VSJ – March 2003 – Work in Progress

John Burns, MIAP last wrote in VSJ about his research for an MA in Technical Communication. He’s completed this and is now working as a Project Manager with Coventry-based Pro Enviro Ltd, under a Teaching Company Scheme (in which a university, in this case Birmingham, uses Government funding to employ people to transfer knowledge into the workplace). Here he talks about a current project, Climate Change Advantage.

The Climate Change Levy (CCL) is a tax on energy usage in industry, commerce and the public sector. It will play a major role in helping the UK to meet targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The levy is intended to promote energy efficiency, even provide employment opportunities and create investment in new technologies. CCL is a complex and, to some, very new concept. As a result, many are contemplating using information technologies as a way to manage the levy and minimise the tax.

The levy, being quantitative in nature, leans towards automation and we, at Pro Enviro, have acted swiftly to develop a database-driven product called Climate Change Advantage (CCA). The product is a Web-enabled Relational Database Management System with on-line help and, importantly, extensive report generation facilities to provide decision makers with accurate and timely information at an appropriate level.

Climbing the e-learning Curve

To accompany CCA, we have developed on-line help for users to refer to when learning and using the product. The help covers the software on a screen-by-screen basis, explaining each screen’s function and the data each field expects. However, we wanted to take the electronic documentation to the next level and so a Learner Management System (LMS) now underpins CCA. Figure 1 illustrates how this works. In particular, it reveals some of the courses individuals can follow to help them grasp this complex legislation and to understand fully what it is they are trying to manage. Furthermore, increasing their knowledge and understanding of the levy will help them exploit their investment in CCA.

Combining the software with the training materials offers a number of advantages. Firstly, the LMS contains an assessment course or Training Needs Analysis (TNA) that allows companies to identify and match courses to individuals. The TNA identifies both the right pitch for each employee and the appropriate delivery mode as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ approach. This provides a major benefit, as every employee feels acknowledged and valued because training is bespoke. Having attributed courses, each employee possesses his or her unique training programme and can commence learning. The initial TNA is only a starting point and subsequent TNAs can attribute further courses as students progress.

Testing the Climate

Managers who require their teams to gain knowledge and understanding of the levy can use the LMS as a monitoring tool, thus examining each employee’s progress. They can see the courses employees have completed, those they are in the process of completing and those they are yet to attempt. There is an in-built questionnaire that allows managers to view test results, identifying how their employees are grasping new material. This is particularly useful as it provides managers with confidence as their team’s skill set broadens and deepens but also identifies those employees requiring further assistance. This enables managers to focus on those employees and provide the appropriate assistance to develop their skills.

e-learning Helps Re-learning

Positioning the software within the LMS also means that learning is more than just a one-off activity. Even when employees have begun using the CCA software they can easily return to course materials to revisit complex topics or use course pages as a reference. So employees have information ‘just-in-time’, which should increase their confidence in day-to-day activities. Also, employees can use training material when they are unassigned and hence can utilise free periods productively. Similarly, employees can undertake the training at times that fit in with their work schedule. Since this is a Net-based product, employees can visit the materials 24/7. That helps employees to leverage their own time management.

Virtual Support

The product can support the learner in several other ways. For example, each learner can communicate with other course participants, wherever they are. This communication can happen either simultaneously, in a conversational style approach or using messaging such as e-mail. The LMS also creates a further layer of support. Pro Enviro offers a mentoring service for learners to use should they wish to contact a subject matter expert. This gives learners a further support mechanism when their peers are unavailable or can’t provide an answer.

Learn About Us

The CCA product was presented at the conference and exhibition et2002: Climate Change Our Business at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. With et2003 approaching on 8 April, anyone interested in the product and services of Pro Enviro and the conference organiser, Savers Ltd., can visit us to find out more.

You can contact John by email at john.burns@proenviro.co.uk.

[Interesting project or development? Let us know at eo@iap.org.uk!]

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