A new online program gives public employees a more flexible approach to learning, according to its developers.

If successful, the pilot project could eventually offer courses to 250,000 public servants across the country. And other governments are already taking an interest.

Launched this

past April, Campusdirect (campusdirect.gc.ca) currently offers more than 100 professional development courses, ranging from communications and leadership skills to software training. The project is a continuation of an earlier initiative known as Campus e, according to Barbara Lukaszewicz, director of e-learning services with the Canadian Centre for Management Development (CCMD).

“”It was a trial e-learning initiative, which proved to be successful.””

Starting in 2002, the CCMD has been managing Campusdirect, which has been given a three-year trial period. The project is under the purview of the Network of Learning and Development Institutes and has received funding from the Treasury Board, although it is ultimately meant to be financially self-sustaining. While it’s still early days, there has been some interest from provincial and municipal governments already, says Gerard Blais, marketing manager with the CCMD.

Currently, about 1,000 employees are using the service, which, if successful, will be rolled out to all federal departments and agencies in the future. Lukaszewicz says she hope to triple the number of users by the end of this year. “”We’d be very happy if we get to 3,000.””

Rates start at $250 per learner per course, but corporate rates are also available. Employees’ organizations or departments pay the fees, but other approaches to funding the courses will also be considered during the trial run.

“”We’ve been mandated to try it out and see if it works,”” says Lukaszewicz. “”In order to get there, we’re fully cost-recoverable.””

Lukaszewicz says the project took about a year to design, develop and launch. Her job entailed securing funding, but also gaining widespread support from government leaders. More than 120 employees from two dozen different government organizations helped shape the program, which is overseen by a steering committee with a dozen directors from different departments. “”We’ve got a pretty engaged senior management team,”” she says.

While most Campusdirect offerings are off-the-shelf courseware packages, efforts are being made to develop more custom-built modules. For the ready-made courses, about four or five vendors were selected through a request for proposal (RFP) process. Customized content will be developed in-house — “”for the public sector by the public sector”” — or in conjunction with consultants, who will also be selected via RFP, Lukaszewicz says.

Although not directly involved in the original purchasing, she compares choosing courseware products to working with a shopping list. Vendors tend to offer modules in packages, which buyers then compare with their own needs.

Right now, about 10 per cent of the courses are tailor-made.

“”We’re developing this year 17 custom-designed courses,”” Blais says. By the end of the three-year project, about 40 government-developed courses should be available. There are also a few courses available for free on the Web site, offered as an introduction for would-be students.

While the program is proceeding according to plan, the stresses of success can be difficult, according to Lukaszewicz.

“”The biggest challenge I think was managing the expectations out there,”” she says. “”People don’t need to be sold on e-learning as a concept.””

During the planning stages, Lukaszewicz says it was important to keep the project realistic, while leaving room for future enhancements. Web-based projects that are based on self-directed approaches to learning are only one method being considered.

“”You have to start somewhere,”” she says. “”We’re looking towards building it up to discussion groups,”” as well as more mixed approaches to learning.

Blais identifies two groups he says are essential in the project’s success: “”specialists”” (often HR personnel responsible for training and staff development) and managers. “”The learning specialists are in a position to provide e-learning within their organization.””

For their part, managers are particularly important in removing barriers to e-learning in their departments.

“”This is all driven from the point of view that employees need to develop their own program.””

This can mean getting supervisors to test courseware themselves before rolling it out to other staff. “”If you’re going to promote a changing environment, it’s nice to try it first.””

Yet each department has its own unique set of requirements and strategies, Lukaszewicz says. For instance, one department asked for help developing an e-learning program for 40 new recruits, making for a more user-focused strategy. In another case, the emphasis was on the leadership team, consisting of about 50 managers.

Lukaszewicz says the program’s results will be monitored throughout the test phase. The CCMD has also bought courseware management software to measure performance.

“”In each of these cases, we’ll be tracking the utilization of these courses,”” Lukaszewicz says. “”This is a pilot. We keep reminding ourselves of that.””

Other prerequisites for success include providing a setting free of disruption. It can be difficult for employees to learn from their desktops in the face of continual interruptions by managers and co-workers. Lukaszewicz says a simple sign letting others know a user is not to be disturbed can sometimes be effective, while Blais says that in some cases, staff can work in a separate, quieter space or from home.

He notes that ultimately, e-learning isn’t just a human resource concern. Without proper infrastructural planning, projects can succumb to technical glitches. This can include ensuring enough server capacity for Internet-intense learning or preparing the help support desk for a new line of inquiries. “”It needs to be looked at as a complete team effort,”” he says.

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