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Dutch consultancy Ordina looks at learning from a new perspective

During the course of several projects for public and commercial organizations, Dutch consultancy Ordina developed a goals-driven methodology and solution kit for learning and performance support.

The challenge

According to research performed by the University of Twente, Netherlands, there is a 7.6% performance loss of Dutch employees as a result of information and communications technology (ICT) changes like introducing a new IT system.  Poor skills and lack of support are the typical challenges after a system change. Whereas this may sound manageable, it translates to costs of approximatively 19,300,000,000 € to the economy. So, what could an ICT provider do to correct this situation? On one hand, it can invest in more training or intensify their change management efforts. But the reality of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve means that a big chunk of what is learnt is forgotten very soon after the initial training takes place – meaning, that even if you train people before the go-live of an ICT system, inefficiencies are bound to occur when it comes to applying knowledge in a live environment, at the moment of need.

In fact, all the research shows that knowledge drops significantly just after traditional training has taken place and then continues to diminish as time progresses – and this is precisely what accounts for a large proportion of the inefficiency costs, regardless of the quality of the implemented software.

Another way is to prepare the learners better before the formal training begins through a blended learning approach. “Very often learners come to training without any preparation, which means that the first couple of hours are wasted bringing them up to speed,” says Louis van Cuijk, Principal Learning Expert at VisionWorks, a division of leading Dutch consultancy Ordina.

Therefore, in 2010 the company introduced a blended learning solution provided via a digital platform, which enabled monitoring of the learners’ progress.

Louis van Cuijk, Principal Learning Expert at VisionWorks, a division of leading Dutch consultancy Ordina.

We changed our mindset from an exclusive focus on discrete learning incidents to learning paths. Of course we still did the training, but we blended in self-directed learning.


Louis van Cuijk, Principal Learning Expert at VisionWorks, a division of Ordina

By switching to this blended approach, the real training focuses on doing hands-on exercises, and is only available to people who have previously completed the introductory e-learnings.

Ordina applied this approach for an SAP finance and control implementation at the Dutch Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Healthcare. It was a great success and the actual time spent on formal training was reduced by 50%.

However, Ordina still encountered a performance problem. The Ebbinhaus’ Forgetting Curve had been evened out with the blended learning approach –  it did not diminish as quickly as it was the case with pure traditional training – but learners could not maintain their high performance level experienced directly after the blended training. Van Cuijk uses the analogy of banking to explain the challenge. Many years ago, it was only possible to obtain cash across the counter during a bank’s opening hours.

After about 4 p.m. on weekdays and during weekends, it was not possible to get cash. So banks introduced cash machines. But this was only a partial solution: customers had to find a machine and then queue for their cash. It was not convenient. It did not provide money at the moment of need. Nowadays, with all kinds of online and mobile transactions, money follows the customer wherever he needs it: the parking lot, the supermarket, the vending machine.

The same is true of learning: even with the addition of blended learning, the knowledge required to support performance while doing your job – knowledge at the moment of need – is absent. What is needed is the learning equivalent of electronic cash.

70-20-10: the case for performance support

Most learning is actually done while on the job – as a rule of thumb, about 70%, as against 20% of learning that is acquired through informal learning (for example exchange of information between co-workers) and 10% in formal training – the famous 70-20-10 model. Ordina decided that they had to put much greater focus on the 70%, with the use of performance support.

The new approach incorporated blended learning for a succesful go-live, but added performance support to ensure that levels of competency were maintained thereafter. “In fact, performance support was available from the start of blended learning, before the go-live. The role of trainers was to provide users with challenging tasks and to observe how they resolve their difficulties, in particular, how they are making use the performance support tool,” van Cuijk says. This approach has been called “flipped learning”. The trainers made things more difficult, not easier, so that learning was acquired by doing, not simply by absorbing knowledge – because this is how knowledge is actually retained.

The electronic platform also made it possible to monitor results: not merely statistics on who has attended training or completed an e-learning, but analysis of what people know, and importantly how well people are actually performing. In fact, this analysis could be used to take important decisions such as when to actually go live with the new system.

Goals-driven learning design

During another project at a Dutch Central Government Real Estate Agency, responsible for maintenance of government buildings and public monuments, Ordina was set very objective goals for learning from the very beginning. The Agency’s main concern in the implementation of an Oracle EBS system was to improve data quality after going live. “When you are designing an orchestrated set of services for learning and performance support, your starting point should always be to ask the organization what are the results they want to achieve. In general, they will address this from the perspective of the inputs (trainings, e-learnings, but this is content. Evaluating the quality of content does not help you to measure the competency of the performers, nor does it measure the quality of the outputs,” van Cuijk explains.

The model that Ordina uses is therefore a turnaround in thinking. “We ask the customer first about their vision for the workplace in the context of the organizational goals. We then assess what skills are required and design the learning solution accordingly. If we know what skills are needed, then we can measure how well the learning solution and learning process have succeeded in terms of employee performance and its impact on what really matters.”

For another Ordina project with the Dutch Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, one of the main challenges that they were facing was the number of relevant documents from different sources attached to each and every asylum seeker: a constant source of inefficiency and confusion. “In this case the metric was fairly simple: we counted the average number of documents per asylum seeker before we delivered our integrated learning approach, and the number afterwards,” van Cuijk recalls.

tt performance suite as the basis for performance support

To include performance support in its learning methodology, Ordina turned to tts. “As with all of the tools we provide to customers, our performance support tool needed to be established and easy to use. Another important feature was that it had to be scalable, as we are working on large projects,” van Cuijk says. New projects with tts that are planned include designing a learning methodology, including performance support, for Canisius-Wilhelmina-Ziekenhuis, a large hospital in Nijmegen. As other Dutch hospitals are looking to cut costs, our learning methodology and performance support by tts could make a real difference.

It will start as a project to support Oracle e-business suite users, but the Oracle Learning and Performance kit also provides the blueprint for performance support of a new hospital information system as well as possible application in other Dutch hospitals, which are under pressure to contain costs.

“Another thing we did was to ‘eat our own dog food’,” jokes van Cuijk. Ordina introduced a blended learning approach for an important SAP implementation within its own organization, and relied on tts & their performance support solution to produce step-by-step guides and instructions. These guides were accessed via a high-level process diagram that visually depicted each stage in the work process (such as registering contractors, completing contracts, assignments etc.) – support that met the “two clicks, ten seconds” criteria.

The response of the team was highly positive. “One of the best feedbacks was, ‘The training was good, but so long as I have these guides, I know I’ll be OK’,” van Cuijk reports. The main challenge that should not be underestimated, he says, is to design the guides to be simple and short. Once you have done that, the implementation part is fairly is simple.

The whole “flipped learning” approach – acquiring knowledge by doing, rather than via teaching – seems simple when it is stated, and can have a sensational impact on employee competence and productivity. Perhaps it could even put a dent in that incredible annual € 19.3 billion cost of ICT inefficiencies to the Dutch economy quoted at the start of this article.

“When our customers see the results they are always pleased that we convinced them to look at learning from a new angle,” van Cuijk concludes.