Training focus: Building a global training platform

8th June 2013

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Ever wondered how to rollout training in different languages to a large audience using few resources? Bekir Andrews explains how Balfour Beatty did it

As one of the world’s largest infrastructure businesses, employing more than 50,000 people in over 80 countries, it was important for Balfour Beatty to identify an effective way of rolling out training on its 2020 vision, the firm’s sustainability strategy.

Organising training courses for every member of staff worldwide would have been prohibitively expensive and complex to organise. More importantly, tracking accurately how many employees had completed the training in its different businesses would have been very difficult for Balfour Beatty to monitor.

Going online

The company’s HR function had successfully delivered “code of conduct” training using e-learning, and the sustainability team at Balfour Beatty decided that this was the best option to provide training on the firm’s 2020 vision, particularly given that two of its businesses already had a learning management system (LMS) in place.

An LMS is a piece of software that sits on a server and allows administrators to upload, assign, add and delete courses, as well as monitoring progress, running statistics and producing reports. An LMS can significantly reduce hosting costs and the overall expense of deploying a course.

Given that the success of e-learning courses is reliant on engaging content – there is no live facilitator to engage the student as there would be in a classroom – Balfour Beatty’s sustainability team decided to interview several e-learning providers. At the end of the process, Saffron Interactive was awarded the contract.

The project team at Balfour Beatty helped to develop the training with Saffron Interactive. It was agreed that the purpose of the course should be to introduce what sustainability means to Balfour Beatty, show why it is important to the business, and provide learners with an insight into what the company is already doing to become more sustainable, as well as its plans for the future.

They also agreed that course participants should achieve the following learning objectives:

  • ensure they understand what sustainability means to Balfour Beatty;
  • ensure they understand why being a leader in sustainability is important to Balfour Beatty;
  • provide the ability to explain what the 2020 vision and roadmap (the sustainability journey) is, and where to find out more information; and
  • provide the ability to describe excellence in sustainability from a selection of projects.

Different members of the Balfour Beatty sustainability team then supplied materials that led to the development of the content outline for the course. A detailed storyboard using examples and photos from across the operating businesses was also developed.

One recommendation for practitioners looking to develop a similar tool is to allow plenty of time to review the content and the images with different stakeholders in the business – making changes to courses later on in the development process can be expensive. The sustainability team consulted about 30 people from across the company’s operations to ensure that the content delivered the desired learning objectives.

While the storyboard was being developed, the e-learning provider also gave the sustainability team the opportunity to comment on the draft “look and feel” of the course, which included examples of interactive exercises. Again, it is very important to ensure these meet the organisation’s requirements at an early stage, because changing these elements later on is costly.

Global reach

Saffron Interactive produced a working pilot, which was uploaded onto the LMS. At this stage, the sustainability team consulted with more employees and received feedback from around 100 people from across the business. Once this feedback was analysed, Saffron Interactive finalised the course content and recorded the audio for final release. The audio feature allows learners to navigate through the course without having to read the text. They are still required to interact with visuals displayed on their screens to navigate the course and work through the interactive exercises.

The audio feature is particularly useful for those for whom English is a foreign language or for employees that are visually impaired. Translations were commissioned in Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, Mandarin and American English. With one-third of Balfour Beatty’s workforce based in the US, feedback was that using English spelling and an English voiceover for an American audience was perceived as a barrier. In the case of the Chinese course, Balfour Beatty produced a simplified and a traditional version to accommodate learners from both Hong Kong and mainland China.

Feedback received during the development of the course played an important role in the ultimate success of the course and allowed the sustainability team to field test some of the interactive exercises.

Although Balfour Beatty was keen to embed videos, it decided against doing so because internet connections are still very slow in some countries.

For learners working in remote areas, such as in the Australian outback, Canada and South Africa (and also for those that did not have access to computers), Balfour Beatty also developed an offline Powerpoint version of the course and a facilitator guide for trainers to use. One clear disadvantage of using the offline course is that the animations have to be altered into separate sets of slides and learners cannot interact with the exercises.

So far, so good

The overall uptake of the course has been very good, with more than 32,000 employees completing it since its launch. In Germany alone, 700 people took the course in less than one month.

The advantage of e-learning is that staff can take the training at a time to suit them, and at a speed that works for them. On average, most employees completed the course in around 50 minutes, though some have taken up to 100 minutes. Another benefit of the e-learning course is that the LMS saves each learner’s progress on completion of a module. This means that the course can be broken into bite-sized chunks rather than users having to complete it in one go.

The Balfour Beatty sustainability team has recently launched a second e-learning course on sustainable procurement. It is designed to augment the first course by providing learners with more background and guidance on how to make sustainable procurement choices. The objectives for the second course include:

  • ensure that learners are fully aware of Balfour Beatty’s sustainability roadmap and policies as they relate to procurement;
  • enable learners to identify areas where procurement practices can profitably be improved by encompassing sustainability; and
  • promote innovation as a collaborative effort with suppliers and other stakeholders.

The sustainability team has received a lot of positive feedback about both courses. More than 27,000 sustainability pledges from employees were made within six months of the first course going live.

Developing an e-learning course requires a lot of upfront work and attention to detail. However, the finished product can be an extremely effective means of providing general training to large numbers of staff in a short space of time. Such online learning is no substitute for a classroom environment, but Balfour Beatty believes that it certainly has its uses for raising awareness and engaging staff. With the advent of smart phones, tablets and HTML5, more courses will be available on handheld devices, which will make e-learning even more accessible in future.

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