Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Man and machine in harmonyOn 1 Sep 2000 in Personnel Today Somemight see e-learning as a threat to the training profession, but, usedcarefully, it can enhance a department’s status. So how can you find the rightapproach? By Sally O’ReillyTacklinge-learning can be a tall order for trainers. There is no shortage ofimpressive-sounding products or suppliers in the market place, and theexcitement surrounding it is deafening. Buthow do you set up a system that fits effectively with other training methods?And, when an e-learning system is in place, will it create new opportunities orsound the death knell for training departments? Accordingto Stephen Goodyear, professor of educational research at the Centre forStudies in Advanced Learning at the University of Lancaster, carefulpreliminary research is essential. He looked at the role of trainers ine-learning in a recent study, and says companies must spend time setting up theright system – and this means looking at the first principles of learning andtraining.“Youcan’t expect to recruit people and provide on-line support without developingyour understanding of how people learn,” he says. Research“Toensure the quality of human support is as high as possible, companies need toresearch and develop the right e-learning approach – and it can take three to fiveyears to do this properly.”GrahamBaker, human resources controller at Ladbrokes, agrees. His company hasintroduced e-learning to improve the quality of its performance managementsystem, and he has got to grips with the fundamentals of what staff need totake control of their own development, and how e-learning can make this happen.“Ittook two-and-a-half years to get it right,” he says. “We saw fairly early onthat it’s not a good idea to accept the first system you are offered.”Ladbrokesworked with Ashridge Management College, using the college’s e-learning system,but adapting it to the firm’s competency framework. “Weasked them to map their framework, so we could see where the two overlapped,”says Baker. “And we are now going through the same process with supplierThinQ.” Theaim was to make the system user-friendly, so that Ladbrokes’ 11,500 employeeswould be well-disposed towards this way of learning. “Weonly have one chance per person to get them hooked into e-learning,” saysBaker. “If they need to follow two or three instructions and the second onewon’t work, then they will be put off ever using it again.”Toavoid this, the training department painstakingly rewrote all the instructionsand manuals – developing yet another skill. “There is no jargon. If we’ve hadone criticism, it is that the instructions are almost too simple,” says Baker.TeamworkTrainersalso need to work as team players across departmental boundaries if e-learningis to work, stresses Frank Nigriello, director of corporate affairs at Unipart.His company has just launched the Virtual U, an on-line learning system whichdelivers electronic courses to 10,000 employees. Sinceintroducing Unipart U – a corporate university – in 1993, the company has beenusing on-line learning to take training closer to staff, often through learningcentres on the production floor. “Weworked with IT staff, and with subject experts, helping them get their ideasacross,” says Nigriello. “Thisdevelopment means a blurring of roles between technology and training: trainers need more technical savvy andtechnical people need to be more aware of training needs.”AlanFairbrother, head of research and development of staff training at the DfEE,shares this view. His department has developed a hybrid e-learning scheme,buying in components from suppliers NETg, Maxim and Xebec, but says trainerscan ill-afford to sit back and let on-line training systems do their job forthem.“On-linelearning is good at providing knowledge efficiently, and in a timely way,” hesays. “It’sfine when it’s going well, but it falls down when we get stuck, or we don’tunderstand something. That’s when human interaction is needed and trainers haveto be proactive about using their skills.” Which shouldn’t be too difficult, hebelieves. “E-learningtakes a lot of the drudgery out of training – of putting over the sameknowledge components, over and over again. But you do need to be more skilled,and to interact with people in different ways – on-line, in chatrooms, and viathe telephone, for instance.”However,Fairbrother questions the amount of IT skill which trainers will need to maketheir role effective. “Ithink you have to be aware of the types of systems around, but not technicallyskilled – there are plenty of providers out there to develop packages for you,”he says.Bitethe bullet“Buttrainers do need to be more skilled at diagnosis, and more aware of theoptions. And they also need to have a far wider range of contacts at the designstage, and better skills in project management, to make sure the materials areat the leading edge. E-learning does mean developing some new skills, but italso means building on the interpretative skills which training staff havealways had.”Predictablyperhaps, suppliers take a more radical view. Donald Clark, chief executive ofEpic Group, the biggest supplier of bespoke on-line content in the UK, saystraining departments which are not embracing e-learning and changing theirtraining style accordingly are becoming obsolete. “Training departments haven’tchanged much for decades,” he says. “Conferencesstill run the same old courses – such as neurolinguistic programming andlearning styles. Meanwhile, blue-chip companies are bringing in e-learning andsacking training staff.”Hisadvice to trainers is to bite the bullet and find out as much as possible aboute-learning now – before it’s too late. “Anyonewho isn’t at least doing some reading about this subject is part of a dyingbreed,” he stresses. “Tosurvive, training departments must stop thinking about their scheduling andmake sure they are demand-led, not supply-led.“Atthe moment, this is an innovation which is led by IT, not by HR. If anything,many training departments are standing in the way of e-learning, and stillprefer the song and dance of the classroom.” Tensteps to becoming an on-line expert1– Planning Remember when you startedtraining? The same outlook applies now. Plan for learning using as much knowledge of thesimilarities and differences among your audience.2– Define your goals Identify clearly the learning outcomes or objectives that you want to achieveon-line and differentiate those that will depend on the process of learning.This means differentiating between content and the process-based learningderived from collaborative on-line learning.3– Concentrate on problem-solving On-line environments emphasise the use of exercises, test and discussion. Tryto ensure that the assessments you create are a realistic mirror of the situationsfaced by your trainees and encourage them to adapt and develop these assessmentthrough on-line discussion. 4– Create group cohesion Start off with a face-to-face session, providing a basis for e-learning.Encouraging the trainees to create their own spaces, on their own server oryours is also a positive and productive element.5– Ensure good technical support and backup Make sure that your learning environment is fully under the control of yourteam and its technicians. A safe and secure environment is essential fortrainees’ confidence. If the system goes down, try to ensure that there is anautomatic backup (a mirror server).6– Make e-learning fun Use a rich environment to show what the technology can do well, without fallinginto the trap of technology-driven content. Jokes, quizzes and puzzles have a“lightening” effect.7– Keep it simple The more gizmos you use, the more things can go wrong – not everyone has thesame level of hardware and software, keep complexity to a minimum.8– Use different technologies Telephone conferencing can do much of the job of video conferencing. Start froma technology that most find comfortable. Don’t assume that your learningenvironment is the best. Encourage and allow trainees to choose, thereby takingownership of e-learning. 9– Use appropriate technology If a book or a video is the best way of stating a particular area of learning,use it! If electronic periodicals and audio/video streams are as accessible,encourage the synergy that arises from their use.10– Reflect critically on your capabilities and how they might be improved Take on board the experiences of others and where possible, undertakeaccredited training. Compiledby John Konrad, senior lecturer in professional development at Leeds MetropolitanUniversity and course tutor for the postgraduate certificate in professionaldevelopment, specialising in e-learning Related posts:No related photos.