What can online training platforms offer managers who want to enhance their employees' skills - and are they worth the investment? Third Sector asked Lesley McGuire, learning technology manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, to share her experience of using a system called Learn Zone and making it available to mobile devices.
Macmillan has been using a suite of online learning programmes, developed by Video Arts, for its charity staff and health professionals since 2009. The programmes were originally aimed at health professionals, but staff at middle management level have also been given access to a leadership and management toolbox to develop their skills.
About 3,000 of the charity's 4,000 health professionals and 600 staff are registered to use the toolbox. But in the last eight months, the charity has offered the training in bite-sized chunks on smartphones and tablets.
"Any of our staff, professionals or volunteers can register to use the system," says McGuire. Macmillan's HR team uses Learn Zone to develop staff up to the necessary level of competence in their respective areas and has matched specific parts of the training suite to the individual development of employees. Staff can then log on to the system to receive training at a time that suits them, including when commuting to and from work.
"We have to be careful not to overwhelm people with too much choice, so we try to pick issues each month rather than have them look at things that are not relevant," says McGuire.
The charity has created an online induction system for new employees that includes an introduction to cancer. "For the charity's staff, the generic management stuff is more relevant, whereas for our health professionals, the training is very specific to what they do," says McGuire.
She says a key factor when deciding to use this system was staff engagement, and the generic learning packages provide a good way of getting across the things the charity has to cover, such as health and safety.
For its health professionals, the system is more about adding value over and above the skills they need to do their jobs, such as courses on managing stress at work. But is the £10,000 annual cost - including £4,000 to make the system accessible to mobile devices - worth the money for a charity? "It was important to make the resources accessible because of the prevalence of mobile devices," says McGuire. "It's a lot of money and people's attitude will vary, depending on their budgets. But for us it's worth it - in part because of the diversity of the audience we're aiming at."
McGuire expects mobile learning to be a common feature of training in charities five years from now. "The argument is about making sure whatever you develop works on mobile platforms and on any device - and if you neglect the mobile market for training, you are missing a trick," she says.