When Matthew Perkins-Martin joined Mencap in 2018 as the organisation’s first Digital Learning Manager, the charity wasn’t using eLearning. People could access PowerPoints online, but training had traditionally been face to face. All of that was about to change.
eLearning was launched as part of the charity’s digital transformation, to support more effective working and greater collaboration. Ultimately, Mencap wants its colleagues (including volunteers) to spend as much time as possible doing what they do best: empowering the 40,000 people they support, as well as fundraising and campaigning.
Member fact file:
Mencap has been a member of the Charity Learning Consortium since 2019 and uses the eLearning content that we provide.
Using core content from the Charity Learning Consortium, mandatory eLearning was launched first. As eLearning took off – with people enjoying it and seeing the benefits – a more blended approach was introduced. Complimentary videos and other relevant, online resources were created and curated. Virtual workshops then followed.
Read on to find out about the challenges that Matthew and the small digital learning team faced and the solutions they found.
eLearning courses completed by Mencap’s 9,000 employees:
2019 – Year 1 – 30,000
2020 – Year 2 – 60,000
2021 – Year 3 – 100,000+
Meeting everyone’s needs
One of the greatest challenges when offering eLearning at scale is to keep it meaningful for everyone. This means thinking about the whole learning experience – from access at the point of need, to applying what has been learned.
- People impact assessments – carried out by the learning team, so they meet the diversity of colleagues’ needs with inclusive resources
- User testing – involving lots of different people, to ensure that eLearning is as easy to use as possible
- Engaging with stakeholders – collaborating with colleagues from the start, to ensure that learning is relevant and represents everyone
- Co-creation – working in partnership has been key to ensuring that content is meaningful
- Learning experience design – putting people and purpose at the heart, so learning isn’t a standalone activity
- Communication – ensuring there are channels like Yammer for feedback
- Listening and responding – adapting and changing content when necessary
Because such a wide range of people with different needs are now using eLearning at Mencap, accessibility is critical. This isn’t simply about ensuring that everyone can get online. It has meant thinking about how content is created and presented, where resources are hosted and accessed, alongside the skills and confidence that people have using technology. For example, not everyone may know about the accessibility features within devices, that activate text-to-voice or change point size, colour and contrast etc. And if they do know they exist, they may not know how to use them.
“We make a lot of assumptions when it comes to people being able to use technology,” says Matthew. “Accessible design means thinking about more than just learning content.”
- Researching needs – finding out what devices people are using
- Online training sessions – to walk people through accessibility features
- Curating and creating supporting resources – to help people get the most out of their devices
- Working with managers – to empower themselves and help them better support their teams
- Considering accessibility in design – not just in learning, but within all systems and applications
- Keeping the conversation going – eg checking that everyone is confident with technology when running virtual classrooms
- Informal mentoring – eg encouraging and supporting people to use different types of technology when co-creating resources. This has been particularly successful, helping people to help themselves
New style digital creation and delivery
Matthew and the team coached in-house trainers and subject matter experts to create and deliver digital content, like videos and virtual workshops. This meant a shift in approach, to put people’s needs and desired learning outcomes at the heart.
“The content itself isn’t the important thing – it’s about what you want people to do as a result of it,” explains Matthew.
Putting more focus on the result that you’re looking for ultimately means creating more engaging resources. Short videos, for example, work well alongside eLearning, virtual classrooms and face-to-face workshops.
Using ready made eLearning from the Consortium has enabled the team to focus on creating content in-house for specific needs. This has been so successful that the organisation is now creating and accessing more digital learning resources than off the shelf.
- Building credibility – creating relevant, good quality resources in the learning team
- Identifying and sharing expertise – within and outside of the learning team, to create and deliver digital learning
- Formal training within the learning team – to build inhouse expertise in digital creation and virtual delivery
- Creating informal design guidelines – a short document, to help get the basics right
- Encouraging experimentation – giving people the freedom to test, fail and learn from mistakes, both within the learning team and by encouraging colleagues to play with technology
- Setting realistic expectations – encouraging colleagues to gradually build their capability and confidence
- Informal mentoring – working with people over time, encouraging them to develop their design and delivery skills
Digital transformation at Mencap has also meant a new way of evaluating success. Happy sheets have been set aside in favour of net promoter scores. Learners are asked questions like, would they recommend a specific eLearning course and why? Feedback is passed to those that have created and presented content.
The scoring system ranges from -100 to +100, with anything above +40 considered excellent. At Mencap, learning is regularly scored between +60 and +70, so it’s highly regarded. Interestingly, there isn’t much difference in the results between digital, face-to-face or virtual delivery.
In the space of a year, more than 25,000 pieces of information have been accrued. This data will become more significant the longer that it is tracked, to show any changes over time.
For specific, larger learning projects the team take a deeper look. For example, evaluating the impact of training in digital skills and competency, measuring how much individuals and teams have progressed. Information from staff surveys, feedback on Yammer, engagement with follow up work, reporting of incidents etc all helps the team assess impact.
“We’re still on a journey trying to get this all right,” says Matthew. “The most important thing is to keep listening to what people are telling us, and learning from that.”
How, when and why people learn
One drawback to the success of digital learning has been its growing complexity – for learners as well as those creating, facilitating and managing it.
“We want to be able to continue to grow digital learning, but we also have to keep everything clear and simple,” explains Matthew.
To support this, the team is assessing how colleagues at Mencap learn, when and why, mapping people’s learning experiences. What is stopping them from being able to learn, and do what they need to as a result of that learning?
Research is ongoing and will feed into the organisation’s learning strategy, but it has already identified things to improve – as well as confirming that colleagues value digital learning. “They really enjoy a lot of it,” says Matthew. “But more importantly, they see the benefit.”
“I’m really proud of the work everyone at Mencap has done to introduce and embrace digital learning. We haven’t always gotten it right first time, but we continue to learn and grow. On its own digital learning is rarely the answer, but it can be an important part of something really meaningful.”