Archive for August, 2012

Saffron Interactive is proud to announce that three of our e-learning courses have been shortlisted for the prestigious E-Learning Awards, despite stiff competition from over 200 other submissions. We have been recognised for the following categories:

  • Excellence in the production of learning content – public sector

Transport for London: Building mental resilience

  •  Excellence in the production of learning content – private sector

PwC: Data Gathering and Research

  • Best e-learning project – private sector

Heathrow Express: Emergency Response

The nominations are a recognition of Saffron’s commitment to delivering bespoke e-learning solutions of the highest quality. Our solutions focus on improving performance through bringing about behavioural change, and we’re hoping that this year’s awards will add to our outstanding record of success.

The award ceremony will be held at the London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square on 8 November 2012.

The impact of feedback

Ian Lee-Emery

With businesses under pressure and budgets even more so, deciding who to develop and progress has never been more challenging, more important or under such financial scrutiny. HR departments are responsible for delivering focused and accountable training programmes, creating up-to-date succession plans and managing talent pools, and are increasingly being asked to deliver more and to do so more quickly and for less money.

Feedback is a very powerful and surprisingly cost effective means to assess and develop individuals, teams and the business as a whole. Cost effective ‘talent’ tools are now available for organisations of all sizes and the wider benefits can be accrued without the need for full-blown enterprise systems. Used effectively, these tools allow employees to receive structured and meaningful feedback on their performance, construct focussed training plans and work experience opportunities and set realistic career aspirations. For the organisation, collating results can help inform the overall skills development plan, training and succession plans. This article examines the role and contribution that feedback can make to the development of both individual and organisational capability.


e-Learning is not an event, it’s a stage on a journey.

Phil Green

We often speak of voyages of discovery, and indeed it is not hard to draw parallels between the traveller and the learner.

Some people travel for business or necessity; others for escape, discovery or pleasure. Some delight in mystery tours, even though they run the risk of covering old ground; for others it is the very familiarity of old ground that holds the attraction. Some depend upon a travel agent to help guide their choice of destination and plan for the richest experience of sights and sounds upon the way; others make do with a map or guide and a phrase book to overcome cultural and language barriers at more exotic destinations.

Some check itineraries and tickets, making certain their passports are valid; others go ill-prepared, lose their way or check in too soon and suffer a long and frustrating delay; yet others arrive so late that they run the risk of missing their plane. Some carry too much baggage and so find it hard to maintain a brisk pace; others pack too little and soon feel the lack of some essential. Indeed, not all journeys are problem-free. Even the best-prepared traveller can suffer delays or discomfort caused by external and unpredictable factors – a late train, a fellow…


Have you ever wondered why the US produces so many radical innovators like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Google duo Larry Page and Sergey Brin and why Germany produces expert business builders like the Samwer brothers? Or why people in the UK and the US tend to go to university or college to study general subjects like English, Economics, Engineering or the coveted MBA whereas people in Germany tend to study industry specific subjects like Technology, Education and Nursing at Germany’s professional universities? Have you considered how employment law might influence your employees’ incentives to develop skills that are relevant to your business? And what effect might this have on the type of products and services that these countries deliver as well as their capacity to innovate?

Masters of mimicry

The Samwer brothers (Oliver, Marc, Alexander) have become billionaires as a result of cloning Internet up-and-comers like Ebay, Facebook and Pinterest into the German, Russian, Brazilian or Italian languages and then selling them back to the English speaking originals for a profit. The Samwers, who have threatened blitzkrieg on the industry and asked employees to sign business plans in their own blood, say that they are not innovators, rather, they are builders of companies. They see concepts that are working in the US or Asia and replicate the approach for new markets with high barriers of entry.

Serial entrepreneur Stefan Gleanzer speculated that Berlin’s Mitte district (where the brothers base themselves) had become the global centre for cloning digital businesses. And whether or not you admire the model (and plenty don’t), you can’t deny its success. In 1999 the Samwer brothers founded Alando, a German version of the online auction house Ebay. Only 100 days later, they sold the company to Ebay for about £35 million.

That’s not to say that German ideas aren’t innovative. After all, Germany’s the country that gave the world Bauhaus, Albert Einstein, nuclear fission and now, the digital music site SoundCloud (and, of course, Kraftwerk). And Berlin’s anti-copycat movement is appealing to would-be German entrepreneurs to live up to this German spirit of innovation.

Styles of innovation

Researchers looking at industry innovation across countries say that this innovative/not-innovative distinction is beside the point. They draw a distinction between radical innovation, which entails substantial shifts in product lines, the development of entirely new goods or major changes to the production process, and incremental innovation marked by continuous but small-scale improvements to existing product lines and production processes. They also suggest that labour markets, vocational training systems and systems of social protection affect both employee learning and innovation outcomes – and that the US and Germany are polar opposites in all these respects.

The German case

In Germany, a system of works councils composed of elected employee representatives with much more clout than the UK’s trade unions, provide employees with security against arbitrary layoffs or changes to their working conditions. These long labor contracts encourage employees to invest in company-specific skills – because they’re not worried that they’ll soon be fired, rendering their company specific skills redundant. As a result, countries like this depend on education and training systems capable of providing workers with such skills. Germany’s strong dual system of vocational training provides high levels of industry-specific skills.

The US case

Top management in US companies tends to have complete control over the firm including substantial freedom to hire and fire which means that they can quickly reconfigure their knowledge bases in order to develop new product lines or cut failing ones.

The education and training systems in countries with laxer employment laws are generally complementary to these fluid labour markets. From the perspective of workers facing short job tenures, career success depends on developing transferable skills that can be used in many different companies; and most educational programs from secondary through to university levels, even in business and engineering, stress ‘certification’ in general skills rather than more specialised ones.

Companies in these countries do a lot of in-house training, although mostly in the marketable skills that employees have incentives to learn like presentation skills, people management and health and safety.

The argument then goes that German firms tend to lack the capacities for radical innovation that American firms enjoy by virtue of their much less fluid labour markets.

Is this true? Not indisputably and people are still unclear as to how much other countries fit into this US/Germany mould. Either way, the point here isn’t that one system is better than the other (or that Jobs is better than the Samwers), merely that one system will generate a labour force with a different set of a skills and firms with a different product output from the other.

And how can Learning and Development departments respond to the constraints of the system in which they operate? Well, in the UK, where labour markets are equally fluid, L&D departments may wish to go with the flow by investing in the type of general skills training (such as health and safety, project management and MS Office) in which their employees are willing to invest (and which companies can risk losing when their employees move on to competitors). Alternatively, companies that find themselves with an immediate skill shortage problem may wish to skip the in-house training phase by taking advantage of the skills in the overseas market – but this will only save time, not money, because overseas employees are more expensive to hire.

Workflow Learning: A new Ingredient for the Blend– Revisited

Vaughan Waller

e-Learning Manager with Deloitte Digital

Nowadays, with ‘always on’ tablet computers, smart phones and the plethora of collaborative tools, the prospect of spending days in a classroom training course seems “so 20th century”. If we need to know something, that is learn something, we now know where to find it or know how to find someone who does and we have the tools at hand whenever and wherever we are to do just that. Yet the saying goes that the more things change the more things stay the same.

In his 2006 article Vaughan Waller made the point that much time is wasted looking for information which is a cost to an organisation. But how has the social media insurgence changed the L&D landscape and this view point?

In this instalment of Advance Waller returns to his 2006 article and reflects on the changing role of the IT department, social media, formal and informal learning and trends such as workflow learning.

Olympic fever is truly taking over. Flags are waving from every window, the TV commentators are getting more and more excitable, and gym memberships are shooting up as people decide that they could be the next Michael Phelps. Winning twenty medals may be a bit out of the average person’s reach, but we can still take on board some Olympic inspiration to make our e-learning world-class.

The athlete who inspired me to write this blog doesn’t have the superstardom of Phelps or Bolt, or the legacy of Sir Steven Redgrave. She is Helen Glover, one half of the GB women’s coxless pair who have just won Britain’s first ever Olympic gold medal for women’s rowing. What makes this even more amazing? Helen only got into a rowing boat for the first time in 2008. That’s four years from being a complete novice to being Olympic champion. Of course, I don’t want to suggest that she didn’t train exceptionally hard in those four years to achieve this standard. But I think the lesson that we can learn from Glover’s success is that being an expert depends on how you spend your training time, not on the number of hours (or years) that you put in. Short, focused training can be just as effective as countless hours spent slogging away at something.

Recently, the trend for ‘bite-size’ e-learning has started to take hold. The same principles apply to this type of learning as to Glover’s unusually short training period: why spend hours in front of a screen when you could cover the same content in a fraction of the time? Learners are more likely to absorb what they’re being taught if they’re asked to focus for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, than if asked to sustain concentration for an hour or more. A format of short, manageable sections rather than one comprehensive course is also much easier to fit into the working day – learners often find it difficult to reserve hours for e-learning, but a fifteen minute unit can easily be completed when they find themselves with some spare time.

So, here are my top tips for changing your courses from a road race to a sprint:

1. Do you really need that?

We’ve all been there. You sit down to start writing your content and you’re presented with a sheaf of manuals, guidance and suggestions from your client. You panic and add it all into your content. The result? A course that would end up lasting several hours and contain a lot of information that isn’t actually that helpful to your learner. So, next time, take a really hard look at what you’re trying to get across, and be ruthless. Learning outcomes are essential for this. Decide what your learning outcomes are, and then only use the minimum material necessary to achieve these. While the intricacies of health and safety compliance may seem incredibly important when you’re reading through that manual, it’s actually much more useful for your learner to be able to apply the principles of the code in real life than to recite the phone number of Diabetes UK. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Don’t be scared of the Resources folder

A lot of instructional designers (and some clients) seem to view the Resources section of a course as a dumping ground for content that you couldn’t quite squeeze in. This is a waste of a tool that can dramatically alter the format of your course, and save your learner time. The Resources folder is the prefect place to include the more detailed information that may not be useful to everyone. To take an example from one of our courses, not everyone in a company needs to know what to do if they are bribed by an immigration official, as not everyone will be travelling abroad on business. However, senior sales people might find themselves in this situation, and they could benefit from a Take-away toolkit in the resources folder.

3. Divide and conquer

The bite-size units that I mentioned earlier rely on careful divisions of content. If you’re presenting the course as something that can be dipped into as and when the learner has the time, you need to make sure that your units work as standalone sections. They need to make logical sense, and each one needs to work towards achieving your learning outcome(s) – no filler units! You can refer back to topics covered in other units, but make sure that you include brief refreshers to jog the learner’s memory.

Will you try it?

Some people may think that a shorter course means less value for money, but I hope that I’ve managed to convince you that less time can sometimes equal a higher learning value. Try it out on your next course, and see if you can take your learners on a fast track to the podium!

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