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Martin Baker

Clear Lessons & The Charity Learning Consortium


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Technology: Reaching charity staff other L&D can’t reach.


Martin Baker reveals where charities excel with learning technologies, despite their limited budgets, as well as where they ‘could do better’.

Independent research launched at the CIPD L&D Show reveals that charities have become ‘fearless’ in their use of learning technologies, often beating their corporate and public sector counterparts in the benefits they’re reaping. Smart use of technology, for example, has resulted in greater on the job productivity for charities over other sectors.

The expression ‘more for less’ has been widespread in L&D throughout the recession, but charities have always been the masters of making their limited budgets stretch. One way they have achieved this is through the intelligent use of learning technologies, with elearning in particular frequently reaching staff and volunteers that other L&D initiatives don’t (for whatever reason) reach.

The learning technologies benchmark organisation Towards Maturity decided to shine the spotlight on the third sector, to assess progress – particularly as charities often face the challenge of using outdated, unreliable technology. The Charity Learning Consortium sponsored this independent piece of research – which looked at the use of learning technologies sector-wide, not just amongst Consortium members - with some interesting results.

What is clear from this study is that charities have become increasingly savvy about the return on investment they expect from learning technologies. And the good news is that their expectations are largely being met. Learning technologies are, for example, helping them to: improve the induction process; offer easier access to learning; increase on the job productivity; improve time to skills competency; reduce time away from desks – and all of this while reducing cost.

"Charities are generally great at innovative thinking...the sector certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to innovative approaches to learning."

Charities are also embracing changes in learning technology, with a huge surge in numbers using Moodle, while seven out of 10 charities now use smartphones and tablets – these can be invaluable for reaching staff who don’t do traditional desk jobs, and otherwise may have no access to a computer. Charities are generally great at innovative thinking – the expression ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ rings true - and the sector certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to innovative approaches to learning.

Not everything in the report is rosy though. Some of the benefits of using learning technologies may not be as extensive as in some other sectors, for some obvious reasons. Along with the challenge of outdated, outmoded technology comes a lack of skills to implement and create online learning. Generally, ICT skills are lacking in all staff in the third sector and there may also be more reluctance to embrace new ways of learning. Despite this, charities are making real progress, and even outshine their corporate counterparts in some areas – which is particularly rewarding, given the challenges they face.

For example, charities fare better than corporates and public organisations when it come to using learning technologies to improve the induction process, beating even the very top learning companies (as defined by Towards Maturity’s benchmark). In several other areas they either match or do better than the average. Charities, for example, are more likely to use technology to help tackle 'soft' skills, including leadership and management, team-working and communication.

According to Laura Overton, MD of Towards Maturity and the report’s main author, charities have become “fearless” in applying technology to formal learning, but they may lag behind when it comes to looking at the bigger picture. For example, 94% of charities seek to improve talent and performance management with learning technologies. However, they’re far slower to realise the benefit of integrating learning technologies into the overall process of recruitment, performance management and success planning. In other words, they could do with ‘joining up the dots’ a little better.

Overall, the report concludes that – in spite of the barriers they face – charities are doing really rather well, embracing new technologies for new ways of learning, reaching more learners and saving time and money in the process. And that is certainly what we see amongst members of the Charity Learning Consortium. But there is also plenty of scope for improvement – greater technical skills (for example to create their own in-house elearning) with a dash of ‘big picture thinking’ could really help the sector realise even greater benefits in the future. As with most things in life, charities are on a journey with learning technologies, but they’re certainly making real, measurable progress.

For more information you can download a free infographic which highlights some of the key statistics from the Charity Spotlight report. Discover how members of the Consortium are reaping even greater benefits from using learning technologies. Or download the full, complimentary report.

Martin Baker is the founder and CEO of the Charity Learning Consortium and is recognised as being one of the top ten most influential people working in eLearning in the UK.

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