Breaking down walls at Online Educa Berlin!

by | Dec 15, 2009 | Articles

2078 delegates from 92 countries convened at this year’s ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN, the largest global e-learning conference. The event has been running for 15 years now but this year it seemed to have a different buzz about it – perhaps it was the fact that we were all in Berlin 20 years after the wall came down – it certainly felt significant.

Or perhaps it was the fact that this year the walls were being torn down between the traditional OEB audience (educationalists and academics) and those interested in workplace learning.

For the first time, the extensive agenda (over 400 speakers!) reflected a specific strand of sessions dedicated to workplace innovation and business results. This not only  appealed to the increasing number of delegates from private and public sector organisations, but also provided useful insights for academic institutions looking to engage the workplace better.

Naturally the Towards Maturity team were there  hunting out excellent case studies across Europe to include in our Evidence for Change programme in our quest to help readers  build the business case for learning technology. And we weren’t disappointed! Innovative use of technology to address real business problems, practical hints and tips and tangible business results flowed throughout the 2 days – it was hard to keep up!

Here are just a few examples about how technologies are helping to to break down the walls to deliver real results.

Breaking down the walls between experts and Learners to improve business processes.

When an  organisations are operating in far flung places across the globe, it is easy for some to miss out on training even when the processes and systems that they need to know about are business critical.

Nick Czinczoll, BP UK,  described some of their new approaches to blended learning to address this issue. They have established a virtual community of practice for specific area of expertise within the company such as . Each programme is comprised of a range of components – e Learning and self study, on-line classes, online collaboration and work assignments which have proven very powerful and required little effort. This has allowed them to  undertake this activity anywhere free from the constraints of a physical location as well as connecting experts (not teachers) to learners and connecting peers to each other.

As a result of this approach they have significantly reduced training costs whilst increasing learning opportunities for staff.

Breaking down walls between employees to increase sales in finance

The well quoted notion that 80% of learning is informal may ring true but addressing this issue is probably harder in the highly regulated finance world. However Francesc Fabregas, GEC, Spain and Gerard Velez from the Spanish bank La Caixa begged to differ. they introduced an informal learning environment to encourage exchange of ideas between employees  which has been used in a variety of ways to address staff concerns, communicate ideas and improve sales. For example they used the forum (with access for all staff ) to carry out a brainstorm to improve sales opportunities which resulted in over 100 suggestions and ideas which were then analysed by the ‘experts’ in the community . The focused results document was shared with 6000 staff who then applied it in their jobs. As one manager commented ‘The exchange of ideas on the part our employees strongly impacted the sale of products. The sales ratio increased from 2 products to 6 per employee after performing the action”.

Breaking down the walls between competency management and learning

Large global consultancy companies, like many of us, are under increasing pressure at the moment  to provide faster, cheaper, better solutions  to their staff. However given that their product is the intellectual capital – staff competency becomes competitive advantage and is critical to for them to manage. Nick Van Dam from Deloitte, spoke about how this has changed the way that learning and development is delivered to their 170,000 employees spread across the globe.  The company operates a rigid performance management system  to ensue staff have the required competency to meet client expectations.  Their twin approach between formal and informal, on demand  learning led them to build their on- line capability. As  part of the change they introduced a new online competency model and mapped  e content onto the competency themes.

This change was accompanied by a move to self service infrastructure based upon individual career and personal development plans which are also linked to the performance management system.
This change  was very transparent to managers and staff and all can see what is available which increased staff motivation.

Interestingly Deloitte are also breaking down walls between clients and staff via a newly  launched  Leadership Academy, a portal providing blended content and social networking for collaboration internally and externally (100+ clients involved).

Breaking down the walls in retail training

Typically retail staff are difficult to reach but constantly need their product knowledge and skills updated as new systems and products are released. Pulling staff off of the shop floor costs money and unfortunately not many shop floors have PC or online access for learning ( and even if they did- what would the customers think of their shop assistants with their heads buried in a screen!).  However 2 german retail companies were approaching this challenge innovatively! Gwendolin Rugen, Sales and Marketing Academy at Telefónica o2, Germany described their academy portal where registered can see their personal career path mapped out in My academy as well as the latest product information and learning. In addition to accessing learning in the back office, they have also put it into the palm of their staff’s hands via their Academy to go available on the mobile phone.  This started with the launch of the Palm Pre – where learning on the device was provided via the device. Content was shorter than normal and designed to attract the attendtion of users using strong visuals, mobile applications for quizzes and encouraging users by giving sales leads! Unsurprisingly, Gwendolin felt that they would have been unable to meet vigorous sales targets without it.

However not every retail professional has access to mobile phones in the workplace. Olaf Bursian, From Real (the german supermarket leader) described some pilots taking place at their flagship Future store  – SB Warenhaus. The future store has been designed to take full advantage of technology across all business process. They wanted to  look at approaches that would bring learning closer to staff. What devices in store can they use that have small pcs  embedded in them that could help?  They decided to work with weighing s scales and  info terminals for customers rather than the till systems ( cashiers learning at the till  would only cause queues!). Using the devices that are so near to the floor  allowed a faster transfer from learning to work.  The customer can also be easily be supported eg whilst weighing cheese , staff have access to more information to support the customer with additional information and hopefully drive more sales!  Their challenge in this approach was one of technology – how to get content to scales, how to address browser issues etc. One interesting feature was the inclusion of a panic button within the content so that the device moved quickly from the learning package back to being a scale again!

Breaking down the walls for new staff

Getting new staff up to speed quickly with products and services in order to help them deliver excellent customer services is a challenge for many and the walls that face new employees can result in them leaving quickly if you don’t get it right. Kenny Henderson of Sky UK ( who will also be speaking at Learning Technologies in January) outlined how they established a  new joiner’s portal to address  induction program training which staff can access prior to joining the company. The effect of this approach on the reduction in attrition, increase in sales and speed to competency all highlight how the effective use of learning technologies can really impact business.
Breaking down walls in 2010.

These walls have not come down by accident but by design- careful alignment to business need, appropriate use of technology to address business related learning issues and careful engagement have all contributed to the results.

These are just a few highlights, we will be following up Kenny’s story and many of the others not covered here both in this magazine and also on site at www.towardsmaturity.org.
If Online Educa Berlin is anything to go by – I look forward to more walls being torn down in 2010 and hope that our evidence for change programme helps put  some weight behind your efforts!

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