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Profiling LiveTime – gold winner of the elearning awards 2011 for Synchronous learning
Business success is reliant on the right leadership, management and communication skills in place. In turbulent times, every organisation needs employees who are not only effective influencers, but who can motivate their teams and communicate effectively with both customers and staff.
Financial and economic pressures are driving organisations to consider technology as part of the learning solution, with leadership and problem solving skills amongst the fastest growing technology enabled skills over the last 2 years.
Despite this interest, these skills are hard to deliver using traditional self-paced learning content alone. The e-learning marketplace is awash with generic bite-sized learning modules for self-study to meet demand. But these ‘soft’ business leadership skills are more effectively taught as discursive topics through exploration and group exercises.
The challenge – What to do when self paced learning is not enough
Many larger companies are able to invest their learning technology budgets to create innovative, interactive blended programmes that bring staff together on line to reflect and work together. Those that have been successful in this area have harnessed an array of learning methods and media to address the challenge and build the softer skills that the business needs. But many do not have the budget to create interactive online soft skills programmes from scratch. If they want to use technology to save time and reduce budget, they are then left with the option of using generic products and services.
Up until now the choice that has been available has been self-paced e-learning content or online books. Both of these have a powerful role to play in building knowledge and supporting performance. However, they do not create the opportunity to discuss, explore and apply ideas with peers, something that is so necessary in building those skills in the first place.
Live online leaning environments help address the balance, but our own research shows that the majority of organisations only really use them for delivering business presentations which, unfortunately, provides plenty of opportunity for staff to switch off and move onto something more interesting!
Another challenge in today’s changing economic climate driver is time. Tighter company purse strings and job cuts have produced a challenging work environment where an employee often performs the work for two, leading to little or no time for study.
Suddenly, classroom training, and even lengthy e-learning programmes, started looking out dated. It was clear that there was a gap in the market for a new off-the-shelf product that would allow individuals to engage in learning without the budget of investing in the classroom or in large scale learning projects. Brightwave, the Brighton-based e-learning solutions company, had a vision to create high-quality soft skills training using short bursts of accelerated learning, bridging the gap between class room learning and self paced content. They wanted to get participants to share ideas, solve problems together and make suggestions whilst supported by experienced and highly trained facilitators.
From this vision LiveTime was developed, a new approach to soft skills development using synchronous e-learning that would complement existing programmes for large organisations. It would also address the needs of smaller businesses with limited resources.
The learner experience – the holistic approach to synchronous learning?
A LiveTime participant has the option to select from over 100 bite-sized, 20-minute live online training sessions, each concentrating on a handful of key points and learning objectives. These are run three times a day to provide plenty of choice, and individuals can select any from the schedule, set up an automatic outlook reminder and then just join in on the day. The majority of the sessions are run via a public schedule and as a result participants won’t necessarily know each other. Even though it allows flexibility for the learner, it does, however, add an additional pressure on the trainer.
Ground rules for the session are established up front, but very quickly participants are able to get stuck in to the learning, using a wide range of tools and interactions. Interactive whiteboards are used to reflect on new ideas or to practice new approaches. Individuals can listen and observe (using audio and video) to different interactions between actors, and these recorded scenarios are supported by discussion and observation - a critical approach if soft skills are to be tackled well.
Generally, participants can access any session at any time, but individuals are all provided with a personal improvement plan that they can work through with their manager in order to agree which sessions to attend and what goals are related to each topic. At the end of a session, the record button is switched off and the facilitator stays behind to answer any questions that participants might have. Participants are also provided with a pdf summary of the key points, further reading, websites, summary of other courses in the series and suggestion of next steps. The programme also makes use of action plans to encourage individuals to reflect and apply their learning back at work.
Participants from the same organisation often become part of a social, learning community where they can share problems, post ideas or comments and be very involved. Facebook and Twitter also update all users of LiveTime sessions and news.
Lesson’s learned along the way
Delivering learning in just 20 minutes to a group that you won’t necessarily know is a tough ask of any trainer. So, how do you design an interactive 20-minute programme that engages a diverse, often multicultural audience from the start? Matt Turner, director at LiveTime, highlights the importance of focus:
"Traditionally, if you go to a course for half a day you would be able to take away 2 usable ideas. We aim to do that in 20 minutes, but it takes focus. We work on identifying 4 critical points that someone might need to take away and start from there.’
Also, trainers have set realistic expectations. For example, it would be rare to use complex interactions on a whiteboard in the first in a series. However, as familiarity with the tools grow, more interactions can be built in.
Due to the demands of working in a highly focussed environment, all new trainers follow a rigorous 3-week training programme that includes experiencing LiveTime as a learner, buddying with other trainers, running training sessions with other trainers plus a stress test with an awkward audience. Only then are they released to engage with staff.
Brightwave have also found that building a great programme didn’t guarantee take-up. Consequently, each client now gets a full communications support pack to enable Brighway to promote the service to their target audience.
In the space of just over a year, training has been delivered globally from Europe to India, Azerbaijan, Angola, Brazil – across five continents. Organisations use the LiveTime offering in a number of different ways:
- Law firm Beachcroft LLP employ LiveTime to ensure all staff across a multi-site organisation, including all home-workers, receive a consistent level of training.
- BT is using LiveTime to help its graduates develop skills and knowledge in a wide variety of subjects, at their own pace.
- The Energy Brokers epitomise how SMEs are using the service - to deliver personal development plans for its entire team.
- The British Council is using LiveTime expertise to support appraisals and performance management, allowing it to make significant time and cost savings across continents.
Organisations are also building on the approach by commissioning company specific programmes that complement the generic schedule of sessions.
Based on current take-up of the programme, the average ROI for using organisations is a minimum of 5:1 up to 20:1. By substituting just two days of classroom-based training per month, 500 people benefit from LiveTime for a whole year. However, what is encouraging is that cost saving has not been at the expense of value to the learners. A survey has shown that this approach really does work, with 4 out of 5 learners thinking that the 20 minute sessions are ‘just right’, and the same number feeling much more confident after participating in just one session.
Brightwave’s focus on accelerated learning for business critical skills has resulted in an innovative application of live online learning to a tricky business problem. Their experience can teach us many lessons that can help us design soft skills programmes in our own organisations.
Hints and tips for making live online learning work for soft skills
1. Be aware of time constraints for staff - you can deliver great learning in just 20 minutes, but it takes practice!
2. Use audio files to create low bandwidth scenarios that can be used for reflection and discussion.
3. If you are working in a complex subject area, build knowledge through a series of progressively challenging sessions.
4. It takes more work to deliver a short session than a long one, so provide rigorous training, coaching and buddying for facilitators.
5. Avoid technological gimics & concentrate on participation and collaboration.
6. If you are rolling out a programme across divisions or countries, create communications plans for use by local managers.
7. Provide action learning plans to help staff reflect and apply learning back at work.
8. Provide delegates with resources (pdf’s or past recordings) to provide refresher training after the programme.
9. Establish the ground rules for sessions up front (ideally before the main session so that you don’t cut into teaching time).
10. Remove any technology barriers that you can.
This story was written by Towards Maturity and first published in elearning Age magazine as part of our Good Practice Partnership.