TD adopts on-line learning for its 30,000 employees

Shy of renting out the SkyDome, how do you get 30,000 students in to a classroom? Trick question; you don’t.

The Toronto Dominion Bank had the burdensome task of creating and implementing an on-line learning solution to allow its thousands of employees access to up-to-date resource material. With branches spanning time zones, the bank had to deal with problems that are familiar to any corporation that has a geographically dispersed employee base: How do you simultaneously teach a new strategy to branch managers in Kamloops and St. John’s without flying them to a central location?

“What we want to do is ensure we deliver the appropriate training at the appropriate time to the appropriate audience. That is the key strategy,” said Bill Binkley, manager of alternative delivery at Toronto Dominion’s Education Centre in Toronto. He added that “in many of the businesses we had to take people out of their jobs for a classroom program…it (on-line learning) is just delivering training in smaller chunks to accommodate our business needs”

If, for example, a district manager wants to study a new mortgage policy, she can type in the URL for the TD learning Web site. At this point the manager will have to enter her name and password, and then access a library of courses and content pertinent to her job. Some of the information might be specific to a district manager’s job while other content could come from a general library that all employees can access. The site is maintained on a bank server.

Getting this type of system up and running can be a daunting task and that is where Toronto based GreyInteractive came in. The company, which among other things assists in the implementation of on-line learning solutions, holds e-learning briefing sessions on its solutions every six to eight weeks. Representatives from the bank attended several meetings and started the ball rolling. GreyInteractive then had meetings with various departments within the bank.

“We met with members of the training team, business process team and the technology and networking team to get a good handle on what they needed,” said Rob Sandler, vice-president and co-managing director at GreyInteractive. “We met with TD with the idea of integrating all of the tools. This is one of the biggest hurdles in large organizations today, there are so many resources it is difficult to find out what is available and what is relevant [to a project],” he added.

According to Sandler there were two major components to the learning management system that needed to be addressed. The first was to build a Web-based infrastructure for delivering on-line learning that had to integrate seamlessly with the bank’s database and security mandate, and the second was to build an authoring environment which was compatible with the bank’s learning management system. This was necessary so that all on-line courses and assessments could be tracked. Once the proposal was accepted by the bank it took GreyInteractive about two months to get it ready for TD.

Dollar savings aside, a significant advantage to on-line learning is that it increases the number of people who can access education. “One [advantage] is that we can reach a much, much larger audience. Historically with the classroom, because of the expense requirement, not everybody would have the opportunity to attend,” Binkley said.

Revising existing data is another advantage of operating on-line. “The ease of updating when you are on-line, obviously, is a huge plus. Compare that to paper-based product knowledge, for example: when it is paper based they take it and that’s it,” Binkley said. To reprint updated information is both costly and time consuming.

Sandler agrees. “One of the things that is happening in e-learning is that clients don’t want to build one piece of multimedia like they did three or four years ago. They want to build 50 courses, and they don’t want to outsource the whole thing. They want the ability to control and update and modify,” he said.

Yet another advantage, inherent to any Web-based program, is that employees will have much more freedom in choosing the time and place they study. If managers want to study for 20 minutes between meetings, they can bookmark where they were and get back to it later. With proper security measures in place, a company can control access so employees study only the data pertinent to their job.

“People are becoming more and more comfortable with the technology,” Binkley said, so he doesn’t foresee a huge demand from employees on how to use the system.

The software TD used to create their on-line system was from (formerly Asymetrix), a Bellevue, Wash.-based company. “[It is a] scaleable enterprise-wide management system that allows users to take a particular curriculum that can be specified by an administrator,” according to Joe Kennedy, the sales engineer responsible for the installation and initial orientation and training for the TD system. “You can specify course prerequisites, scoring options, length of time someone can study a particular course,” he added.

So with dozens of people and many different departments involved, how smoothly did the project run? “Agreement by various groups within the organization is the biggest challenge,” Binkley said. But he concluded, “the working arrangements with the various groups was absolutely incredible, they were here to support us in the best possible way.”

The project is set to be fully up and running in Q2.