Coaching people behind the issuesOn 1 Sep 2001 in Personnel Today Training managers at the European Commission have the same problems as therest of us when it comes to releasing time and money for coaching. Coulde-learning be the answer? Sue Weekes reportsThe European Commission operates at the very heart of the European Union.Its role as the source of policy initiatives is a unique and complex one and itis directly involved with decisions associated with big issues such as freedomof movement, greater prosperity, and a reduction in the bureaucraticadministrative processes between member countries. With all of this big decision-making going on, it’s easy to forget that theCommission is also an employer of a large workforce with everyday jobs to do.Employees have exactly the same kind of training, motivational anddevelopmental needs as all workforces and, like many organisations, it oftenstruggles to free up enough time and resources to facilitate training. “Training and internal communication are used as tools for buildingsynergies across our different units and services, creating a strong corporateidentity, establishing managerial excellence and assuring quality,” saysPatrick De Boom, training manager, Internal Market of the Directorate Generalof the EC. “As a result, one of the key principles that the we have incorporatedinto our annual training plan is that training and development policy shouldapply to all staff. However, the EC is faced with a problem not uncommon tomany businesses and public sector organisations alike, namely scarceness ofhuman and budgetary resources.” The EC has an established relationship with UK training company Video Artswhich, at the end of last year, launched its first e-learning programme. Itturned to the blended training solutions specialist in an effort to address thegrowing need for training and balance it with the existing scarcity ofresources. “Now that the hype has died down, many clients are looking toblend some form of e-learning with what they’re already doing,” says VideoArts marketing director Martin Addison. Working with the Commission is similar to working with any big organisation,says Addison, although it is an eclectic workforce, comprising full-time,part-time and project-based workers from a number of different countries. It ismade up of 36 directorate generals based in Brussels, which operate likeseparate business units. The Internal Market DG is primarily responsible forco-ordinating the EC’s overall policy to ensure the European internal marketfunctions effectively and the training was required for all staff fromadministrative up to management levels. Video Arts’ brief was to deliver a programme of management and generalcustomer care skills courses that supplemented existing training. “Theobjective is very clearly not to replace, but to complement existing managementand training. “Launching this e-project is inspired not only by a desire to use thelatest developments in technology, but also to improve the existing wide rangeof training methodologies for internal and external courses,on-the-job-training, conferences and so on,” explains De Boom. “It isalso designed to enable training to take place in a very flexible manner tosuit the times at which individual officials can be available.” The EC wanted the material to reside and be accessed from its own intranet,which meant Video Arts having to work closely with the EC’s IT department. “Normally there is some trepidation working with IT because they do seethemselves as guardians of the network and don’t necessarily view training asbusiness imperative. They believe the network is there to run thebusiness,” says Addison. However, the Commission’s IT infrastructure was already robust and the ITteam was happy to help provide the right system. Video Arts was set up in 1972 by a small group of television professionals,including, John Cleese. Its 30-year reputation is built on providing inspiringand compelling content, often involving actors such as Hugh Laurie, Dawn Frenchand Jennifer Saunders. However, there are problems turning such all-singing, all-dancing multimediacontent into an e-learning package. Video files amount to a lot of data and ane-learning programme relies on this data being transmitted down a telephone orcommunication line to the delivery platform. If that line of communicationdoesn’t have sufficient bandwidth, it will be unpractical to send the videoalong it. This is why it’s still largely impractical to download and view video fromwebsites at home. The domestic scene is still dominated by 56k modems andordinary phone lines which, when it comes to downloading video, is likesqueezing a lot of data down a very thin pipe. Widen the pipe, ie increase thebandwidth, and it starts to be practical and this is now happening with theadvent of broadband technologies such as ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriberline) and cable modems. To get over any such problems, Video Arts created a hybrid e-learningsolution running on the intranet and CD-Rom. “Most full training isundertaken using the full video version of the courses. This is delivered overthe intranet, except for the video elements, which are delivered from theuser’s own machine via CD-Rom,” explains Addison. “The text and graphics version can be delivered completely via theintranet and delivers the same messages, although using a slide show ratherthan moving video. You have to deliver a product that scales to the needs ofthe client.” Video Arts is currently working on the development of its programmes forstreaming video over the Internet and at optimum levels over EC intranets. Itrecently acquired Manchester-based The Learning Pack in a bid to extend itsrange of products into tailor-made coaching programmes and the skills of theExact Solutions team, as they are now called, are central to this development,says Addison. Twenty-one e-learning programmes now sit on the intranet, including suchtitles as Meetings, Bloody Meetings, Project Management, The Dreaded Appraisaland The Paper Chase. Access can only be given by the training manager andinstructions are included on the intranet. The only technology that isrequired, in addition to a PC, is access to a CD-Rom player. To cater for the cosmopolitan workforce, five of the titles are available inFrench, six in Dutch, five in Swedish, two in Czech, and five in Icelandic. Thelanguage conversions were carried out in partnership with Video Arts’ localdistributors in these countries, so customers don’t pay for development work. Video Arts makes a point of avoiding cultural references when the course isinitially developed, so it doesn’t pose a problem if it has to be adapted for adifferent audience further down the line. The suite of courses also feature “just-in-time” modules that arerefreshers that employees can take to brush up on their performance in certainareas. Using a Viewfinder facility, the user can cherry-pick as much of thecourse as they wish. “It may be a two-minute summary of the key learningpoints or a full 15-minute section of the course – the choice is theirs,”says Addison. And clearly this aspect of the training, as well as the overallprogramme has entirely fitted the EC brief, according to De Boom. “E-learning provides personalised, practical and just-in-time trainingcourses to staff members. The formula is flexible in its nature, but is morethan an entirely free self-study,” he says. “With the Video Artsprogrammes, performance and improvement can be measured with a valuablescore-tracking system.” From the technical and implementation standpoint, the programme ran verysmoothly. In common with many e-learning programmes, however, the EC hit someproblems in motivating people. “The NOP research we carried out showed that of those who hadn’tembarked on an e-learning programme, cost was the biggest barrier. But thosewho had used it said motivating the staff to use it was the biggestproblem,” says Addison. His advice is to promote and market the e-learning programme. “You haveto keep getting the message over,” he says, but trainers should alwaysmake sure that the content is engaging or you will lose learners after just afew clicks. “Too much of the e-learning around today is dull and boringand doesn’t work. Avoid falling into the trap by remembering that content isking.” The trial of 50 learners at the EC has now been achieved, with 400 peopledue to use the course when it is rolled out at the end of September, and DeBoom is confident it will hit future targets. “Our training policy plays a direct role in the achievement of the DG’sobjectives. Training and development objectives represent an investment both inpolicy work and in internal management,” he says. “We feel that Video Arts has the content we are seeking for highquality management and soft skills training. And obviously, the humorous natureof their programmes clearly makes the training more enjoyable and memorable forour staff.” In summaryEC’s requirementsEC’s requirement To initially train 400 employees from administrativeto management level in general customer care and skills courses. The workforcecomprises full-, part-time and project-based workers from several countries.Why? Training and internal communications are used as vital tools tobuild synergies across its different units and services. It wanted to addressthe need for training and balance it with an existing scarcity of time andresources. The progamme had to complement not replace existing trainingmethods.Is e-learning delivering? It’s early days because the full programmedoesn’t roll out until the end of September. The initial trial period ofpassing 50 learners through the system has been completed.Video arts’ top tips 1 Remember, content is king. Make sure it’s engaging and memorable to givemaximum impact.2 Support the learner, don’t isolate them. Use networking technologies to dothis – create virtual networks of users3 Promote and market your project Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos.