Learning on the go
Written by Ellie Robinson
In these competitive times it has never been more important to have a highly-trained and knowledgeable workforce. For speciality retailers, more than most, customers rely on the expertise of retail staff, making the promotion of learning and development a vital element of the working environment.
Traditionally this meant losing workers for days at a time on training courses, eating into retailers’ staffing numbers and, ultimately, their margins. Could e-learning be the solution to providing a highly-trained workforce with the minimal impact on business?
David Borkin, solutions architect at SumTotal Systems, believes e-learning provides a highly efficient, practical way of training workers so that they are legally compliant, for example, with health and safety requirements, particularly for retailers with a large seasonal influx of staff.
He said: “E-learning helps retailers create a successful, more profitable business by speeding the path to workforce productivity and readiness. Mobile learning is a key way to achieve this, as it means new employees can complete courses anywhere anytime, and provides an engaging and interactive way of completing training.
“Longer term, e-learning provides the opportunity to keep employees engaged and ensure the most talented team members have a career development plan in place.
“For example, a retailer would want to ensure its best sales people are appropriately rewarded and also engaged in their future at the company. “
Managing director at bespoke multi-media training software developer TNA e-learning, Tim Neil added the days of sending staff to training centres for weeks, filling their heads with facts and procedures, were over. Today’s retail staff, he said, prefer a more pragmatic approach of: “Let me find the information I need to do my job, when I need it.”
He said: “Last year, Phones 4u took this tack in moving from an information ‘push’ model (sending out fact-packed technical bulletins to stores, which were rarely read) to a fun, 3D interactive online Academy. Here staff are free to explore (ie: ‘pull’) nuggets of material, watch video clips and animated explanations, even play games in a ‘chill out’ zone.
“The language is contemporary, the content game-based and, as you’d expect, often irreverent. It’s not all play either – staff have to demonstrate their understanding by taking quizzes in the linked LMS and the results are available as reports and analysis for HR. The result? Frequent visits from 5,000 retail staff, with a monthly hit rate up from 1,000 to 60,000.”
Kevin Young, managing director EMEA at SkillSoft echoed these sentiments, adding that many of retail employees have grown up using a PC and have become accustomed to technology-based learning resources.
“As such the training method of choice for many retailers is increasingly e-learning – training accessible through computers or mobile devices connected to the Internet or a private intranet,” he said. “Not only does e-learning provide a more cost effective and efficient mode of learning, but unlike traditional training materials, e-learning resources can be rapidly updated and redistributed to keep up with changes in knowledge and the environment.
“However e-learning today has moved far beyond a simple learning package on a CD or DVD. We are seeing greater use of online courses, books, virtual meeting tools, blended learning, portals, rapid development tools and a wide range of informal learning content. This change implies retailers are moving beyond just increasing workplace skills and moving toward the implementation of significant strategic business competencies that can provide retailers with a solid return on investment.”
Using e-learning, backed by the advantages of a cloud hosting platform, has allowed retailers to trim their costs, says Matt Lovell, chief technology officer, at Pulsant. Cloud-hosting is the ‘ideal solution’ he said to the problem of obtaining additional secure services to support the increased activity generated by e-learning.
“With cloud infrastructure and Software as a Service (SaaS), retailers can now launch IT training and e-Learning platforms across companies, organisations and learning bodies – irrespective of size, scale or location. Our experience confirms that cloud offers substantial cost savings to any organisation, and has huge potential for growth and the expansion of resources that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”
Another essential part of implementing an e-learning system is to ensure that the workforce and management know it is there, explained Sean Goodman, head of training at e-learning provider Unit 4. He argued that it is crucial to have ‘champions’ around the business so that users understand the changes occurring and the new processes that need to be learnt and adopted.
He said: “User adoption champions are worth their weight in gold if they assist with communicating an organisation’s training strategy irrespective of whether it comprises traditional training methodologies or e-learning carried out via electronic media – either synchronous where the student and teacher are online at the same time or asynchronous whereby both student and teacher have access but are not required to be online at the same time.
“For optimal success and widespread user acceptance and take up, e-learning systems need to have one- touch accessibility, effectively removing physical or emotional barriers to learning. Mobile-learning is one solution whereby mobile devices such as phones and iPad/laptops are equipped with instant access to an e-learning library dedicated to that customer via Learning Management Systems (LMS).”
Using LMS also allows for more detailed reporting for HR departments, team leaders and managers to assess capability and competency within their workforce.
Mr Goodman added. “For example detailed evaluation and feedback forms, specific reporting post testing, exams delivered via the e-learning system and results measured can be fed back directly to the customer’s recognised authority directly by the LMS. This streamlines and integrates systems that may have been discrete or heavily reliant on paper-based or manual processes, which saves time and money and allows organisations and individuals to identify focus areas more quickly for the good of their business and its employees.”