Courseware is on the right road

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first_img Comments are closed. Courseware is on the right roadOn 1 Jan 2002 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. ICLknew coaching its 4,000 staff to high levels of IT accreditation was a tallorder – particularly as many employees spend much of their time out of theoffice. Sue Weekes looks at how they achieved the mammoth taskIt’s fair to say that IT professionals are probably at their happiest whensat with their noses fixed to a computer monitor. However, it would be wrong to assume that this means an e-learning programmedoesn’t have to work hard to get their attention and retain their interest(Opinion, page XVIII). Obviously, their technical savvy means they have a huge natural advantageand affinity with the medium, but the course structure, content and deliverymechanism must still adhere to the principles of good e-learning if it is to besuccessful. In 1998, IT solutions provider ICL embarked on a programme to train 4,000staff to become Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSE) and MicrosoftCertified Solution Developers (MCSD) by 2001. It was to be one of the biggestcommercial IT training accreditation projects in Europe and, if successful, fitout ICL with the world’s largest accredited workforce. In mid-2001, it hit the 4,000 target and came out the other side of itsmammoth task not only older and wiser, but with a robust e-learninginfrastructure in place that continues to train staff in this particularprogramme and further upgrades. Implementing such a programme helps, of course, when you own a trainingcompany – KnowledgePool – which is seen by many as a pioneer in the field ofe-learning and has the benefit of a 35-year heritage in training anddevelopment, particularly in the area of IT. It wasn’t just the scale of the project that provided both sides with achallenge, but also the fact that ICL has a high proportion of mobile workers. The organisation was predicting that by 2002, 35 per cent of its employeeswould be mobile or remote workers. “We have an extremely nomadic workforceso the main issue we faced was one of mobility,” says Paul Lynch, directorof ICL’s Microsoft Accreditation Programme. As it was, the MCSE and MCSD courses and exams are certainly no easy ridefor anyone trying to fit in study as well as a day job, let alone if they’respending a high proportion of time on the road. For the MCSE, students are required to pass four operating system exams andtwo elective exams that provide a valid and reliable measure of technicalproficiency and expertise. The operating system exams demand that individuals prove their expertisewith desktop, server, and networking components, while the elective examsrequire proof of expertise with Microsoft BackOffice products. MCSD students are required to pass three core exams and one elective exam.The core technology exams require individuals to prove their competency withsolution architecture, desktop applications development and distributedapplications development. The elective exam requires proof of expertise with Microsoftdevelopment tools. ICL also encountered the perennial problem of finding the time to releaseemployees from their work to do the training. “We did this by creatingbottom-up demand in the organisation via publicity and top-down alleviation viaa budget for managers to cover the ‘opportunity cost’ of having staff ontraining rather than fee-earning,” explains Lynch. To meet the needs of such a nomadic and constantly in-demand workforce,KnowledgePool, worked closely with its parent company to create a programme ofblended training, which combined online study with an instructor-led revisioncourse prior to the final exam. Courses sit on ICL’s Learning Gateway inside its Café VIK (Valuing ICLKnowledge) employee portal. “To stimulate students, the courses are highlyinteractive, providing practical, hands-on experience through simulated testsand exercises,” explains Paul Butler, CEO of KnowledgePool. “The technology-based training [from NETg] includes a trainingmanagement system enabling students to bookmark parts of the course and toselect tailored training programmes.” Courses allow students to study module by module when they have time,although they are usually given a completion deadline, to give some structureto their study. Students in the Microsoft Accreditation Programme can choose either to studyfor an hour or two daily, or if they prefer can embark upon the fast-trackcourse, studying full-time (six to eight hours per day). The latter method doesinvolve intense time-scales and is less popular due its lack of flexibility. On the other hand, according to MCSE student Des Bredbury, “Beinggranted the dedicated time was a big help as for me, this exercise required 100per cent dedication.” A major factor contributing to the success of an e-learning programme isensuring that support is always available to students, especially given thefact that they are often accessing the course material on their own and outsideof office hours. KnowledgePool takes care of this with an interactive secure area on itswebsite that students can access via an individual MAP password. Once loggedon, they can access 24-hour, seven-days-a-week support from MicrosoftAccredited tutors. Daily interactive chat sessions are held in this area andthere is access to bulletin boards and e-mail. It’s also the place to receivefeedback on course assignments. In addition, Café VIK’s Learning Gateway offers community areas that can beset up by any employees to facilitate discussion on a subject. Providing interaction of some kind is vital to any distance learningproject, believes Butler because you simply can’t rely on self-motivation.”KnowledgePool has always advocated the inclusion of interactivity ine-learning. Just as students feed from the tutor and their peers in a classroomenvironment, they need that contact and stimulus in an e-environment. In myopinion, any learning that relies on self-motivation is doomed before itbegins,” he says. He also believes it’s wrong to assume that IT people are happy to alwayslearn in isolation. “It’s a myth that IT staff don’t like classroomtraining. They actually like being in the classroom with other IT people toshow off their knowledge to each other.” The inclusion of a classroom component in the MAP programme in the shape ofrevision workshops away from the office is designed to bring out suchcompetitiveness and social interaction. And feedback shows that they are valuedby the students, who are encouraged to attend one revision workshop per module.”They helped me focus on the areas where I felt less confident,”says MAP student Nick Long. “And, because they were booked for me, beforethe exam, they were an incentive to ensure I completed the modules and did somerevision in time.” The workshops range from half a day to three days in length and aretypically held one or two days before the relevant exam. In the first nine months of the programme, over 2,400 ICL employees hadregistered, including employees in the UK, the USA, South Africa, Scandinavia,Germany, Switzerland, France, Egypt, Italy, Croatia, Slovakia, the CzechRepublic, Belgium, Holland and the Caribbean, all of which were studying forMicrosoft accreditation in their own language, following the same coursecontent at the same time. Overall, the results to date show an over 80 per centpass rate. While Lynch eschews comment on return on investment because it is impossibleto quantify, he believes the e-learning programme has contributed to ICL’sattrition rate, which is 14 per cent below the industry average. “Ibelieve it has improved ICL’s perception as an employer,” he says. While clearly there was a compelling business reason to train the workforceand gain the accreditation, the programme also ties in with ICL’s widerWeb-enabled people strategies, which includes a self-service online benefitssystem, all designed to empower the workforce and enhance the company’semployee brand. The most successful e-learning projects will always be those which work forthe individual as well as the balance sheet and, with this in mind, we give thelast word to the students. “Like many of my colleagues, I went into thetraining thinking it would be easy. Well it isn’t – it’s hard work,” saysGraham Smith, who is now an accredited MCSD. “However, the sense of achievement and satisfaction on passing theexams is that much more rewarding.” ICL’s top tips 1 Have clear objectivesaligned to the requirements of the business2 Choose an experienced service provider3 Create the space in the organisation for the programmeIn summaryICL’s approachICL’s requirement: To train4,000 staff to become accredited Microsoft engineers and developers.Why? ICL is one of the leading IT solutions companies inEurope, the Middle East and Africa, employing more than 19,200 people in 40countries. Accreditation is imperative. Is e-learning delivering? ICL hit its target of training4,000 people by mid-2001 with high success rates of 80 per cent. It’s believedthat the programme has helped enhance employee brand and contribute to theorganisation’s attrition rate, which is 14 per cent below the industry average. Previous Article Next Articlelast_img read more