How long have you been a member of the Charity Learning Consortium and what organisations have you worked for during that time?
I’ve been a member of the Consortium for about 16 years and was in the second pilot group of charities to join. Back then, I was working for the RNID – now known as Action on Hearing Loss – I then moved to the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) had a brief spell at Hammersmith & Fulham Council, a couple of years at the University of Bedfordshire and then came to SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity in 2014.
It’s been a really varied career and I have particularly loved working for charities because there is a complete willingness to share good practice and support each other no matter what the cause.
What was eLearning like when you first joined the Consortium, and how has it changed?
Way back in 2002, eLearning was predominantly being provided by large American corporations and one of my biggest issues at that time was language. My staff did not all have English as a first language and a good proportion used British Sign Language (BSL). It also felt a bit like PowerPoint on steroids, with content that was quite flat.
Now it is anything you want it to be with content being created and curated to suit learner needs, available on mobile phones and with gamification if that’s the best avenue for your learners. It still doesn’t always tick the right boxes for everyone but it has certainly become much more ‘high tech’!
How do you make a case for eLearning?
One of the easiest but not necessarily the most productive ways to make a case is around compliance. This is an area where things like GDPR and health and safety can be difficult to train if you have a dispersed organisation.
At SSAFA we are trying to encourage our volunteers with the message that by doing short courses on GDPR and safeguarding online, we can spend more time focusing on soft skills in our face to face sessions.
eLearning for us won’t take the place of classroom sessions, but can reduce the number of days required for the courses we provide and may help us to attract a different demographic.
What’s the best way to get buy-in? Any tips that you can pass on to others?
Buy-in can be difficult, so make friends with your finance director in the first instance: being able to demonstrate a cost efficiency is likely to make their eyes light up.
Your IT team is also critical in this, as they can either be the biggest enablers or the biggest blockers. Understanding their constraints and those of your IT network and getting the right technical people to talk to each other will stand you in good stead. Then continue to build relationships with other directors and show them what’s in it for their teams.
If you have a Marketing function, you may be able to extend their reach through your platform: volunteers can be encouraged to develop skills in other areas as you add greater flexibility to your learning and development offering and can be kept engaged whilst background checks and references are taken up.
Accurate reporting on compliance is something that your governance team will also be grateful for, so identify the benefits for each team and use this information to get them on side before your request gets to board level.
- Make friends with your IT department
IT is key in all this. Varying IT literacy skills with an older volunteer force is challenging, as is the equipment itself. Then there are the technical issues around security, firewalls and in some places lack of suitably robust internet connections. Working with your IT team and a small user group can help to alleviate some of these issues before they become problematic.
2. Customise as much as you can
Make your content relevant, whilst there are a number of things that appear to be generic, adding a flavour of your organisation by using the terminology that you routinely use and having your logo appear helps to make learners feel that they are not being ‘sheep-dipped’ although this may be the result you want!
3. Find subject matter experts
Make sure you know who your subject matter experts are, you may be able to author content but as L&D professionals we don’t always have all the answers when it comes to content.
4. Build a relationship with your learners
Keep communication going, just letting people know they are due for an annual refresher isn’t going to encourage them to keep coming back. With the volume of stuff that is available, be creative. For example: add Ted Talks to your platform, allow for curation so that learners can guide their own learning. Keep a user group working with you to generate new ideas and content.
5. Marketing really matters
Make sure you get your marketing right, as I mentioned earlier, talking to the marketing team and getting support will also lay the groundwork for a successful launch. I have found that a soft launch works quite well if you can link it to an external event like Learning at Work Week or an internal event like a new policy launch, this can generate interest. Keep it fresh and keep communicating. Linking learning modules to events like Black History Month or Pride events and annual appraisals keeps momentum going.
6. Create user groups for valuable testing & feedback
In all of the organisations I’ve worked in, we’ve put together small user groups, to test out new content, how things work on different devices etc. Having users involved at the very beginning helps to solve problems but also gets people to buy in to what you’re doing.
7. Find out what your business problems are
Ensure you have really good communication with the business. Don’t have preconceived ideas, get out there and understand from the business what it needs and focus on delivering on its requirements, rather than imposing what L&D wants.
8. Accessibility is vital
Content has to be easily accessible, and I don’t mean accessible just through technology but for anyone of any age, with a disability, for language – not being too heavy duty for people to understand – for ease of navigation, for ease of clicks. Some of our volunteers who are now using the system are in their nineties. So technology for them is something that’s a very different experience. So just keep everything nice and simple.
About Doreen Miller
Doreen Miller is the Global Head of Learning and Organisational Development at SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.