Report from the e-learning exhibition and conference, 7 June

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TrainingZONE reports from day one of the e-learning exhibition and conference at the Business Design Centre, London.

TrainingZONE attended the opening and keynote session, with presentations from Mark Lliff, MCS leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers(PwC) and Frank Nigriello group director of corporate affairs at the Unipart Group.

PwC have had an involvement with electronic learning for 15 years, having created their first interactive learning programme on videodisc in 1986. In 1996, they formed one of the first virtual universities. Lliff outlined the lessons PwC have learned from their experiences with e-learning so far, among the most important being to remember that e-learning is still learning - you still need to understand how people learn - the technology is merely a servant to be instructed.

PwC's experience has shown that there's no absolute standard for e-learning content - it will depend on the audience's expectations. For example, computer programmers will be more tolerant of large amounts of text and less interactivity, then say, information analysts. The hardest thing to succeed at is delivery of learning - development is hard, design harder but delivery hardest. Lliff stressed it was important to provide access and support in the form of a learning helpdesk - 'lose the human element at your peril'. It was also important to monitor effectiveness and to channel reactions to the training from the user back into the design.

Lliff commented that it was often difficult to buy the exact e-learning product needed on the market - a case of 'buy if you can, develop if you must'. It was however important to be aware of the pitfalls of designing CDROMs which rapidly become out-of-date.

Online chat, said Lliff, is simple but under-used. For their induction process, PwC have historically gathered together all new staff around the world in one place. Now they use facilitated chat to join them together - something which remains in place for as long as the new starters require it.

Frank Nigriello's presentation also tackled the problem of international communication in the context of knowledge management. Unipart's view was that learning, knowledge management and the management of change are all interlinked, and striking a balance between them is the main challenge. Unipart has sought to do this by developing a number of e-learning systems.

The first of these (created in the early 1990s) was the Unipart U, a team-based improvement programme which currently has around two-thirds of staff involved at any one time. It offers personalised learning and online courses for all staff.

Unipart's aims were to put the web into the hands of the employee, and as a result they have placed a great deal of emphasis on their intranet. Since 1998, the main focus for this has been on learning - one such example was the creation of 'web master' programme, easy-to-use software designed specifically for employees to author their own web pages. Unipart have used the intranet to great effect in sharing knowledge - employees are encouraged to discuss problems and use the intranet to work together to come up with solutions.

Unipart have long been asked to share the secrets of their success with other organisations. With ‘Making Sustainable Change’, Unipart have created an interactive CDROM programme which they are marketing to other companies. The CDROM is designed to provide a step-by-step guide for managers seeking to introduce improvement programmes and emphasises the often-neglected ‘soft’ aspects of change, such as how employees react to change and how to communicate change.

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