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Tackling technology in training

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With technology permeating every aspect of work life, staying up-to-date with the latest advances can be a strain. Ray Lawrence offers his tips for introducing elearning.

Many organisations have been less advanced in the use of technology compared to their counterparts in education, but are now starting to catch up with further and higher education experts who have been pushing the boundaries of technology since the late 1990s. 

For the training department, technology can be harnessed for many reasons, from use of the web for research or online discussion forums to simply using email, in order to disseminate information on course times and opportunities more quickly and efficiently than has been seen previously. A host of specialist applications such as HR and payroll packages are also available and can bring real benefits to training managers as repositories of information on records of staff training and skills and to link completed and required training to development plans and appraisals.

"Organisations risk widening the gap between how their staff want to learn and the training being offered to them unless they adopt new methods of tech supported learning."

And technology can help immensely with elearning - this might be through social networking and Web 2.0 tools which can facilitate collaboration and knowledge-sharing before, during and after courses. Indeed the HR Technology Conference advises that Web 2.0 is currently one of the three hottest areas in HR technology. IBM’s 2008 paper, The enterprise of the future, based on interviews with CEOs across the world, recommended that in order to improve their workforces’ ability to adapt to change, organisations should consider measures including embedding collaborative tools such as wikis into work processes, that involve individuals distributed across multiple locations. These organisations have also elevated collaboration to a core competency by incorporating it into performance management, learning and recognition efforts. Some more sophisticated course management systems for elearning, such as Moodle, include these tools.

The CIPD defines elearning as ‘learning that is delivered, enabled or mediated using electronic technology for the explicit purpose of training in organisations’. They see this as including the use of distributed technology products (mainly CD-ROMs) which do not require the user’s computer to be connected to a network. An exclusive definition would exclude these products and include only products delivered through the Internet or an intranet.

"The way that elearning is introduced will have a vital impact on its take-up - those involved in pilots often become enthusiasts and advocates and will help to ‘sell’ the benefits to other staff."

Although this is a suitable definition for mediated training, one of the great benefits of technology and in particular the Web, is that staff no longer are restricted to learning at certain centres or within traditional working hours. It also brings the opportunity for learners to more actively engage in learning or to more actively approach learning than previously – they easily can continue studies outside the training room through access to information on the web or in an online elearning package. This is where the lines between formal and informal learning start to blur. Continuous professional development as well as essential ‘must have’ certifications such as health and safety training can be carried out using blended learning where some information is accessed online and some carried out via mentoring or in a traditional face-to-face training situation.

We might think that ‘most’ organisations now use elearning, but this is far from the case. The recent CIPD report shows that the spread of elearning might be slower than some experts would like but the technique is still much more widespread in the UK than in many other countries in Europe. 47% of UK employees have taken part in elearning compared with only 24% in France. The European average is 40%. This is still way behind its use in academic institutions. A recent interview with leading academic Gilly Salmon warns that organisations risk widening the gap between how their staff want to learn and the training being offered to them unless they adopt new methods of technology supported learning. Primary school children today use e-learning as a matter of course in their studies and university graduates use it for study along with a myriad of e-applications for informal study and leisure purposes.

Tips for introducing elearning:

  • Talk to experts in the elearning field – including those who’ve implemented and consultants

  • Talk to your trainers and trainees before implementation, to get them on-side

  • Introduce elearning in pockets first

  • Don’t be afraid to revise your course or methods regularly

Increasingly employees are used to Web 2.0-style applications through their outside work usage of tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and are helping to drive organisations to embrace such technology for work purposes. Staff now arrive at their place of employment with the expectation that such technologies will be available to support them and in fact may struggle to work or learn as efficiently without them.

Organisations recently embracing elearning include the charity the Samaritans. They have 17,000 volunteers throughout UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Republic of Ireland and find elearning offers great value for money. In addition it can be organised to fit in with trainees’ personal schedules as it can be carried out from any internet-enabled PC, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Nigel Ross, Training and Development Officer for Samaritans, explains: “We extensively researched the industry standard and chose the open source learning management system Moodle because we were impressed by the robust and continually evolving platform that it offers as well as its large user base, including the Open University, NHS and Cisco.” 
Using open source software such as Moodle to facilitate online training is particularly attractive due to the absence of licensing costs. In addition, the software is continually updated and refreshed thanks to its active and sizeable user community of 25 million. Open source software is becoming increasingly popular, indeed researchers Gartner project that by 2012, 90 per cent of the world’s companies will be using it.
Initially the charity is introducing elearning to around 2,000 trainees from its 201 branches, including trustees. The Trustees Induction Course covers legal and compliance training such as risk management and in Spring 2009 the first course was translated to the Moodle platform. Elearning is now being rolled out to cover specialist branch roles such as fundraising and publicity and will complement some essential face-to-face training. The system will allow the charity to track users and enable the trainers to see which students are visiting the course and completing the assessments, to help boost completion rates.

Elearning systems such as course management systems or virtual learning environments can be introduced into organisations gradually, through pilots. This allows both trainers and learners the opportunity to move from a traditional learning environment that they’re familiar with to online learning at a pace which suits them. The way that elearning is introduced will have a vital impact on its take-up and those involved in pilots often become enthusiasts and advocates and will help to ‘sell’ the benefits to other staff.

Ray Lawrence is the director of HowToMoodle.

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