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Self-Service Learning


Chris Robinson of Knowledgepool looks at how software can reduce the administrative burden associated with training and the success factors that can make an automated system work.

I have had the pleasure of meeting dozens of training professionals over the years, but am yet to meet one that enjoys training administration. This is no surprise, why on earth should they? Just because they and their teams spend large proportions of their time booking people onto courses and organizing training events does not mean they have to like it. So why continue doing it? There is continuous progress in self-service in other areas of HR, so why not here?

Well, here are two statistics that might give you hope:

1: Electronic catalogues are no 1
You can’t give everyone a set of paper catalogues, so self-service training administration would mean learners, their line managers and/or the training department using electronic catalogues. If the Q1 2004 IT Skills Research into IT training preferences is anything to go by, online catalogues are already the most popular course selection and booking medium for both learners and training departments. In fact web catalogues are commonly used by 60% of training buyers – the first time this figure has exceeded that of paper catalogues.

The challenge with electronic catalogues is getting all the schedules from all your preferred suppliers in one place. This is not easy, but certainly not impossible. One company we work with now has a web portal where anyone in the company can browse through a single catalogue of technical, soft skills and company-specific courses. The catalogue includes up-to-date time, date and location information for most courses from their preferred suppliers plus RRP/discount for each course.

2: Self-service administration is already very popular
In similar research by IT Skills Research it was found that 36% of learners already booked themselves onto courses. This statistic is based on findings in relation to IT Training, however we are finding that the same is true for soft skills courses (see example later).

I am not suggesting that this trend should continue as is, because many companies I speak to have a problem with training being booked with suppliers outside the preferred supplier list. This makes the whole process of booking time consuming, full price is often paid for course and training feedback and impact data is often lost. This in turn means that control over expenditure and management intelligence is eroded.

Most people I speak to agree that there has to be a better way. A key question here is; is there any one-size-fits-all solution? Let me answer this with an example. In a recent training programme I witnessed, learners were invited to a soft skills course using an e-mail that asked them to select a date and location from a list provided electronically.
What impressed me was that approximately 90% of those who accepted the invitation did so entirely through the self-service web-based interface that the e-mail directed them to. The remaining people used the telephone helpdesk number that was provided.

This experience also taught me that self-service training administration is not a solution for all learners, but if it can work for 90%, then you can imagine the time and cost savings associated with this.

A key element of self-service training administration is process automation. Whether this is one learner booking one place onto one course, or the training department inviting thousands of people to a bespoke training programme, there are typically complicated training administration processes involved. These processes often take up a great deal of time on the part of the delegate, the training department as well as other departments such as finance.

For self-service training administration to work, the process of booking a place on a course or accepting an invitation to a course should be extremely easy for the learner – a few mouse clicks and it is done. This means each mouse click is extremely powerful. Simple log-in process, simple decision-making process, simple attendance process, simple procurement process and simple evaluation process. Basically each click initiates a process.

Many HRM systems allow process automation, alternatively if you use a managed service you could ask the service provider to automate your processes (don’t let them force their processes onto you).

Success Factors
To sum up, the solution that we have found works best with self-service training administration is an online portal, with seven critical success factors:
* There needs to be a helpdesk option with a learning advisor on the end of the phone that backs up the technology.
* Ideally, learners need ready access to a PC and a unique e-mail address. This could be through a shared terminal or at home.
* The system must be powerful enough to automate many of those time consuming training processes that we all love to hate.
* Everything must be extremely simple for the learners – if they need training in how to use the system then it is too complicated.
* Course feedback/impact data must be gathered in a consistent way across all courses regardless of supplier. This allows meaningful reports and unbiased quality control.
* There needs to be one central database – data can move around, but there needs to be one master database from where other training systems get their HR data, and return personal development data.
* Data must be up-to-date – schedule data, HR data, and course completion data must all be up to date. If your team does not have the capacity or technology to do this then your service provider should be willing to.
* Internal communications – this represents a change in the status quo, so must be introduced using appropriate internal communications, preferably demonstrating top-level support and clear explaining the benefits using multiple media - both physical and electronic.

*References to IT Skills Research with the kind permission of IT Skills Research


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