Embracing change is never easy — especially when it requires people to look differently at the life-long process of learning. Almost everyone grew up associating learning with classrooms and teachers. Helping people expand this perception so they understand and appreciate the kind of learning delivered through technology takes ongoing communication, reinforcement and perseverance. But the end results for individuals and organizations are well worth the effort.
While there will always be a need for traditional classroom training, more and more companies are turning to online training (also known as e-learning) as a way to supplement and complement current curriculums. Teranet, an e-service solutions provider, is one company that recently added e-learning courses to its training mandate.
With nearly 800 employees in offices spread across Toronto and London, Ont., it made sense for Teranet to incorporate the Internet into its own learning program.
Many employees at Teranet were not able to meet their training needs through classroom training alone. Many couldn’t afford two or three days away from their jobs to learn new skills, but with online training courses, employees have much more flexibility.
In early 2002, Teranet began researching how to best bring e-learning to employees. First the company had to determine what was needed. One corporate goal was to give every employee access to at least one training course per year. But a review of internal employee evaluations found that this goal was not always met due, in large part, to time and travel restrictions. The evaluations also revealed a need to offer a greater variety of courses in a way that gave employees the flexibility to take them either during office hours or on personal time. With these needs clearly established, the decision to include online training was an easy one — and one that was fully supported by senior management.
Getting senior management buy-in was key to the success of the online training. Several department managers even created special workstations specifically for e-learning and made online courses mandatory for department employees.
The next step was to find a suitable vendor. The training and development department began to research various vendors by attending tradeshows and seminars, speaking to other professionals to find out what worked and what didn’t for them, and through conducting in-house pilot programs across a variety of departments.
In April, Teranet selected 50 SkillSoft business courses, including sales, customer service, and management modules. Teranet chose SkillSoft because the courses are available online 24-hours-a-day and users can sign on from any computer with Web access, either from the office or home. The self-paced tutorials allow students to train at their own pace and each tutorial includes quizzes to evaluate how well the information is understood.
The online courses were not meant to replace traditional classroom training offered at Teranet but rather to complement it. For example, the company was planning to offer a traditional three-day course on financial training for non-financial managers. The first day of this course consisted of an overview of basic financial terms. By offering an online course covering these generic topics that students could complete before attending the class, it was possible to reduce the length of the course and spend more time on the customized, company-specific portions of the workshop. Employees minimize time away from the office and can brush up on fundamentals before coming to class.
Once the online learning library was in place, the next step was to communicate its availability and value to employees. To increase acceptance, several incentives to encourage employees to try this new approach to learning were implemented.
First, an e-mail was sent to all employees outlining the courses available to them and how to sign-up. Next, each employee received a “please do not disturb, e-learning in progress” sign to post outside of workspaces. This was to encourage employees to take the initiative to make e-learning a priority. By posting the sign they were letting co-workers know they were taking time for e-learning. Lunch and learn sessions were held to help employees become familiar with the new tools and the company conducted a contest to encourage all employees to try e-learning. For each course completed during the month, the employee’s name was entered into a draw for prizes.
Employees are encouraged to take advantage of the e-learning tools through e-mailings, inclusion on the company’s intranet site and by word of mouth. Recently a challenge was issued to all employees to make training a priority by taking a minimum of three classes a year. One department that has taken this to heart is customer service.
The customer service department has found e-learning to be a very valuable training tool for its staff. Since most in-class training requires significant time away from the office, such training has major scheduling impact in the customer response environment. Traditional training also was available to a limited number of employees, since only only one or two employees could usually be spared from the work schedule at any given time. With e-learning, customer service established a learning centre in a quiet corner of its workspace. Every week each employee has an hour scheduled to access online courses and the opportunity to earn additional hours through measurable performance accomplishments.
“Not only has this helped better prepare staff members for their current roles,” said Elaine Jewell, manager of customer service. “But it also provides them with the opportunity to develop new skills which stimulates morale and improves staff retention.”
All employees are encouraged to take business courses that interest them — whether courses apply to their current jobs or to other areas within the firm. It’s part of a comprehensive approach to train employees that includes classroom training, tuition reimbursement and now e-learning.
The initial response to the program has been good. Since the program started in June 2002, nearly half of employees have signed up for an online course. Most employees have typically registered for four or more courses. Feedback has been very positive and there are plans to add more courses over the next three years.
“One of the benefits to this style of learning is you can do it at your own pace, whether you want to just do one lesson or topic at a time, or the whole course. You are amazed how quickly the time goes and how enjoyable that time is,” said Bruce Burt, an implementation site manager in London. “On average, most courses are between two or three hours, but each topic is broken down and you can sit down for 30 to 45 minutes and complete a topic, take the mastery test, and then log off. A unique benefit of this style of learning is that even if it’s another week before you can get back to the course, you can pick up where you left off, and you can even review it if need be.”
Laura Micks is the manager of training and development at Teranet. She can be reached at (416) 360-8863 or email@example.com. Visit www.teranet.ca for more information.