RNLIThe Royal National Lifeboat Institution, one of the best-loved charities in the United Kingdom and Ireland, has scooped a top accolade at the Charity Learning Awards 2012, impressing judges with a well designed Learning Zone which puts learners’ needs at its heart.

Like a lot of organisations, the RNLI had ‘bolted on’ learning and HR resources over recent years, to end up with five different systems which didn’t ‘speak’ to one another and which required five separate logins. These were not linked to HR or training booking systems, didn’t provide management information, and couldn’t be accessed by volunteers. A big rethink was needed.

A one-stop shop was designed to develop and deliver blended learning for three diverse groups – crew, volunteers and staff – which were working from many locations. It was a major technical challenge, but this July RNLI Learning Zone was successfully launched.

Judges of the Charity Learning Awards were impressed with the way that RNLI took up this complex technical project based on Totara, putting learners’ needs at the very heart of the new system, and the charity won the accolade for the Best Overall Online Programme 2012.

The RNLI has created a well thought out, flexible, easy to use Learning Zone, bringing resources directly to staff, crew and volunteers wherever they are based.

Resources are now classified by RNLI competencies, with key ones linked to personal development plans. Staff can add performance goals and also link these to relevant courses; crew can see their training assessment status and service history; and other volunteers have development plans guiding them to recommended courses and resources.

A marketing campaign, with lunchtime events for each department, meant the ‘big reveal’ was a great success – in the first 10 weeks alone more than 1,000 people used the new system, compared with the previous annual average of just 300. Champions in each department and region offer ongoing support, and lunchtime clinics continue to highlight and demonstrate what’s on offer.

Judges were impressed with this strong take-up, and loved the clear alignment with talent strategies and personal development plans, so that learning is relevant, in context and easy to access.

As well as the encouraging early signs of greater staff engagement, there have also been financial benefits: staff training has changed from predominantly face-to-face to ‘blended’, reducing the number of classroom courses from 30 to 18, with associated cost savings. Administrative time has also been saved as staff now manages their own bookings and managers are much more involved in supporting their team’s L&D.

Martin Baker, founder and CEO of The Charity Learning Consortium commented: “The RNLI is a highly regarded and long standing member of the Consortium, and its L&D team has worked tirelessly on the impressive new Learning Zone. I know that at times it has been a challenging journey, but the charity has never lost sight of why they had taken the project on – to give learners greater access to, and real involvement with, their own continuing professional development. The results speak for themselves. It’s a great achievement for the RNLI project team, led by John Le Rossignol, the Learning Resources Manager. This is a thoroughly well deserved award, and a shining example for others to follow.”

Top tips to eLearning success, from John Le Rossignol, Learning Resources Manager, RNLI:

  • Involve representatives from each user group in defining requirements and system testing, including administrators
  • We needed a solutions architect to help define and prioritise complex requirements, and would do this sooner in future
  • Rigorously define the scope and avoid the temptation to keep including extra requests
  • Don’t underestimate the complexity of integrating with an HR system and single sign-on
  • Make sure the login page is absolutely fool-proof and ensure that communication about login routes is clear and simple
  • RNLI use the RAID acronym to help manage stakeholders: for each element of the project we, defined who Recommends, Agrees (vetos), Inputs, and Decides (only one person!)
  • Be persistent, with a strong vision to beat the sceptics – and don’t give up when it seems like a technical nightmare
  • Choose a name which says what’s in the tin, but a strong strap-line helps marketing. ‘RNLI Learning zone’ was the best name we could think of, but we added ‘…plot your own course’. This works on two levels – it adds a maritime flavour but also sums up the key benefit of enabling the learner to manage their own learning with flexible options.