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Civil Service

Learning to be a better Civil Service

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Neha Datt, Civil Service Learning
Neha Datt, Civil Service Learning

Hi, I’m Neha Datt and I’m the product manager for Civil Service Learning’s (CSL) new digital service.

Across government, we’ve a big challenge ahead of us as we push to deliver better services to the public on reduced budgets. We know we need to grow our capabilities, and make better use of technology. We believe an integral part of this is for us to change and improve how we support civil servants learn and develop, and to focus on what our users need.

The team at CSL has just started an alpha – this is where we aim to build a working prototype of a new digital service. We're excited about understanding our users and their needs, and helping them solve the problems they face in their complex and diverse environments.

There have been some great insights and ideas coming out of the user research sessions. These started during the discovery phase of this project, including the great hack event we had at Civil Service Live, where our users told us what they thought about our service, about how they learn and how they’d like to learn.

One of the outputs of the discovery phase was a vision for our new digital service for learning. Our vision is to have a strong culture of learning: where people are fired up about learning, where civil servants can find others to help them with their problems, where experts can teach and coach others in their communities, and where civil servants can be empowered to make changes and feel valued for their work.

This has meant we needed to start at the beginning, and ask ourselves “what is learning?”

Learning is...

It turns out that learning is a whole range of things that many of us aren’t used to thinking about.

Learning is:

  • asking a colleague for help when you don’t know how to do something on your computer
  • watching a great TED Talk and then sharing this over Twitter
  • attending a meeting to see how it’s done well, and then showing someone how to chair a meeting with people they’ve never met
  • reading an article online
  • letting a colleague shadow you for a day

Learning is so many things, and it’s happening all the time, even when we don’t realise it.

Personalised, relevant and informal

So learning is continuous, but we don’t always find it easy. How do you find that person who can help run that meeting? And how can you view that TED Talk you’ve heard about when you can’t even access videos on your work computer?

Our learning services need to be personalised for you and relevant to your problems and contexts. You need to be able to tap into communities and learn things quickly enough to solve the problems at hand. You also need to be able to learn anything anywhere, anytime - whether it’s Googling a question on your work desktop or answering a question from your mobile.

During the discovery phase we found out some of the challenges you can face when learning. These have given us some themes to explore in our alpha phase. The focus now is to explore how personalised, relevant and informal learning can meet user needs and the objectives of the Civil Service. We’ll also be investigating how communities, environments and tools (e.g. smart phones, tablets) that enable learning fit into this picture.

Senior support + new contracts + modern technology = a fantastic opportunity

The timing for this couldn’t be better! With support from ministers and the Chief Executive of the Civil Service, new contracts and suppliers coming on board, and the endless possibilities of modern technology, we have a fantastic opportunity to deliver a great learning service for our users. Plus we’re a part of Government as a Platform - but more on that in a later post.

CS Learning colleagues explain to Sir Jeremy Heywood about developments to the CSL site at Civil Service Live 2015: London
CS Learning colleagues explain to Sir Jeremy Heywood about developments to the CSL site at Civil Service Live 2015: London

This is the exciting part: we’re continuing our research as we move into alpha and will be prototyping the ideas that come from this. Our users want to experience learning in a consistent way, so we’re collaborating with colleagues in the learning and development space across departments.

We’d love to hear from you, our users. Are you working from home, on different sites, or in an office? Do you work in the UK or abroad? Are you a certified professional or do you have expertise in a particular area (e.g. tax)? Perhaps you use particular technology to assist you in your day-to-day job, or you have skills you’ve developed outside of work, or in a previous role that you think are useful to the Civil Service now?

We’re keen to work with you, to understand your needs and get you involved in shaping the new learning service.

Do drop me line if you’d like to get involved on or follow me on twitter @oliphantism. You can also find out what we're up to by following @CSLGOVUK.

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  1. Comment by Charlie Barnes posted on

    Well done. I see no reason for negativity about this. You've 'started at the start' by looking at users and what they need and how they learn, including via which channel. Far better than the old 'e-learning is cheap, we'll do e-learning' sole driver (e-learning interviewer skills, anyone?). We all recognise the difficulties of a perhaps over sensitive electronic media policy but your work will highlight areas inconsistent with meeting the needs of learners. So there's much to praise in your work. A robust discovery should be welcomed - it certainly is here.

    • Replies to Charlie Barnes>

      Comment by John Fitzpatrick posted on

      Thank you Charlie it's a tricky thing to articulate to so many people with varying levels of knowledge. User centred design is a fabulous thing - done well. I expect many things will be imperfect at first but good user testing and feedback will help us continually improve and iterate the service.

  2. Comment by Geof Sheppard posted on

    It's a pity that the 'hack' only took place in London - there's a lot of people and ideas out here in the regions. Here's a few from the South West...
    * One-click access to Good Practice and Ashridge - there are links to CSL e-learning courses on our intrnaet but not to the other resources as they need separate sign in.
    * Hosting all our in-house 'technical' e-learning on the CSL platform - it would look more joined up and think of all the money the Civil Service could save if we weren't buying our own learning systems to support our in-house learning.
    * Social learning - look at how MOOCs are doing this and bring some of this into CSL products. I don't want to 'rate' or 'like' an e-learning course, but I'd love to be able to chat with others who are using it or have just finished. Or perhaps an on-line faciltiator who I can discuss particular points.
    * And echoing one of the comments above: bring on the audio! I know some departments don't allow this (how un-digital that sounds), but we do here and the use of You Tube, TED and our own e-learning shows it is really important to help engagement.

    • Replies to Geof Sheppard>

      Comment by John Fitzpatrick posted on

      Geof thanks for contributing here some great points - there's a theme in the Alpha that we're exploring ways we can bring relevant learning to users. This would bring technical, departmental and CSL items together in a coherent plan and learning log. It's very early days but we're encouraged by your comments and similar we've had from other users.

      I've commented on media restrictions etc and we want to unblock these to support modern methods.

      Here's a link to our commercial MOOC - it's been a hit and more of that to follow!

  3. Comment by David posted on

    On the one hand it's a deep sigh as once again people are expected to fit in with what's available rather than having a range of options according to learning style. On the other hand, clicking through a CSL course in 10 minutes flat means that I can hand on heart say that I've done formal training on something when it comes to my annual appraisal.

  4. Comment by Stuart Laws posted on

    So where's all the not "in favour" comments made at the CS Live event? What about all the access issues a lot of us have? For instance, our gateway service has blocked these official sites and video content is frequently blocked as inappropriate - in order to get it all unblocked we have to submit a business case with supporting evidence and answer around 100 questions for each URL we'd like to access, all of which results in a "No we won't be permitting access via the gateway (what was the question again)" from the network technicians, generally on network performance and/or security concerns - until you can resolve that level of issue for official CS site and capability, there is very little reason for any of to engage.

    Whilst personally I'm happy to learn in this manner for some things, it isn't suitable for all learning - and even at CS Live that was a simple truth that was often ignore or explained away as "not in scope".

    If we really are serious about sorting the training offering across the Civil Service, we need to ensure we have a blended offering - where the offering for each course is the most suitable method for the course content, not have a one-size-fits-all approach that ignores the legitimate and evidence based counter approach in many cases.

    • Replies to Stuart Laws>

      Comment by John Fitzpatrick posted on

      Some super suggestions here Stuart thank you - if you let us know which Department you're in we can try and help unblock some of the issues you face in accessing media. Totally agree on the variety of learning methods too - focusing on users will certainly help here,

  5. Comment by Graham posted on

    In a career encompassing 20 years as a classroom teacher and 5 years working in digital learning this article worries me deeply. We all "learn" all the time; knowledge and skills are acquired and embedded into the schema we use to make sense of our lives (both at work and play) but this is not education in the formal sense of the word. What is proposed above has no defined goals, no formal means of consolidation or rationalisation of information to normalise the experience for the student and no means of checking that the student has (correctly) internalised (understood) the learning experience.
    I strongly favour blended learning - a mixture of face-to-face learning supported by appropriate digital options which deliver skills and knowledge relevant to the education or training required by th student. Flash animated powerpoint presentations accessible on CSL just don't deliver...

  6. Comment by liz hollingsworth posted on

    The really exciting developments are all about how we can use technology to enable for face to face learning sessions. No learning methodology can survive on it's own, the blend is all important. I'm doing lots of learning telekits supported by Lync at the moment, when we can add web cam enabled sessions it will bring a whole new dimension, and allow me to reach more people on a personal level.

    • Replies to liz hollingsworth>

      Comment by John Fitzpatrick posted on

      Thank you for sharing your experience Liz we'd love to hear more about what you're doing please drop us a line and one of our researchers will be in touch.

  7. Comment by Simon posted on

    Again browser settings / DII blocks a lot of content in your interactive learning. If you want to do courses on microsoft office products which you provide through GFC learning, then all the courses are affected so the individual cannot do them. The only other option is the one day advanced tutorial courses which do not meet the need of many people who want to start with the basics and work their way through to be fully coversant with the products. Also many people learn more by being in a tutorial / classroom environment where they can interact with others rather than sat clicking the mouse on a computer.

    My experience is that trying to get training that is required to enable personnel to meet their core tasks is a non starter when what you provide does not meet the needs of the individual.

    You need to either provide more courses or a platform which enables personnel to go out and get the courses elsewhere.

  8. Comment by Sally Smith posted on

    The one crucial element that CSL e-learning lacks is using audio. In only engages one of our senses at present and so it's easy to get bored and distracted. The addition of an audio element as an optional extra for those that want it, would enhance the learning experience. For instance in the tests, having a voice reading the question would assist concentration. Even some sound effects would be better than the silence we have at present. The case studies which currently have just pictures and words, would be brought to life if the individual was speaking the words as well. If voice actors would too costly to use, I am sure there are lots of staff out there who would be willing to get involved. Having a range of regional and ethnic accents would also create more interest and variety.

    • Replies to Sally Smith>

      Comment by John Fitzpatrick posted on

      Sally thank you for your suggestions - we absolutely want to create innovative products. Many of our products are being updated or replaced in the very near future as part of our new contract. We're also planning to share the fabulous expertise we have in the Civi Service to become much more involved in our work. Here's a link to some of our plans and further opportunity to get invollved -

  9. Comment by Nico posted on

    It's a shame that I can't even watch the video above as our network only allows one video per 24h period. IT departments seem to dictate what the service can do, rather than the service dictating what it needs to do and IT departments meeting that need. Until you can address this, providing excellent learning by any online route is going to be a bit of a pipe dream...

    • Replies to Nico>

      Comment by Lardner posted on

      Trust me when I say that I WISH it was the IT department that decided what you see and what you don't.
      Working within a digital group I am fighting tooth and nail to get access to the web, to ditch IE and to become part of world along side private industry!

      We have two major issues mentioned about eLearning -
      Those who are digitally capable would Google their question and find their answer - but are ALWAYS BLOCKED
      The other is educating and leading those people who find IT and digital tricky/scary to become confident on the computer to find their own answers.

      Often an answer can be found faster through Google than through CSL - but we are not (and some cannot) access the internet!

  10. Comment by ANGELA HARRISON posted on

    I was quite interested to read what the plans are for future learning in the DWP as I have long been against over reliance on E-Learning. A lot of people say they don't learn well from screens, with no facilitator to as questions of.
    I would've liked to read the whole article but it seems I'm accessing something that is forbidden and has been blocked by DWP's internet filtering software. Guess we're not supposed to learn after all!

  11. Comment by Kenny Dobson posted on

    It would be great if we were able to watch TED videos at our workstations, however, the browser settings (tried IE and G Chrome) forbid us from doing so.

    • Replies to Kenny Dobson>

      Comment by John Fitzpatrick posted on

      Kenny, Angela, Nico, Simon, Stuart We're really sorry you can't access the media on the blog. If you have access to the internet at home or on a mobile device you will be able to see and hear the content. We're also keen to hear which Departments are blocking your access, so if you let us know where you're from we're picking up that issue to speak to Chief Technology Officers about. We think everyone should experience the best we can offer not disable the things we can access from our homes or mobile devices.

  12. Comment by Moira Gomez posted on

    Hi, I work in Gi raltar and always keen to improve myself through learning. Unfortunately our location and existing budget costs limits us on face to face learning. Do you plan to introduce VTC for classoom learning where I could be part of that training? I feel I am losing out.

    • Replies to Moira Gomez>

      Comment by John Fitzpatrick posted on

      Thank you for raising this Moira - we're working with all Departments to identify needs. Please mail in your contact details to the address in the article and one of our researchers will be in touch about particular needs. Things like Video Conferencing to help scale learning are definitely being looked at. The environment to support Civil Servants learning is something users are quite vocal about.

  13. Comment by deep sigh. posted on

    Having qualified as a teacher prior to joining the Home Office, this article leaves me somewhat dismayed. TED talks and buzz words associated with the ubiquitous but ultimately meaningless 'Digital', are portrayed as a point of focus for the program, leading me to believe that this is headed for disaster both in terms of finance and more importantly the quality of learning. There is a reason the Oxbridge Universities are valued over the Open Uiversity, in so much as the teaching and learning is not done from behind a computer screen with mulltiple choice tests. Please invest in a core of full time training staff, with real teaching qualifications. As for learning on the job, thats nothing new and the idea that people are unaware of their day to day learning is insulting.

    • Replies to deep sigh.>

      Comment by Deana Smith posted on

      I have to agree with "deep sigh". Has anyone actually evaluated how much people remember after e-learning and for how long? My guess is that information is retained for just long enough to complete the multiple choice assessment at the end of the session. Before everyone gets excited over yet another digital product, some research is needed to discover whether a good working knowledge of the subject matter is retained over a longer period of time and, if not, how that can be improved. It is likely that, unless learners have the opportunity to consolidate their learning through interaction and discussion wih colleagues, e-learning will remain just a means of a ticking a box to show that we have engaged with the so-called learning opportunities available.

    • Replies to deep sigh.>

      Comment by John Fitzpatrick posted on

      Hi Deep Sigh - what wonderful experience you have to offer! I'm sorry you're dismayed by the efforts the team are making to improve things. We're very proud to announce our new suppliers to support Civil Servants some of which is in the classroom but there are many other great opportunities we hope to bring out. Here's another post we'd love you to read and perhaps you can put that expertise to great use here?