When Nick Bowen started working for Wales Air Ambulance in January 2022, eLearning at the charity was pretty basic. The Moodle learning management system (LMS) provided by the Charity Learning Consortium was in place, but there wasn’t anyone managing it or driving it forward.
- There were no tailored courses, no clear signposting on the platform or logical learning pathways, so finding relevant eLearning was ‘pot luck’
- The only video on the platform was 40 minutes long
- IT systems at the organisation didn’t sync, so it wasn’t clear when new people started
- More importantly, the organisation had urgent health and safety needs and there were no training records
Member fact file:
Wales Air Ambulance has been a member of the Charity Learning Consortium since 2019 and uses the eLearning and learning management system that we provide.
His solution was to relaunch the LMS, but he also asked all staff – however long they had been at the organisation – to re-do their induction. He explains how he got buy-in from senior leaders for this bold approach.
Nick’s first job was to identify what the organisation needed: “Unless you know what people’s individual and collective needs are, you’re just guessing,” he says.
His own experience of induction gave him a good idea of the state of learning and development at the organisation. Over several months he also got out into the organisation and chatted to staff to find out about what they did, learn more about them, the challenges they faced and what they both wanted and needed from learning and development (L&D).
In conjunction, he carried out a training needs analysis and created a competency matrix, mapping out everyone’s job roles. This research was key to creating learning pathways, and meant that he could look for both differences and similarities in needs.
He also consulted with the team at the Charity Learning Consortium to find out more about the features and functionality of the LMS and what was possible. His two priorities were efficiency and effectiveness. As the sole person responsible for delivering L&D – which is only part of his job – he was keen for everything to be as automated and intuitive as possible.
Armed with all this knowledge, and with support from the team at the Consortium, Nick worked on the LMS. He took a considered approach – drip feeding new features when he knew that he had refined them. He:
- Simplified everything – stripping the LMS back to its bare bones and then rebuilding
- Redesigned the platform so that it looked more appealing and the branding was up to date
- Used the learning matrix he’d created as the basis for setting up relevant learning pathways
- Curated content and refined existing resources
- Created short explainer videos with staff, to meet specific needs
- Automated reports for managers and renewal reminders for learners
- Digitised the appraisals process, creating new documents and supporting resources and uploading them to the LMS
- Enabled seamless single sign-on access for learners from Office 365
“The initial training I received from my Charity Learning Consortium account manager Stu, along with his knowledge of good practice from other members, set the foundations for me to be able to navigate my way around and make any changes to the platform that were needed.
As things developed, and got more technical, the knowledge and experience that Jamie – the Consortium’s Membership Support Manager – has shared, has been absolutely imperative and we would not be where we are now if it wasn’t for him. Whether it’s a technical problem, or a general concept, Jamie is always there to help and share his wisdom. So ensure that you listen to Jamie and Stu as they really know what they’re talking about!“
Urgent business need
With the LMS in a much better state, Nick was ready to take a bold next step. With no historical training records and urgent health and safety requirements, he suggested not only relaunching the LMS but asking everyone to go through their induction again – whether they had been with the organisation for two months or 20 years. First he had to get senior management and staff buy-in.
Wales Air Ambulance had previously launched some strategic objectives, which worked in Nick’s favour. Digital transformation was one of those objectives – specifically, to simplify the use of multiple software. He explained to senior managers that:
- The LMS could work as a one-stop-shop and help streamline processes
- L&D was an important ‘pillar’, contributing to the organisation’s overall objectives, impacting everyone’s productivity and work. Ultimately, L&D could help staff thrive
- More efficient working could free up managers’ time
- From a health and safety point of view, it was essential that everyone was compliant with legislation – so record keeping was vital
Being able to show senior managers what progress he had made with the LMS also helped show them what could be achieved:
“When they saw what the platform now looked like, that ‘wow’ factor was really important and powerful,” explains Nick. “You don’t get a second chance at a first impression! If we were going to do this, then I had to make sure that I had got the LMS right.”
The work that Nick had previously done – getting out into the organisation, talking and listening to people – meant that he had built good relations with staff. Some projects that he had been working on – such as creating short explainer videos and digitising the appraisals process – had also had a positive impact. Having a good reputation was enormously helpful when it came to asking everyone to go through their induction again. He marketed this request as a good news story: ‘You spoke, we listened’ and this is the result. This wasn’t his platform – it was theirs.
Again, he spoke to as many people as possible to explain what he was doing, sent an email to all staff and held a webinar for everyone. This meant that he could show people the new, tailored platform and pathways and explain that this was just the beginning of a new approach to L&D.
In December 2022 all 100+ staff were asked to go through induction again, with everyone successfully completing it by the end of January 2023. All leaders were also asked to complete a management pathway, which they did by the deadline of the end of February 2023.
“When I first joined Wales Air Ambulance I was starting from scratch and it was that challenge that really led to me taking on the role,” explains Nick. “When I was in post I did have a moment when I thought: ‘Oh my goodness, where do I start!’ It was like being at the bottom looking up at a mountain to climb.”
At times, he says, that journey has felt like ‘one step forwards, two steps back’. Now that he has such good foundations in place he is planning to develop the LMS even further, as well as work on evaluating the effectiveness of L&D. He also has some other projects in the pipeline, such as refining a searchable glossary of external courses available to staff and launching online badges. Everything that he does is driven by his twin goals of efficiency and effectiveness in his bid to reach the top of that mountain.
What’s on the Wales Air Ambulance Learning Hub?
- 10 learning pathways for approx 100+ staff – one just for managers
- New pathways for approx 400+ volunteers (due to launch end of 2023)
- eLearning provided by the Charity Learning Consortium
- Curated resources in topics like wellbeing
- Short explainer videos – one to two minutes long – created in-house
- A Gift Aid guide created by staff
- Appraisals documents with supporting videos and resources
- Details of face-to-face courses, with online booking
- A simple training feedback form
- A searchable glossary of external courses (due to launch summer 2023)
- Personal development logs (being trialled)
Watch Nick’s interview with Learning Now TV
The quest for efficiency and effectiveness
Nick has been working hard behind the scenes to make it as easy and seamless as possible for learners, so when they get onto the platform everything is there ready and waiting for them.
This meant tackling a legacy of different systems in IT, HR and L&D not being able to ‘speak’ to one another, with each department entering different, incompatible information into their databases when new people started.
Apart from the frustrating inefficiency, this meant there could be a delay to L&D knowing about new staff joining – and then a risk of them not having a great first experience of L&D. Could the systems be synched to avoid duplicating work and to make for a better induction?
The answer was ‘yes’ – data could be pulled from the HR system into the LMS, but a huge amount of ground work had to be done first. It took several months to go through all the fine details. For example, everyone had to agree on the data fields and the correct format for job titles – even down to scrutinising the use of capital letters.
This new approach then had to be cascaded to line managers who input information. Giving them context – explaining that if key information was missing or wrong then new starters wouldn’t see the learning pathways relevant to them – helped get managers on board.
It’s rare for an organisation to retrospectively adapt data at source to change the outcome. Wales Air Ambulance is a lean organisation so this made it possible, but it only succeeded with Nick driving the change.
The result means that new starters are automatically allocated relevant learning pathways on the LMS when they join. The organisation also now has automated training records, knows that it is meeting compliance requirements and ultimately is working far more efficiently.
Nick Bowen’s top tips for L&D
Assume nothing and ask difficult questions: I posed the question: ‘can our systems talk to one another?’ It turns out that they could. It was a huge amount of work to get the detail right, but we now have a far more efficient system and a much better experience for new starters.
Trial things: Piloting is an approach that generally I like to have, asking a select group of people to try things out and give me feedback. It helps to ensure that everything that we do is user-friendly and beneficial.
Listen and learn from others: I looked at platforms that other members of the Consortium had created for inspiration. And I couldn’t have achieved what I have without the help of Jamie and Stu at the Charity Learning Consortium – their knowledge and experience has been absolutely invaluable.
Try and anticipate future needs: Play the long game when making improvements to your learning platform, but don’t take on everything yourself – seek technical advice from those who have more knowledge.