Collaborating for eLearning success at the RSPCA

eLearning has gone from strength to strength at the RSPCA, a valued member of the Charity Learning Consortium for the last 10 years. Liz Sheeran and Jess Lovenbury explain the eLearning challenges the UK’s largest animal welfare charity has faced, and how collaboration has been at the heart of their solutions.

Sowing the seeds of eLearning

Collaboration has been vital to Liz Sheeran, IT Skills and Solutions Consultant at the RSPCA. The RSPCA first joined the Charity Learning Consortium in 2009, specifically to support an IT change project. At its height, only 280 people (about 20% of the charity’s workforce) were using eLearning for this one project. Working in partnership with Claire Wilkins, Organisational Development Officer, Training, at the RSPCA, and at her suggestion, they opened up all the eLearning courses to all staff. Growth in engagement from that point on was slow and steady. 

In 2017, the launch of the Consortium’s new RoadMap Moodle platform was a great opportunity to raise the profile of what was on offer. Together with Jess Lovenbury, IT Skills and Solutions Consultant, Liz customised and relaunched the RSPCA’s learning management system – winning a Charity Learning Award in 2017 for their design work: “We’re really, really proud of that. And that helped to raise the profile of the platform too,” said Liz. 

Designing the home page to match the seasons and to highlight special events, like Learning at Work Week, has created much greater engagement. There’s now a real appetite from the business for eLearning and for inhouse course creation. Elearning has become a vital resource to meet the learning needs of the RSPCA’s diverse workforce, which is geographically spread across England and Wales. But with success came a new challenge  – more requests for creating bespoke eLearning courses and online resources inhouse than can be managed. The volunteering department, for example, asked for 30 bespoke eLearning courses – an impossible task for such a small team. 

“Suddenly it feels like the floodgates are open and people are realising the benefits of online learning – which of course is brilliant – but we’ve got more requests for creating bespoke online learning courses and online learning solutions than we can manage,” said Liz.

Collaborating to find solutions

Needing help to find solutions, Liz and Jess collaborated with a range of other charities, as well as the Charity Learning Consortium, to find ways to work more efficiently, save time and money, and create more digital learning. The creative solutions they found included the following:

Automating course bookings
Liz and Jess looked into using a Moodle plugin for the RSPCA’s eLearning platform, to automate course bookings. In a great example of how the Charity Learning Consortium works, they were helped by several other members – from Teach First, Friends of the Earth and World Vision UK.  “These charities had already mastered the face to face booking tool so they were able to share their knowledge and best practices with us, which was incredibly helpful,” said Liz.

They launched the online booking system to coordinate with the release of the RSPCA’s new training course programme in January 2019, using the opportunity to market the new online booking tool. It’s been a great success, and early estimates suggest that it had saved four days of manual work in just a few months. 

Some managers had been initially critical of the idea, as they wanted to be able to book staff onto courses themselves. But they were won over after seeing the system in action, and it means that staff are now taking responsibility for their own learning.

Improving the user experience
Together with L&D, Liz and Jess were keen to create a great blended learning experience from day one for staff and volunteers using the new booking tool. They therefore encouraged trainers to keep on adding online resources, so when staff make a course booking they also find a range of useful information, as well as instructions and pre and post course questionnaires.

Assessing needs & finding digital solutions
Another great example of how the RSPCA met their learning and skills challenges is in how they now support new Wildlife Casualty Volunteers (WCVs). There may be several hundred WCVs at any one time, so it’s quite an undertaking to provide face to face training. Instead, bespoke content has been created specifically for them, using a contracted designer for a year: “It’s fantastic, really visual, and it’s gone down really well,” said Liz.

Reducing barriers with seamless sign-on: The Charity Learning Consortium has  created a plugin that works with the RSPCA’s DutySheet volunteer management system. It means the two systems work seamlessly, so when volunteers sign in to DutySheet they can also access the RSPCA’s eLearning platform without having to log in twice.

Embedding an eLearning process for greater efficiency: Collaborating again – this time with Laura Shaw, Flexible Learning Specialist at Cats Protection, and Gill Chester, Director at Little Man Project – Liz and Jess have put an eLearning process into place to manage course creation in a timely fashion. They’re now using an operating model that standardises the processes for stakeholders and course creators. The model is now formally embedded in the RSPCA and it really helps to manage expectations and priorities.

By collaborating with others, Liz and Jess have come up with creative solutions to save time and money and provide engaging content the charity’s learners love. “We’ve really benefited from what other charities have done, and from working with the Consortium,” said Liz.

They’re now planning on turning their eLearn platform into a ‘one stop shop’, with everything related to learning all in one place. And there are plenty of other challenges to keep them busy, such as simplifying the signing on process for staff (in a similar way to having improved the process for volunteers) and constantly improving the user experience.

“Ultimately we want our learning platform to be the place that people want to go, rather than have to go,” says Liz.

Liz and Jess share the eLearning lessons they’ve learned at the RSPCA

One of the greatest lessons that we’ve learned is about partnership. IT alone can’t drive eLearning in an organisation. Working together, with the L&D department, other charities and the Charity Learning Consortium, has been a huge part of our success. 

Testing, testing, testing
You can never do enough testing. We test and test and test and still find broken links when we launch. So keep testing!

Setting expectations
When people commission courses from you, be clear right from the start what their input will be. They may assume they can hand over their PowerPoint presentation and say ‘make a great course’ and then they can walk away. But there’s a huge amount of investment, of their time and energy, that they’ve got to put in as well.

Have a process
Having a process for creating eLearning really helps in terms of efficiency. Huge thanks to Laura at Cats Protection and Gill Chester at Little Man Project for sharing the one they created with us. 

Liz Sheeran
Liz has worked at the RSPCA since 2008 in the IT Department. She started out as an IT trainer many years ago and her involvement with eLearning has evolved over the years. Liz now helps to manage the platform and create course content as well as supporting over 2,000 users with their IT queries. 

Jess Lovenbury
Jess has worked at the RSPCA since 2010 and joined the IT Department with Liz in 2014. Managing the eLearn platform, and developing eLearn courses is just a small part of Jess’ role. Together with Liz they support over 2,000 users at the RSPCA with their G-Suite accounts. Jess rescued Benji her Collie X Beagle from one of the RSPCA’s Animal Centres in 2017 and he joins her at work a few days a week!

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