Collaborative online learning drives growth, sustainability for Resound

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In May 2015, UK-based professional education and learning provider Resound Training and Development responded to client demands for a more flexible, distributed approach to training by shifting to an online learning model using software from Noddlepod. As a result, the company has been able to expand its portfolio of courses and position itself strongly for future growth.

Case study key facts

Organisation Resound Training & Development
Industry Education
Current goals In an increasingly competitive marketplace, Resound needed to find an effective way to include online learning in its programmes, to respond to customers’ needs to reduce cost and better support their distributed workforces. The company also saw online learning as a way to scale and grow the Resound business itself.
Current approach Following a short trial in conjunction with one of its clients, in May 2015 Resound began incorporating online collaborative groups as a standard part of its learning programmes – even those with a strong face-to-face focus – providing a central place for sharing course materials, as well as enabling ongoing interaction between learners and tutors.
Outcome In just over a year, online learning has grown to become a major aspect – and asset – of Resound’s business, underpinning all its courses and bringing consistency and repeatability to existing programmes. Building on early online learning successes with its clients, Resound launched an online-only programme based on the platform, delivering Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) accredited courses. While it is still early days for this initiative, the company is confident that it will help drive growth and sustainability to help Resound compete more effectively as a small player in this space.
Tools and suppliers used Noddlepod

Organisation background

Founded in 2004, Resound Training and Development is a small, UK-based education and learning services provider that delivers high impact learning programmes and events using drama-based learning, forum theatre, videos, coaching and online tools. Led by experienced trainer Gill Brabner, Resound works in partnership with organisations to deliver occupational learning courses and programmes across the UK and internationally, as well as providing independent training courses and professional qualifications.

Resound is an approved Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) centre and provider, offering ILM Leadership and Management, and ILM Coaching and Mentoring qualifications. The company also designs and delivers bespoke programmes for clients that carry ILM endorsement.

As a privately held limited company, Resound is based in London, and employs a select group of educational trainers on a contract basis, as well as engaging actors to create and deliver drama-based services.

Recent Resound clients include Barts Health NHS Trust, East of England Ambulance NHS Trust and Estuary Housing Association.

Project background and drivers

Against a background of having delivered predominantly face-to-face training engagements, over the last few years Resound began encountering growing interest from clients in a more online-oriented approach to training for their employees, both to reduce the cost of delivering courses and also to better meet the needs and working situations of employees. Increasingly global and distributed workforces mean that it is becoming more difficult and costly to bring people together for training, and it is even more difficult where employees are in frontline roles or carrying out client-facing, fee-paying work, and therefore have limited availability to take time out during the day for training programmes.

As a small company in an increasingly competitive education market, Resound needed to find a way to address these challenges – not just to meet the immediate demands of clients and prospects, but also to help scale the business, as well as reinforcing its differentiation and leadership in this space. Inspired by this idea, in 2015 Resound’s Director Gill Brabner began studying for an MSc in Digital Education at Edinburgh University, which was delivered entirely via online media and tools, and was further encouraged that this was a great opportunity for the Resound business.

Drawing on these experiences, Brabner began investigating technology options available to support this shift, with a view to identifying a solution that would meet the needs of her clients, as well as her broader business.

Solution overview and status

In September 2015, following a three-month trial period, Resound formally began using a collaborative learning platform provided by UK-based vendor Noddlepod within its training programmes. In October 2015, the company launched a new, accredited Institute of Learning Management course, purely via distance learning and underpinned by the SaaS-based Noddlepod platform.

Today, for every course offered by Resound, an online collaborative learning group is created, providing the primary place for sharing and accessing course content and materials, with learners invited to join the group to interact with each other and the course tutor.

Technology selection and implementation

With a small team, limited budget and no in-house technical capability, the requirements for Resound’s online learning solution were that it was low cost, very simple to deploy, and easy to use – with no ongoing requirements for management or maintenance of the platform. Brabner was also keen for the vendor to be responsive and flexible, particularly given the small size of the organisation, and it was important that the solution was designed explicitly for business use.

Brabner had come across Noddlepod through her course at Edinburgh University, and invited the vendor to demo the product. She liked the simplicity of the Noddlepod platform, as well as its structured approach to content delivery combined with support for social interaction and discussion. The fact that the platform was fully hosted and easy to set up was also a deciding factor, and communication and support was very direct and responsive, due to the vendor’s own small size.

Resound began trialling the Noddlepod technology for three months beginning in March 2015, creating groups as part of its ongoing courses, and testing the capabilities of the tool with small groups of learners in a real-world setting, alongside face-to-face sessions. At the same time, one of Brabner’s private clients was also trialling Noddlepod, which provided a second opportunity for her to assess the effectiveness and suitability of the platform. Feedback from these trials was used to help shape Resound’s approach for future courses that would have a more significant online weighting. Following the success of the trial, in September 2015 Resound signed a contract with Noddlepod.

Driving adoption

During the trial period and the first few months afterwards, the Resound team learned a lot about the way people responded or engaged with the platform – or not. They quickly recognised that people need a lot of encouragement, with the trainers needing to be very proactive in their facilitation, posting content, questions and comments frequently to prompt learners to respond and interact, as well as having to adapt quickly to the dynamics of a particular group. Although the Resound team are experienced in facilitating training sessions in a face-to-face environment, the online community management aspects of online learning were new to them, and the Noddlepod team helped by providing best practice advice and engagement approaches. Resound has found that getting the numbers right within a group is key; if the group is too small, it is harder to get people interacting. Around 20-30 learners per group seems to work well for Resound, although this depends on how active people are. The company has also found that it is much easier to get – and keep – people engaged over a shorter period; sustaining this throughout a longer, modular course is more difficult.

The majority of learners on Resound’s courses have responded positively to the online learning concept, but some are more resistant to it, largely because they feel more comfortable or familiar with traditional face-to-face approaches. To help overcome this, Resound tends to combine the online platform with other methods – short courses also have webinars and conference calls to help connect people, and longer programmes have face-to-face contact days as well.

To help familiarise new course participants – both with the course itself and with the Noddlepod environment – Resound includes an initial ‘orientation’ week with every course it hosts. During this week, the trainer posts regularly about the course plan and how to use the tool, as well as setting a number of activities for learners that are designed to familiarise them and make them comfortable with how everything will work. These activities include, for example, booking their introductory call with the tutor, setting up their group profile, introducing themselves to the online group, and doing any background reading required. In practice, Resound finds that most learners tend to be fairly “tech savvy”, and it doesn’t take them long to get to grips with the platform, although some do take a little longer.

The tutors themselves have found the platform very easy to use, and have developed a more structured and repeatable process to help ensure consistency and maximise engagement on each course. As well as posting regularly and asking questions of the group, they have found that setting weekly activities within Noddlepod works well, encouraging learners to carry out a task, and then post their results in the online group. This sparks discussion both between learners and with the tutor, and gives people a reason to engage, drawing them together. Another observation that has impacted the tutors’ approach is that even the learners who aren’t necessarily posting are often regular readers of the activity that takes place within the group – highlighting the importance of ensuring there is always new content for them to see, to keep them coming back.

Governance and lifecycle management

As well as commenting on posts created by the tutor, learners are able to create their own posts within the online group, for example sharing information that they’ve learned relating to the topic. To date, Resound has not had any issues of people posting inappropriate content within groups; all interaction has been professional and respectful. Resound tutors encourage learners to ensure they are posting information into the right category within their course group, but if they post it in the wrong place, the tutor (acting as administrator/moderator for their course group) will move it for them.

When a course comes to an end, the group typically remains accessible by the course attendees for 4-6 weeks to allow everyone to take what they want from it, in particular their private posts from the course, and any reading that they may have missed. The core group content is then saved into a new group – using the templating feature of the platform – ready for the next iteration of the course, and the remainder (comments, discussions etc.) is deleted.

The results

The online collaborative learning platform provided by Noddlepod has helped Resound Training and Development to transform its business, by offering new and more flexible training programmes that cost clients less due to the decreased travel and accommodation expenses associated with face-to-face sessions, while at the same time also enabling the Resound business to scale to support a much larger number of clients and courses throughout each year.

The platform itself provides a central place for storing, sharing and accessing course resources that’s always available, and now provides the cornerstone for all Resound’s courses, even those with stronger face-to-face emphasis. The semi-structured approach – balancing a weekly course structure with more ad hoc social sharing and discussion – enables learners to participate in the course as their time and availability allows, while maintaining a clear sense of what the current topic is, and what they need to do next. Additionally, while some of Resound’s courses continue to have face-to-face elements, the fact that people have “met” via the online platform first means that in-person sessions can be more productive right from the start. Feedback from students indicates that they welcome the freedom and always-available nature of the online learning platform, and because there is a central place to catch up on what’s been happening, it’s easier to remain motivated and engaged throughout the course – which adds to its impact and value, both to learners and their employers.

In practical terms for Resound, the online platform helps the business to be more viable and sustainable, better-supporting the repeatability of courses, and enabling the launch of the high-profile ILM accredited qualifications programme. For the tutors themselves, the online learning platform introduces a new flexibility to the way they are able to work, supporting groups from wherever they are located, and – as is often typical for self-employed people – alongside the many other roles and responsibilities they have.

Recommendations for adopters

In our conversations with Resound Training and Development for this case study, Gill Brabner offered the following recommendations and advice to other organisations considering a similar strategy:

  • Allow people to embrace online learning at their own pace. Not everyone will accept online learning immediately, and some people will continue to need regular one-to-one interaction either via phone or in person – so ensure your strategy is accepting of this, and that it allows you to be flexible.
  • Online learning groups demand a LOT of facilitation. While the technology may offer “social”, interactive features, people rarely embrace these on day one – they need lots of encouragement, support, reminding and prompting to start to interact. You need to build a sense of community within the group, and this is very much the role of the tutor to facilitate and create trust among learners who may not already know each other.
  • In-person sessions still have considerable value. Online learning brings flexibility and scalability to a learning programme, but traditional face-to-face sessions can help to reinforce learning by encouraging course participants to get to know and connect better with others on the course, in turn improving their ability to interact as a group on the platform.

Best practice insights

Resound’s experience with its shift to an online learning approach brings a number of interesting best practice insights, and in particular highlights the significance of behavioural factors on achieving success with this type of initiative.

Although the technology has much in common with enterprise social networking platforms – notably through the presence of collaborative groups, discussions and content sharing – the nature of the group dynamic here is very different, having more in common with time-constrained, project-based collaboration than more open-ended communities of interest, for example. Because learners’ use of the collaborative learning platform is solely in the context of the course they are taking, there is considerable pressure to make sure the “onboarding” process for the tool is as simple and intuitive as possible, so that individuals are not disadvantaged in their learning through challenges in using the technology. This is partly enabled here through the simplicity of the tool, but Resound has also taken a proactive step to make sure familiarisation – both with the course and the tool – is an integral part of the first week of each course, giving those who are less familiar with such technologies the chance to explore and experiment before the course begins in earnest.

Resound’s experience with the importance of active facilitation in an online group environment is also extremely important to note, particularly as there is limited time (especially on short courses) to allow a viral adoption pattern to occur, as might be taken in a broader enterprise-wide collaboration initiative.

Additionally, while there are many advantages of moving to an increasingly online approach to learning and development – both to organisations, to training providers and to individual learners themselves – it’s vital to recognise that not everyone will fully embrace the concept of online learning, and that different people will adopt it at different speeds. As such, a blended learning approach that combines both traditional in-person interactions (be those in a classroom session or via other methods such as conference calls, for example) allows those who are not so enthusiastic to make the transition at a more comfortable pace for them.

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