Public Works takes its IT learning to the Web

Three years ago the Ministry of Public Works and Government Services of Canada (PWGSC) began an e-learning initiative that is changing how federal government IT professionals learn new skills.

Through this initiative, PWGSC licenses courses from e-learning course provider SkillSoft Inc. and, in turn, licenses them to other federal government ministries, agencies and departments. The service is called the ICT E-Learning Gateway.

PWGSC so far has sold about 7,800 licences to 21 different departments, ministries and agencies in the federal government. However, Michael Turner, assistant deputy minister, IT services at PWGSC in Gatineau, Que., estimates only 65 per cent to 75 per cent of purchased licences are being used. He said government agencies tend to buy licences in bulk, then market these internally to staff. But since not all staff sign up for e-learning courses, some of the purchased licences remain unused. Turner said this is a normal adoption trend and it takes time before everyone signs on to the program.

SkillSoft Inc. provides PWGSC with about 1,000 courses for IT training and Office Application (OA) training, 250 of which are in French. Of the 7,800 licences, 4,100 are for IT training and the remaining 3,700 are for OA training. OA training includes courses that teach users how to use Microsoft Corp.’s Excel spreadsheet. After completing a year-long pilot project, the solution recently went into production. The first year was so successful that the number of licences sold in the second year increased by 50 per cent, Turner said. In 2005, Turner expects to see another 20 per cent jump in enrolment and have at least four more government agencies sign on.

PWGSC also licenses the OA courses to the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS), a learning provider for Canadian civil servants that offers the OA courses along with its own classes. These include courses in leadership, career and professional development, and public administration. Additionally, PWGSC just renegotiated its contact with SkillSoft.

The new agreement allows PWGSC to reduce licensing costs for the e-learning gateway from $520 to $475 per user, Turner said. An e-learning course provider was the only feasible solution for PWGSC, since it would have been too time-consuming and expensive for PWGSC to develop the courses in-house, Turner said.

By licensing SkillSoft courses PWGSC didn’t need to add anything to its IT infrastructure because SkillSoft hosts the courses off-site. 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 questions and comments on an online bulletin board to be reviewed by PWGSC staff.

So far, PWGSC is extremely satisfied with this approach to e-learning, Turner said. He added that an internal poll indicated 85 per cent of users would recommend e-learning to colleagues. “E-learning is very effective for both just-in-time learning and learning modules,” Turner said. Just-in-time learning occurs when a user has to solve an immediate problem — for example, learning Extensible Markup Language (XML) or .Net development. Learning modules are a series of courses that are part of a certification program from a vendor such as Cisco Systems Inc. or Novell Inc.

Other levels of government are likely 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 currently under way.

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