School’s in for government tech types

Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) is running an e-learning initiative that is starting to transform how federal government employees acquire new skills.

The program, the ICT E-Learning Gateway, enables users across federal departments to learn IT as well as Office Application (OA) skills, quickly and effectively.

Under the program, PWGSC licenses courses from e-learning provider SkillSoft Inc. and, in turn, offers them to other federal government ministries, agencies and departments.

So far, the department has sold about 7,800 licences to 21 different federal entities. However, only around 65 to 75 per cent of purchased licenses are being used, according to Michael Turner, assistant deputy minister for IT services with PWGSC. Government agencies tend to buy licences in bulk, Turner said, and then market them internally to staff, but because everyone does not sign up for e-learning courses some licences go unused. SkillSoft Inc. provides PWGSC with about 1,000 courses for IT and Office Application (OA) training, 250 of them in French.

Of the 7,800 licenses, 4,100 relate to IT training and the remaining 3,700 are for OA instruction, which includes courses on how to use Microsoft Excel, for example. After a year-long pilot project, the solution went into production. The first year was so successful that in the second year users increased by 50 per cent, Turner said. This year, he expects to see a 20 per cent jump in enrolment and at least four more government agencies signing on. PWGSC also licenses the OA courses to the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS), a learning provider for federal public servants that offers OA courses along with its management training.

Turner said PWGSC has just renegotiated its contract with SkillSoft to reduce licensing costs for the E-learning Gateway from to $475 a user, down from $520. Bulk purchasing can lower costs further.

Choosing an e-learning course provider was the only feasible route for PWGSC to bring this type of training to its employees, since it would have been both too time-consuming and too expensive for PWGSC to develop the courses in-house, Turner said.

By licensing SkillSoft courses, PWGSC didn’t have to add anything to its IT infrastructure as the courses are hosted off-site by SkillSoft. Employees only need a Web browser and login information to access the service. If users have difficulty completing a course, they can call a toll-free help line or post their difficulties on an online bulletin board to be reviewed by PWGSC staff.

So far, Turner said, PWGSC is satisfied with this approach to e-learning. In fact, 85 per cent of users polled said they would recommend e-learning to colleagues. About 300 employees at PWGSC use the E-Learning Gateway. The biggest users are the Canada Revenue Agency and the Department of National Defence, Turner said.

“E-learning,” he said, “is very effective for both just-in-time learning and learning modules.” Just-in-time learning occurs when a user has to solve an immediate problem, for example, learning Extensible Markup Language (XML) or .Net development. E-learning has also been successful when users need to take a series of courses, or modules, associated with a particular vendor such as Cisco Systems Inc. or Novell Inc. However, for more intensive training, PWGSC’s IT staff will follow a blended learning curriculum that involves in-class courses from academic institutions in conjunction with e-learning.

Indications are that other levels of government will start to sign on to PWGSC’s ICT E-Learning Gateway. Turner said the program has generated interest from provinces and municipalities across Canada and partnerships for e-learning are in the works.

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