Online and on demand

High flyers

Bringing high flyers down to earth to focus on training programs can challenge managers so Patric Moberger opted for a board game to get the message across to Qantas flight attendants.

Airlines have strict national and international compliance regulations which must be met on both standard operating procedures and safety and service processes. Moberger, who is manager of customer service training and development for Qantas, needed an annual update program for Qantas College Online, the airline's learning management system.

With an already competent audience, Moberger chose a program that was fun, interactive and highly competitive - giving 'frequent learner points' to the attendants which they could then swap for business-related prizes.

To get the program under way, Moberger selected Tata Interactive Systems based on a previous project for domestic flight attendants.

He said that, because of its compliance nature, the program's deadline were tight, which the India-based vendor met with the geographical distances causing no barriers or delays.

One company pioneering a workplace e-learning project is Masterfoods Australia New Zealand at its Bathurst NSW facility.

The project is being carried out in conjunction with the 2005 Australian Flexible Learning Framework, a one-year, $15 million national strategy funded by the Australian government and all states and territories to provide the vocational education and training system with e-learning skills, professional development opportunities, products, resources and support networks.

Developed by Masterfoods and the Central West Community College in Orange NSW over the last five years, the program, over the next 12 months, will see the college work with Masterfoods to develop online certification and assessment programs using a mix of traditional and onsite e-learning applications.

Masterfoods training coordinator John Lamberton believes the move towards e-learning is the logical next step for the company to provide increased levels of training flexibility in the workplace.

"As well as providing associates with the opportunity to achieve Certificates 2 and 3 in Food Processing, the online learning system will also offer them a broad assortment of other training program options ranging from basic computer skills through to Certificate 4 in Front Line Management," Lamberton said.

Meanwhile, Central West Community College project manager Sharon Bradley said this project is just the tip of the iceberg.

"Because the project involves piloting new e-learning techniques specifically designed for a food processing company, I believe that what we are offering within the workplace will also be attractive to a wide range of related industries across Australia," Bradley said.

"I'm also excited by this project because it further enhances the skills of our own trainers who, in turn, will be able to impart new e-learning techniques on to other industry's trainers and assessors."

Once complete, the e-learning program is expected to be used in the company's other plants in NSW and Victoria.

Learning on the go

In case e-learning strikes the student as too static, technology has another option.

Mobile learning, or m-learning, is adding mobility to training and is predicted to become a popular option over the next five years even, says Marcus Bowles, managing director at the Institute for Working Futures, that it is the next wave in e-learning.

"It has always been a component of e-learning but now with greater accessibility to mobile devices we are going to see the impact far greater than the hype," Bowles said.

Factors identified as fuelling m-learning's rise to prominence include all-time high rates of mobile phone access, especially among younger generations, advances in mobile technology, falling costs of mobile use and greater expenditure on mobile infrastructure by companies.

Bowles said the predominance of individuals who now have a mobile phone with Internet connection is going to be the main driver in the rise of m-learning.

Also, to meet the growing mobile demand, all the large telecommunication companies in Australia have been scrambling to ensure they have access to third-generation (3G) mobile infrastructure.

However, Bowles claims the present costs of running mobile communication technology has restricted m-learning's uptake, especially for small to medium size businesses and training providers, but this will change when the cost of wireless falls.

"Industry is demanding learning that is far more responsive and on demand," Bowles said.

"M-learning can make the learning process more contextualized to the individual worker's needs and in a lot of situations the workforce needs to learn new information when they are dealing with workplace and training issues out in the field."

In 2004, the Institute of TAFE Tasmania undertook a project built around the trial of m-learning in practical environments, funded by the Australian Flexible Learning Framework.

One trial undertaken at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens saw senior botanists develop a catalogue of tree disorders which was then uploaded to PDAs.

Using their PDAs, staff, from gardeners through to apprentices, could stand in any section of the gardens and have information available about tree disorders relevant to the trees in their immediate vicinity.

Botanical estate manager Richard Symmonds says that a sense of being involved in mobile technology made staff more enthusiastic.

However, TAFE Tasmania mobile learning project manager Marcus Ragus said because m-learning was still in its infancy, it needed industry engagement and government funding.

"The virtual learning environment which these mobile devices offer has great scope for rural and remote learners, and industry areas that are looking for alternatives to the current e-learning process," Ragus said.

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