As a business manager, Monique is responsible for clients with an international focus, who are often located both in the Netherlands and abroad. ‘In short, I help companies to increase their business by developing their procurement organisations,’ explains Monique. ‘This leads to growth, cost benefits and innovation, among other things. Our clients often have complex needs for which a one-size-fits-all training programme isn’t sufficient. I analyse their needs and put together a customised package.’
Let’s just do itLast year, before anyone had even heard of the coronavirus, Nevi was already taking initial steps towards providing online learning. Monique: ‘Large clients were already working on this, and I felt that we shouldn’t get left behind. Together with Albert Wijnschenk, In-company Programme Manager, I developed a pilot training programme for a client that incorporated blended learning. We used the Teams platform, which was already available.’ What they didn’t know at the time was that this experience would stand them in good stead when the coronavirus broke out. Thanks to having set up this pilot, they had already acquired the first insights that would enable them to make the switch rapidly. Monique: ‘There were clients who suspended their training, but when the first request to go online came in, we were able to enter into consultations quickly. I had the feeling of: Let’s just do it!’
Different time zones and culturesWhen you decide to offer online learning to international companies, you soon encounter all kinds of interesting challenges. ‘A globally operating Scandinavian client would normally fly in trainers, and a client in Indonesia wanted to train people who were located in three different time zones. This meant that trainers had to be available at different times.’ Aside from the time zones, you also deal with cross-cultural issues, such as different languages and cultural norms. ‘With online training, you don’t have the opportunity to chat with your participants and connect with them during the break.’
Poor connectionsDelivering training programmes online and in a blended format requires a lot of flexibility and adaptability on the part of the trainers. According to Monique, not all of the trainers were enthusiastic about this. ‘That took all our powers of persuasion. After all, the client just wants to receive their training. The trainers have to provide the facilities and learn to work with them, and that requires a different set of skills. They had to get used to addressing participants more directly and keeping them involved in the lesson. We also had to deal with participants who had a poor connection. You can’t take it for granted that you’ll have a stable and properly functioning internet connection in Indonesia or Africa. Trainers therefore had to do a lot of testing.’
FacilitatorsMonique realised that there was a need for support in the form of English-speaking facilitators – people who would help the trainer with the technology and with maintaining contact with individual participants. ‘Colleagues tried all kinds of things to find creative solutions. For example, Albert took on the role of facilitator, but we’ve also deployed students for this. And a trainer in the UK asked his own partner to help out.’
Guaranteeing qualityIt rapidly became clear that blended learning routes require a different approach to in-person training. Monique: ‘From the client’s point of view, it couldn’t be more expensive, and we wanted to ensure the same level of quality. You also can’t keep up online training for as long. We set up the training programmes in half-day blocks and adapted the teaching materials by coming up with smaller assignments and creating videos. Between blocks, the participants did assignments and watched videos. They could also work together in breakout rooms or get in contact with each other between training days.
Further development through co-creationThe second coronavirus wave also made a rapid response necessary. Still, Monique is already one step ahead in her thinking. ‘Today’s urgency has provided greater clarity about the demand. Now that we’ve discovered what the costs, time and efficiency of online and blended learning are, we can also get clearer about what’s needed to take it to the next level. Together with trainers, we are going to take a co-creation approach towards developing new products. For example, we’re considering integrating webinars into the blended learning package.
This represents not only an opportunity, but also a necessity – after all, if you don’t take action, someone else will get there before you.’