Guest Blog post by Peter Balvanz
Program Officer, Knowledge Management, FHI, Durham, NC, USA
In August of last year FHI joined the LINGOs community. From October 11 to December 11 we conducted a pilot eLearning initiative with four FHI country offices to help inform us in our global roll-out, which we are currently planning. Pilot objectives included:
- Understand value of courses for global employees
- Test the course approval process
- Manage workflow before global roll-out.
Relying heavily on LINGOs staff and website, other member organizations, and a strategic group at FHI, our pilot was deemed a success. At the conclusion of the two month pilot:
- 212 staff were batch-load registered to our portal
- 25% of these staff registered for at least 1 course (52/212)
- Individual staff requested 4 courses on average at first visit
- Among courses started (70), 40% were completed (28) during the pilot period (not all country offices started the pilot on Oct 11).
- Courses generally took between 1-2 hours cumulative time.
Aiming to quickly offer courses to country office staff in our pilot, we were able to register staff, and communicate select course offerings through a branded portal within two months. Several strategies facilitated this accomplishment, including:
1) LINGOs support staff and website – the website generally had answers to questions we had, but if it didn’t, the staff did
2) LinkedIn member and organization support – other experienced organizations collaborated to answer our posted questions, offering advice from personal experience and guidance documents used with their own staff
3) Forming and utilizing a strategic working group representing diverse departments at FHI.
In the case of the first two, FHI was the beneficiary of strong institutional knowledge, best practices, and lessons learned. LINGOs staff were consistently timely in providing solid support and successfully facilitated beneficial relationships among member organizations. The advice and guidance documents shared with FHI by member organizations provided an easy-to-assemble structure that enabled a quick release to pilot countries.
Internally, FHI assembled a strategic working group to develop policies and divide necessary labors. Our group included an administrator from Knowledge Management; HR representatives; Global Portfolio Management (GPM – country office liaisons) to aid in decisions important to international FHI staff; and IT. Our decision making body crossed responsibilities to ensure all relevant voices were heard and we could get the most from our LINGOs membership.
The strategic group sought input from country offices to advertise eLearning, tailor course selections to country needs, and to select countries interested in a pilot. First, a short survey was emailed to country directors asking them to select courses most relevant to their staff and inquire whether they would be interested in participating in the pilot. Pilot countries selected were to be diverse in staff size, capacity, and bandwidth, to get a better sense of the wider benefits of courses and challenges. Learning areas deemed most important across the country offices were used to populate our portal with about 50 courses. Before including in the portal, most of the courses were quickly reviewed by staff from departments represented in our strategic group.
As our preparation progressed, we wrote numerous template documents, including: Welcome letter to liaisons; Welcome letter for staff to be sent by liaisons; single sheet orientation to LINGOs; administrative roles and responsibilities; and policies and procedures, including screen shots for users.
Once our portal was branded and loaded with courses, the opportunity was disseminated to staff through a country office liaison selected by the country director. Liaisons were welcomed through an email describing responsibilities, and followed by a more in-depth phone call. To encourage greater communication with country staff, we sent three bi-monthly updates and reports to liaisons offering support. We also arranged one collective Elluminate session for liaisons to share their experiences and to show how to view reports as the country’s Registrar.
Evaluation and Lessons Learned
Upon conclusion of the pilot, we developed surveys for both liaisons and pilot staff to answer our objectives questions. Staff believed most courses to be relevant to their jobs, easy to navigate, and easy to understand, but noted that work demands and bandwidth to be barriers to access in some countries. Staff appreciated the opportunity for development, but desired more public health specific courses. Liaisons believed eLearning to be a good opportunity for staff development and spent an average of 1-2 week assisting staff.
Numerous lessons were learned to help guide the eventual global roll-out. Though staff were informed of a user name and password given to them, many would sign-in as new users, thus creating extra work for administrators to avoid double identities. Countries with low-bandwidth would get frustrated by courses freezing, a reality that cued us to the need to better advertise courses designed for low bandwidth areas.
Also worth noting for greater context, FHI did not deploy eCornell during the pilot. Our primary focus was giving access to courses from the LINGOs course catalog. Finally, we are in the initial stages of promoting Articulate. We have installed copies of the software on shared spaces in our domestic offices, and have begun promoting the software. Our next steps include revising our procedures manual, reviewing courses in our portal, and beginning to disseminate the opportunity to a wider audience.