NGO Learning Centre wins gold

In November 2014 the NGO Learning Centre was announced Gold Winner for the LearnX Asia-Pacific Training Awards for best eLearning model (in the blended learning category). In the same month the NGO Learning Centre was also announced finalist for the AITD National Awards – in the category of best implementation of a blended learning solution. ‘Finalist’ may not sound as impressive as Gold Winner, but the AITD awards are particularly prestigious and put the NGO Learning Centre against very large multinational companies, and against training projects with staggering budgets.

A big thank you to everyone that has contributed and worked hard on this project, and particularly to the NGO users of this site who have kept us informed to ensure the site remains relevant; please keep the communication coming!

As part of the award proceedings I was invited to present at the LearnX annual conference on, “Creating a Successful Online Learning Portal”, and was asked to discuss challenges, development processes and indicators of success. Here’s a little of what I presented:

Challenges:
The learning needs of our target audience are quite diverse; and a particular challenge was to create a learning experience that is both directive, informative and encourages self-paced exploration.

We had little knowledge of the educational backgrounds of individual staff in these organisations, but we did know that some are very new to sector while others have many years of knowledge and experience.

Our challenge was to develop a learning site that was as useful to new comers to the sector, as it was for highly experienced workers; and, from a technology perspective, a site that would work on all browsers, all devices, and all internet speeds.
Development processes:
The Development of the NGO Learning Centre incorporated three main areas of consideration; learning design, adult learning principles and informal learning:

Learning Design:
A significant amount of time was spent researching and reviewing the vast amount of eLearning design models that exist, and then customising a model that would meet the specific needs of this project.

The specific challenge for developing an appropriate model for this target audience is finding a model that is educationally sound (based on best-practice pedagogical approaches) and one that meets the demands of the modern workplace; which is time and cost effective, and enables workers to learn while on-the-job.

Our final design model was one where the learning technologies used changed as the user moved through any topic area, which acknowledges that different technologies are used to match the needs of the learner, and that as individuals become more knowledgeable they learn in more independent ways, becoming more self-directed (through the use of communities of practice and social media directed toward more knowledgeable learners).

This is a flexible model that does not seek to define who the learner is or how they should learn.

Adult Learning Principles (ALPs):
These principles should be basic knowledge for any L&D professional. However, often when it comes to eLearning, particularly in an organisation's desire for compliance (through eLearning), these principles can be easily forgotten.

For the NGO Learning Centre we have actively attempted to ensure that adult learning principles have been applied. Here are a couple of examples:

1: Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
Adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas or actions on them. This is a common oversight with compliance based eLearning; where organisations force learners to complete training by starting at point 1 and finishing at point 10.

Our self-paced courses encourage learners to feel in control of their learning and are encouraged to choose their own direction of learning. This is achieved by ensuring courses are broken into small digestible chunks, and each chunk can be easily navigated through to get their required piece of knowledge.

2: Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
Similarly compliance eLearning often does not give the learner the opportunity to demonstrate their pre-existing knowledge. On the NGO Learning Centre the compliance modules are identified up front; and if they have the pre-existing knowledge they can go directly to the quiz; and are not forced to move through entire courses sequentially.

Informal Learning:
70:20:10 learning theory principles are applied throughout the NGO Learning Centre giving participants access to information when they need it.

In the 70:20:10 model, 20% of what people learn in the workplace is through informal interactions. This model also suggests that learning should be structured in a way that enables employees to get the information they need, in a format they need it, when they need it. Designing learning activities to enable informal learning for this project has included adding technologies such as podcasts, blogs, and social media.

Indicators of success:
Success indicators of the NGO Learning Centre can be demonstrated in the following statistical examples:

Prior to the development of the NGO Learning Centre our program was able to service the learning needs of 1200 learners in any year. In the first 12-months of the site an additional 13,500 unique visitors gained access to learning.

We can take one particular course on the site as an example; DoCS Connect OOHC MDS.

Prior to the NGO Learning Centre this course was delivered solely as a one-day F2F event, in Sydney. A significant number of participants were from outside of Sydney; and these associated travel costs were covered by the NGO. This was a significant cost for NGOs who often operate with limited staff and funds. This course has now been changed to be solely online.

The face-to-face course enabled 60 participants to attend per year (if all courses were full). The online version has seen 266 participants successfully complete the course. This figure only captures those that have completed the assessment component; and not those using the resource to refresh their knowledge.

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