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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Interview with Heather Hill, Special Olympics World Winter Games: E-Learning Case Study Series

E-Learning Queen is launching a case studies series to discuss applications of e-learning, including mobile learning. We're excited to kick off the series with an investigation of how elearning was used in the Special Olympics World Winter Games. Welcome to an interview with Heather Hill, Special Olympics World Winter Games, and founder of H2 BrandWorks, LLC

Please describe a case in which you successfully used e-learning. Include the following:

**what was your need?

With the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games – an event involving over 2,000 athletes from nearly 100 countries – rapidly approaching, we needed a consistent, high-quality way to train our event volunteers. But just like other non-profits, we were facing challenges stemming in part from the troubled economic climate and needed to get creative in our efforts to raise funds, retain services and reduce costs. For our training initiative in particular, it was imperative that we conduct training on a budget, without sacrificing quality in the slightest. As you’ll see, we were thrilled with the results – and through our successful training program and myriad other initiatives, had a first-class Games experience.

Heather Hill, Vice President of Marketing, Special Olympics World Winter Games

**why e-learning?

Although this year’s Winter Games were held in Boise, Idaho, our volunteers hail from all over the U.S., and all over the world. We had used a traditional, classroom-based approach in the past, including last year at our “dry-run” Invitational event, where volunteers traveled to regional offices to participate in training sessions.

On-demand e-learning made much more sense, and enabled us to reduce the costs previously associated with training thousands of volunteers at regional locations. And the “on-demand” (i.e., view at any time) aspect was particularly appealing, allowing people to complete the training at a time that was convenient for them – and then to revisit any portion at any time. With a core staff of only 60 people at the World Winter Games, implementing e-learning also freed us to spend time on other mission-critical initiatives.

We calculated that one on-demand training presentation, used for volunteer orientation, saved us tens of thousands of dollars in staffing costs and more than a month of logistical planning and preparation. Using the previous classroom-based model, this same process would have taken an estimated 20 trainers 12 weeks to complete!

**what technologies did you use? software? hardware?

Through Brainshark’s Non-Profit Program, which awards Brainshark software grants every quarter, we received a free one-year Brainshark license. This meant we could use Brainshark’s SaaS platform and services to create, distribute and track on-demand, e-learning presentations/ modules. They were easy to create – we uploaded a PowerPoint presentation to the Web, then picked up the phone to add audio narration. We easily incorporated videos, comprehension questions and poll questions within our presentations, as well as attachments that provided supplementary information. For example, within our online, orientation training, we included an attachment that provided further info on intellectual disabilities and the appropriate terminology to use in communicating both with and about people with intellectual disabilities.

**how did you go about conducting the e-learning?

Volunteers logged in to view the training presentation, which you can see here. We used this presentation to make sure volunteers were well-versed in medical screening procedures, uniforms and credentials, the function of the Special Olympics Town, sports competition (alpine skiing, cross country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing and speed skating) and much, much more. Quiz questions assessed their comprehension of adaptive skills limitations, policies and procedures, and event logistics. With the detailed tracking information Brainshark provides, we could immediately tell who had viewed the presentation, how much of it they consumed, and how quiz and survey questions were answered – enabling us to track completion.

How many people participated?

Nearly 4,000 volunteers from the local area, across the U.S. and abroad participated in the training. Since we were dealing with such a large number of participants, the “on-demand” e-learning aspect was particularly appealing. Instead of having to coordinate schedules so that a live event could occur at a designated time, volunteers were free to watch – and even revisit – the training at their leisure.

What was their background with technology? Did you have any challenges with "comfort level"?

It’s important to note that the people undergoing training were *volunteers,* presenting a different scenario than training staff who already have a similar baseline understanding of an organization’s mission, procedures and even technology. Understandably, our volunteers varied in familiarity with our mission, as well as in technical aptitude, but they uniformly appreciated the convenient and intuitive e-learning format. Survey questions at the end of our e-learning module asked volunteers whether they found the way information was presented to be helpful, as well as what they felt the best way was to present and receive information. Responses were overwhelmingly positive about the online training experience, and volunteers felt the rich, visual information made the training process much more engaging.

How were the instructors trained / oriented before they gave the training? Were they nervous? Did they have any doubts?

N/A – As mentioned, our instructors were subject matter experts within the Special Olympics World Winter Games, who created the e-learning materials in advance, readying them for viewer consumption at any time. They were excited about the new format – which saved them travel and staffing time – and were pleased with the reception.

Was there any anxiety or uncertainty among the learners? What was it? How did you work with them?

To be honest, I cannot recollect any anxiety or uncertainty among the volunteers. The online training was relatively general content and material, and volunteers understood that once assigned to a particular position, role or functional area, they would also receive job-specific training in person at the start of the Games.

How did you know that learning took place? What kinds of assessment did you have?

As mentioned, we incorporated quiz questions within our e-learning modules. In addition, as soon as a volunteer finished viewing (or “x”ed out of) the presentation, we received detailed tracking information, letting us know what portions had been viewed and for how long that volunteer lingered on them, as well as how questions were answered, and in what order slides were viewed. In this way, we were able to check off that learning took place and assess the level of comprehension of our volunteers.

What were some of the immediate results? How did you decide whether or not the experience was a success or a "nice try"?

We were absolutely thrilled with the preparedness of our staff, which, we think is a testament to our e-learning initiative. Feedback from our athletes and participants involved – in terms of treatment, support infrastructure and more – was glowing. Based on our positive experience – and the positive feedback from volunteers – we deem this a true success.

What were some of the "lessons learned"?

I would say lessons learned include making sure that critical information is gathered early from all respective functional areas or leaders in the organization, so that as much as possible can be covered and conveyed in one thorough online training session. I would also recommend a complete and turnkey system of tracking completion and “grading,” if you will, of all participants taking part in the training, so that it is clearly understood which consumers of the training are most suitable for any particular area or function of the organization. In our case, our own staff was not required to take the online training session due to their extensive knowledge of the organization and each of their respective areas; however, given the opportunity to do this again, I would recommend it be mandatory for all staff to complete the online training as well, simply to be familiar with the exact information and format of communication to their volunteers.

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