Rolling Out Online Learning Globally with Covance

Peggy O'Brien

As a learning professional, we constantly need to be looking at what business challenges our leaders are facing and help bring new learning solutions to the table. Human Resources IQ (HRIQ) speaks with Peggy O’Brien, Vice President of the Learning and Performance Center at Covance, regarding what was on the horizon and some of the challenges that were being faced, such as rapid growth,increase in new hires, geographically dispersed employees and tighter budget.

HRIQ: In your own organization, can you expand on these challenges? What factors caused these to show up in your business?

Peggy O'Brien: We were facing a very volatile economy and continued pricing pressures. Our clients were placing more clinical trials in Europe and Asia Pac. All ofthese factors lead to a need to think differently about how we provided training to their employees.The training we were providing required face-to-face travel in multiplelocations globally. We had little control over increasing airfare, hotel or food expenses. We were also looking at how to improve the transfer of learning (three full days of material was often hard to retain).The Clinical Development learning team, under the direction of Hallie Micali (Director of Clinical Development Center) and Rosalinda Piccolo(Associate Director of Clinical Development Center) put together a proposal for a pilot to be run alongside the face-to-face version. This involved partnering with an external vendor to create an online learning community that provided 24-7 access to the content. The online learning community provided multi-lingual support and a dashboard to manage completions.

What were the steps involved in rolling out the initiative?

We really had to leverage people across learning and performance to make this a success. We were learning new technology and developing the content at the same time. We also had the additional challenge of ensuring the technology worked around the world for each virtual attendee. We partnered with the external vendor to create the site. Rosalina and her team worked with the subject matter experts to develop the content. Another member of the team, Rebecca Bichard (Senior Manager, Clinical Development Center), trained the staff on using the new training center tool. Lastly, we worked closely with the business to identify the individuals to participate in the pilot. Now after running three virtual conferences and ten face-to-face conferences, the results are in. We had 1,123 employees attend the face-to-face conference and 83 attend the virtual conference (voluntary). The pass rate (level 2 evaluation conducted for both conferences) was 96 percent for face-to-face and 90 percent for virtual. We are scheduled to deliver two more virtual sessions by the end of the year .Feedback for both was pretty consistently positive.

Why was it so successful?

I believe it was successful because we had the commitment of so many people to make it work. It required trial and error and some long nights and weekends.

Some lessons learned included:

  • virtual participants need to have good English skills
  • test out the technology in all locations
  • managers need to reinforce learning regardless of the way it was delivered

In what ways did your plan achieve that?

Rosalinda pulled the team together at various points along the way to discuss what was working and what needed to be done differently. She worked with the project manager and designer to incorporate thel essons learned. We will be trying these out with fall conferences.The business leader was so pleased with the outcomes that he is looking to expand the number of virtual conferences offered in 2013.

What method did you use for measuring the outcomes? How did the positive results translate into tangible results?

We used level one evaluation to compare how attendees felt about the content and experience. We used level 2 evaluations to see if people knew the content after the program. We also saw tangible results in the cost savings from doing the program virtually. We will continue to monitor the transfer of learning through level 3 evaluations and focus groups with their managers. Listening to business challenges/opportunities is a great way for learning professionals to make a difference.