FTSA, the parent company of the France Telecom group, along with its constituent companies, are experiencing the benefits of introducing e-learning into the development strategies for their 200,000 or so employees throughout the world. Bob Little reports
Although France Telecom has been using some elements of computer based learning since 1993, it took its first tentative steps in e-learning some five years ago. It is only in the last year or so, however, that e-learning within the group has begun to take off.
"In the summer of 2004, we carried out a controlled test on the effectiveness and use of e-learning within France Telecom," explains Yves Scaviner, deputy manager for group training at France Telecom. "We asked 1500 of the company's managers to work through a number of e-learning courses -- delivered through the medium of both French and English -- and over 60 per cent were won over to e-learning as a result of this experience. And now they have become real ambassadors for e-learning and the spearhead for its deployment in operational units throughout France."
The France Telecom (FT) Group comprises five major subsidiaries : TP Group, based in Poland; Orange, which has a presence in 17 countries; Equant, which provides services for the top 3,000 multinational companies in 200 countries across the world; Wanadoo, the Internet connection provider; and FTSA, the parent company of France Telecom.
"It's not easy to change a prevailing corporate training culture and implement e-learning overnight," says Scaviner. "Face-to-face training is the traditionally accepted method of learning which everyone understands -- even if it doesn't suit their individual learning style.
"The secret of introducing e-learning and gaining rank-and-file acceptance of it as a learning delivery method is not only to have high profile endorsement from senior management but also to convince line managers of the benefits and advantages of e-learning. Moreover, you also have to prove to employees that e-learning is not 'second class learning' simply because it rubs against traditional classroom learning.
"E-learning offers many benefits and advantages over more traditional methods of training delivery," Scaviner explains. "It is true that developing and using e-learning can result in major cost savings -- especially where training large numbers of employees is concerned. However, while this is a significant reason for France Telecom, it is not the main reason that we are increasing our use of e-learning.
"As a company, our business is in providing the infrastructure to encourage and enhance 'e-transformation' -- so, in embracing e-learning, we are helping to set an example to our clients and suppliers.
"But, for us, the most important benefit of e-learning is that it is a more efficient way of presenting learning than via the classroom," he continued. "Our studies have shown that learners learn faster when they use e-learning, compared with conventional classroom-based teaching methods. Typically, we have seen that what takes some six hours to teach in a classroom can be learnt in four hours in the virtual classroom and three hours if done via distance learning. This makes e-learning a highly efficient as well as cost-effective way to learn."
Mindful of the dangers of putting all its eggs in one basket, while FTSA is increasing the emphasis it places on e-learning within the companies in its group, Scaviner is also keen to stress that its human resource development strategy is dependent on a 'blended approach' -- that is, a mixture of classroom-delivered training with virtual classroom and distance learning inter alia.
Having realised the cost-effectiveness of e-learning, compared with other learning delivery methods -- especially for companies with widely dispersed workforces, such as Equant -- FTSA is actively pursuing a strategy that will result in half of its training/learning activities being delivered via e-learning in 2006. The current volume of training/learning delivered via e-learning within the group is some 20 per cent. This e-learning comprises a mixture of custom built e-learning, mainly developed in-house, and generic e-learning courseware from two worldwide suppliers of training software.
"Where transferable skills are concerned, we do not want to produce in-house what is already available in the marketplace," says Scaviner. "That is why we have bought licences for some 3,000 generic e-learning courses.
"Although France Telecom's 200,000 employees have theoretical access to each of these courses, in practice FT training staff choose a learning path for each learner based on that person's revealed training needs," Scaviner adds. "Currently, the most accessed programmes cover general management issues; managing meetings; discovering your management style; managing stress, and motivating staff."
According to France Telecom's Odile Demery: "E-learning -- both virtual classroom and distance learning -- can be delivered to learners' desk-tops but many France Telecom employees work in open space and there is a greater chance of them being disturbed during their learning time. For this reason, France Telecom has made available some 400 dedicated training booths around the country -- known as 'Espace Clic-n-learn' -- where individuals can study undisturbed. So the booths -- time in which can be pre-booked online -- offer an ideal solution."
"We are popularising e-learning throughout France Â© Telecom via a number of initiatives, including posters and mousemats advertising 'Espace Clic-n-Learn'," said Demery.
"Ultimately the popularity of e-learning will depend on the 'me too' factor -- as people see their colleagues visiting the Clic-n-Learn booths and benefiting from their new knowledge and skills."
CASE STUDY 1
Christine Skelhorn, head of training at Orange, passionately believes that e-learning is the way forward for Orange. Along with her training team and e-learning co-ordinator Amanda Yarrow, she is committed to providing all Orange employees with access to innovative, effective and enjoyable learning. At the beginning of 2004, Orange launched its e-learning strategy with a Corporate Induction module, developed with TATA Interactive Systems (TIS).
In its ten years of existence, Orange has grown to some 12,000 employees in the UK. As the company continues to grow so, too, does its requirement to recruit staff -- especially in the customer services field -- and give them induction training. Until the advent of the e-learning materials, the corporate induction programme was a three-hour PowerPoint presentation conducted, as required, by any of the company's available trainers.
"We are delighted at the positive feedback we've received to the induction module," says Amanda Yarrow. "In particular, it's been a real winner with new starters across the business.
"Users range from engineers who have worked at Orange for many years to newly recruited customer service staff. They all seem to like the image we've adopted of a 'fairy godmother'. This virtual entity guides them through the programme and helps to dispel any 'techno' fears that they may have. She also helps to add meaning and significance to the contents of the induction programme.
"Importantly, TIS seems to have hit on a style of presentation which appeals to everyone in the company," Amanda Yarrow adds.
Orange has a number of further e-learning programmes in development for 2005 and beyond.
"It's been an encouraging start with Orange Induction and we really look forward to building on our achievement in the future," concluded Yarrow.
CASE STUDY 2
In less than two years, Equant -- part of the FTSA group -- has provided ongoing e-learning to some 9,500 employees worldwide, saving $6.5m in the process.
Equant operates a worldwide telecommunications network that manages 152,000 user connections across 220 countries for some 3,700 customers. Its employees need ongoing training in a range of topics including IT skills, project management, problem solving and negotiation skills.
With so many of its employees based throughout the world, Equant knew that traditional classroom-based training was time-consuming and costly, so it implemented a blended learning strategy integrating elements of classroom-based training with e-learning. The bulk of its e-learning programmes are provided by SkillSoft's IT and business related courses. SkillSoft also provides a '24/7' mentoring service to support its IT curriculum.
By the end of 2003, Equant had over 8,500 of its employees using e-learning -- a user rate of over 85 per cent -- at a cost per employee of less than $100 for 24/7 access to 700 courses.
Access to e-learning is:
* Having a positive impact on levels of staff retention at Equant.
* Helping employees to become proficient in their jobs more quickly - thus reducing costs, increasing productivity and revenue.
* Enabling employees based in more remote locations to feel a closer part of the Equant 'family' and providing more development opportunities than were previously available to them.
Bob Little is a freelance communications writer