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Blended Formats Engage all Learners

Grant Thornton, a Chicago company, needed managers to be champions because they're the ones who will get employees to use the learning.

September 18, 2003
Related Topics: Training Technology, Training & Development
Name: Grant Thornton
Location: Chicago
Type of organization: Global accounting, tax, and business advisory firm
Number of employees: 3,000

When Bob Dean took over as chief learning officer for Grant Thornton two years ago, the company believed in training as a strategic tool for achieving business results. "Daily learning is a key to competitiveness and profit," Dean says, "and management is focused on building a continuous learning culture."

The company was already using a learning-management system as a way to handle record-keeping on the Web, but employees needed easier access to training. "We wanted a one-stop shop for learning," Dean says. So he built Grant Thornton University, a Web-based corporate learning portal. Through GTU, employees can register for any course, whether it’s classroom-based or online, and they now have access to more than 1,000 hours of self-paced training, live Webcasts, and virtual-classroom courses.

But it wasn’t as easy as buying a library of premade courses and throwing them online. Before investing in content, Dean and his team evaluated the needs of end users and built learning paths aimed at every level of the company. His intention was to deliver customized learning solutions to each business unit instead of generalized content for the entire organization. The learning paths are broken down by competencies and skill requirements, and then tied to job performance, he says. So, for example, if an employee receives performance feedback indicating a need for improved teamwork skills, his manager can identify an appropriate team training course for the employee’s position and required competencies, Dean says. "A big part of the learning vision is that managers play an active role in guiding employees toward the right learning opportunities."

Dean and his team put a lot of thought and effort into choosing not just the right courses but also the right delivery methods for each topic. "We found that the combination of self-paced modules with live virtual-classroom components is critical for learner success," he says. The self-paced lessons deliver informational content so that the live training can be used for group work, question- and-answer sessions, and case studies. It’s a better use of live training time and enables instructors to cover more content in less time, he says.

The blended model also helped to ease some employees into the new training format. There was a lot of resistance to self-paced training at Grant Thornton, Dean says. It was a foreign way to learn, and employees were skeptical of its value. But the virtual classroom is a more familiar setting, he says. It gives students the opportunity to interact with peers and with course experts who are often high-level executives at the company. "With self-paced training, they can feel all alone," he says. "But with the combination, they see that the learning model isn’t changing so drastically. It’s comfortable and convenient."

To introduce GTU to employees and get buy-in from management and staff, Dean uses every opportunity to talk up the project and walk people through the technology. Starting at the top, he invited managers across the firm to participate in virtual kickoff events from their desktops using Centra virtual-classroom technology. "We needed the field managers to be our champions because they are the ones who will get employees to use the learning," he says.

In the online kickoff sessions he covered the strategic goals of the initiative, showed managers how the technology works, and let them try out sample content. An added benefit of using a virtual classroom to introduce the project was that managers were able to learn about GTU while seeing it in action. "The virtual classroom gets the biggest ‘wow’ factor," Dean says. "It’s like a talk show delivered to your desktop."

Workforce, March 2003, p. 60 -- Subscribe Now!

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