U.K. experiments with luggable e-learning containers

Ministry of Defence ships portable e-learning centers wherever training is needed

To deliver training to its hard-to-reach and far-flung workforce, the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence has gone mobile. Ministry officials now rely on portable Electronic Learning Centers, which are e-learning systems in a box. They can ship the units worldwide at a moment's notice.

The portable centers are so successful that they've become the primary way that some U.K. military services deliver training to workers in places where e-learning had been almost impossible to deliver.

The Royal Navy, for example, bought 11 units to use aboard ships. The Royal Air Force installed one in Basra, Iraq, to provide training.

"The rapid-reaction [centers] can go anywhere," said Paul Piper, assistant director of corporate services at the ministry's Defence Business Learning organization. "We couldn't envision using e-learning onboard ships before, but these allow us to do it anywhere."

The e-learning centers are a recent development. Several years ago, e-learning was restricted and low tech, and employees completed about 100,000 training days each year in classrooms. They spent only 20,000 training days using CD-ROMs and desktop computers at fixed locations.

With the e-learning centers, trainees spend about the same amount of time in classrooms, but they now spend more than 100,000 training days per year working on courses offered via the Web and the ministry's intranet.

The e-learning centers have also improved the quality of training, Piper said. "We can use e-learning to deliver certain parts of the training, bring people into face-to-face workshops to learn how to apply their knowledge and then provide updates as needed again through e-learning," he said.

In addition, the centers provide a continuous training experience for ministry workers who frequently relocate.

Each of the portable learning centers contains up to 12 rugged laptop computers. An additional laptop PC functions as a server for a wireless LAN, which is also part of the unit.

"All it needs is one semi-IT-literate person to set it up," said John Bruce, business development manager at LogicaCMG-Training, the ministry's corporate partner. "All anyone has to do to use the system is know how to use a mouse," he said.

The e-learning centers use learning management system software from Pathlore Software. It tracks the courses that people take and their performance. That information helps maintain trainees' status when they log into an e-learning center computer.

Once a group finishes its training, officials ship the unit back to its home base. Ministry officials can download information about completed courses and individual student performance and place it into a centralized system that tracks results.

E-learning is catching on as a training tool, said Bruce Duff, a senior vice president at Pathlore. Europe and the Far East are rapidly catching up to the United States in e-learning, he said, adding that it is still not part of the mainstream in the United Kingdom.

Benefits of e-learning centers

Officials in the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence cite advantages gained from the use of fixed and portable e-learning centers. They say the centers have:

  • Substantially increased the number of employees who can receive training.
  • Improved the quality of the training employees receive.
  • Extended e-learning to remote locations where the ministry had been unable to offer training.

— Brian Robinson

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