Our learning conversation this time is with Victoria Baxter, Learning and Education Manager at Ricoh Asia Pacific, an experienced learning practitioner, based in Sydney.
Jeevan – It is my pleasure to talk to Victoria. Welcome to Learning Conversations.
Victoria : Thank you, Jeevan
Jeevan : Our first customary question, how did you get into learning?
Victoria : I sort of fell into a career in learning and development in the days when it was known as plain old, ‘training’. In 1985 I accepted an offer to move into the IT world-in a new role as Office Automation Manager for a pharmaceutical company.
At that time, I found myself challenged with change management-trying to help people understand the radical and rapid change in technology in the mid to late 1980’s. I quickly enrolled myself in an AIM ‘Train the Trainer’ program, which turned my life upside down. Strangely, I found myself on a new stage, with a whole new role to learn about educating and skilling adults in the workplace.
Since that time, I have travelled many roads in the learning and development profession and faced many new trends, challenges and issues. Today, I am charged with educating sales people from as far west as India, right through to New Zealand and everything in between.
Jeevan: Can you walk us through the journey of how the company started with e-learning and what have been the challenges which brings you to the maturity that you have currently?
Victoria: Ricoh has been deploying e-learning since the early 2000s and that largely began in Europe where they started building some product training programs and deploying them to their sales people. It was slowly adopted by each of the other regions. In Asia Pacific, we started deploying e-learning in 2001. The Australian subsidiary already had an e-learning culture even though it was on CDs that learners took home or completed at work. However, it was not e-learning as we know it today.
I think my greatest challenge remains our audience who are sales people, and who are not the type of people that like to learn in front of a computer. Most sales people would prefer to be sitting in a classroom where they can ask questions and generate discussion. So, the biggest challenge for us has been trying to emulate that same learning style through e-learning. We plan to deliver virtual learning through portable tools, such as tablet devices, and Ricoh’s state-of the-art video conferencing systems—which are due to be released soon.
As a cost centre, the greatest challenge I face is to ensure the return on investment is in keeping with sales productivity. All country managing directors and sales directors of our sales subsidiaries refer to the results from the elearning undertaken by their sales people, and help drive the educational plans for their sales teams.
We will always face the challenge of hitting the mark on the right flavour and mix of media for so many different cultures and learning styles. Fortunately, advances in different mediums for delivering learning allows us to deploy informal learning via a rich website of tools and materials for sales people; short info-bites of information through email; as well as more formal assessment-based learning through e-learning and virtual learning.
Jeevan: Victoria, in the need to deliver learning quickly does quality suffer or have you found smart ways of maintaining quality ?
Victoria: we definitely don’t sacrifice quality. At any one time, we could have four projects on the go with three writers and two developers involved. We have very tight project management and quality control processes including peer reviews and Subject Matter Expert (SME) sign off.
Jeevan: That’s fantastic. One of the common issues that organisations face developing online content is unreliability of SMEs to meet deadlines. Do you have a secret formula to manage SMEs?
Victoria: You always try to get SMEs to buy into the process. I think we’ve been successful because we help them understand that they are the experts who have to read, review and sign off formally to have a quality product. An additional challenge for us is to manage SME’s whose first language may not be English. So, I think probably the key to the success is tight project management and a top down approach in terms of the commitment from the management.
Jeevan: Thanks, Victoria for that. Are you looking at incorporating emerging learning technologies or more interactive elements?
Victoria: One of our challenges is that some of our audience is in countries where the internet bandwidth is poor. We have to be very mindful that we keep it fairly flat. It’s just text and graphics. Moving forward as technology catches up across the region, we are planning to add mp3 and sound files in our e-learning. We already utilise some Flash in our courses. In the next 12 months we are looking to deploy mobile learning and also some collaborative learning tools.
Jeevan: Thanks, Victoria
Learning Conversation with Victoria Baxter