented learning environment where technology is used to deliver a combined range of teaching techniques aimed at maximising the individual’s participation in the learning process. For the public sector, this can only mean better value for money. By using technology to deliver current information directly to users, the cost of training per user can be cut by up to 70%. These savings are a result of eliminating both the direct costs of training, such as hiring an instructor and paying for course materials and also the indirect costs of travel and accommodation.

E-learning offers new possibilities for the way the public sector can provide training. Employees can access training information whenever they need it, regardless of whether they are at work or at home, creating an environment where constant learning and information-sharing can be achieved. As internet access and sophistication continues to grow, e-learning is solving the problem of providing multi-format training and information to geographically dispersed locations. In a world where 24/7 access is becoming the ‘norm’, local authorities should be able to provide a consistent source of current training and information to all government employees located around the UK.

By raising the stock of employee skill and expertise, e-learning can help deliver the agility and flexibility that the public sector needs to keep staff and local communities in step with the ever-present changes in government policy. E-learning is here and it’s growing. The public sector taken little notice of it until now and needs to consider how it can be used to enhance performance before the 2 million or so local government employees get left behind.

What's your experience of e-learning in the public sector? Let us know!


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