REDO ACCIÓN International Launches Leadership Development eLearning Course

Industry – Nonprofit microfinance

Challenge – Find a cost-effective way to deliver a successful leadership development program to staff members and partners on four continents.

Solution- An eLearning course developed by Monarch Media that can be delivered over the Internet and on CD-ROM

Key Benefits

  • Users can learn asynchronously, taking the training at the time and place most convenient to them.
  • Cost savings thanks to reduced international travel requirements for trainers.
  • Ideal for a blended learning environment in which additional educational materials can be provided via emails, webinars, and in-person trainings.
  • Allows ACCIÓN to reach all staff members instead of a smaller subset of employees.
  • Learners can permanently access all materials and have the flexibility to revisit applicable information when faced with on-the-job challenges.

Overview

ACCIÓN International was founded in 1961 to promote international economic development and alleviate global poverty. Since 1973, the organization has focused on microfinance, providing small loans to tiny businesses founded and run by individuals living in poverty.

Because they often lack substantial collateral and only need to borrow small amounts of money, traditional banks have generally refused to lend to these business owners. Therefore, their only option has been loan sharks who charge exorbitant interest rates. ACCIÓN and its partners are changing this dynamic by offering an alternative source of funds, small loans (as little as $100) at commercial interest rates provided to micro-entrepreneurs for investing in and growing their businesses.

In 2009, ACCIÓN was operating on four continents and in 25 countries. With its partners it served 3.3 million active borrowers.

Training Challenges

ACCIÓN’s leadership development program consists of 10 modules that have traditionally been delivered via in-person, small group training sessions. They are a critical part of promoting the organization’s culture and identity internally. They help employees grow a shared sense of mission, vision, and values, as well as define and practice good leadership skills.

As a global organization, however, cost and time constraints have made it difficult for Lynne Curran, who heads ACCIÓN’s human resources and training department, to provide the leadership development program to everyone in a timely manner. “Our biggest challenge is reaching remote staff,” she says. “We’ve only been able to present the first module in person to about a third of the organization.”

“It was an amazing experience to work with the Monarch Media team. They got what we were looking for and got what we needed. They created an eLearning course that’s simple to use, but tackles some really challenging content.”

— Lynne Curran, head of Human Resources and Training
ACCIÓN International

To overcome this challenge, ACCIÓN has begun using eLearning courses that allow its staff to access educational materials on their computers. Leadership development, however, has traditionally been difficult to present online. “Leadership training involves trying to orient people to share a common language and exercise an ability, rather than simply gaining some knowledge,” says Claire Schneeberger, CEO of Monarch Media. “You’re not just trying to get people to understand the definition of leadership or to grasp and memorize new factual information. You’re really trying to develop and practice some pretty advanced skills.”

Because the leadership development curriculum provides so much value to ACCIÓN’s staff, Curran wanted to see if the challenges of turning it into an eLearning course could be overcome. She decided to start with the program’s first module, which sets the stage for the other nine. “It really helps people become aware of what they’re doing and why they’re doing things the way they are,” she says. “It helps them understand and better work with others, which also improves their leadership abilities.”

Creating the Course

When presented in person, the first module of ACCIÓN’s leadership development program includes participation in a DISC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness) assessment, a psychological inventory that examines how individuals behave in their environments. DISC assessments are frequently used in workplaces to help employees understand their own and their teammates’ work styles and preferences. The module also included substantial time for participants to discuss their beliefs and feelings about leadership.

Feedback from training participants has shown that these two activities are the ones that provide the greatest value. But they are also very difficult to accomplish in an eLearning environment. “I thought it might be impossible to put this course online because of the self-awareness pieces,” Curran says. “How do you include them without doing it in the classroom?”

Schneeberger points out that in most eLearning courses, developers can recreate some of the feeling of classroom discussion by using Web-based community tools, such as discussion boards and blogs. But because some ACCIÓN staffers don’t have regular access to the Internet and must take eLearning courses on CD-ROM, Monarch Media’s developers couldn’t use these tools.

To overcome these challenges, Monarch Media’s team of instructional designers and Web developers created a virtual discussion group as the first activity in the training. They used a diverse team of voiceover actors to record dialog taken from various sessions of the in-person leadership development training. This allows learners to gain insight by hearing the perspectives and thoughts of other ACCIÓN employees, just as they would during a face-to-face discussion session. “We tried to bring in real voices,” recalls Schneeberger. “We’re capturing and simulating that experience of being in a room with 10 other people. “

Monarch Media also used a number of interactive exercises that help course participants conduct self-assessments based on DISC methods. “The training asks a lot of people,” says Schneeberger. “It’s very reflective and asks a lot of questions. It asks people to demonstrate their knowledge of the DISC framework.”

To create these segments and assessments, Monarch Media’s team used Articulate’s suite of eLearning authoring tools. This software allows developers to rapidly build interactive, Flash-based pages and activities. By leveraging these tools, Monarch’s programmers were also able to keep development costs low.

Although studies prove that most eLearning provides good return on investment, organizations often fear that the start-up costs of launching an online course will be prohibitively expensive. But this doesn’t have to be the case. For ACCIÓN’s leadership course, Monarch’s team used what Schneeberger calls “guerilla eLearning development” to keep costs low.

For example, rather than sending the voiceover actors to a recording studio, Monarch captured their dialog using the company’s voicemail system. The course developers also used traditional Web technology to provide engagement, rather than relying on the heavy use of video. “You can engage people by creatively using still images and dialog versus having video or other relatively high-end types of media carry your message,” says Schneeberger.

Having a good curriculum ready can also make a big difference in containing costs. “ACCIÓN had a really clear and well-developed curriculum already in place,” recalls Schneeberger. “They already had the outline and they had a complete sense of their objectives from an instructional design point of view. That allowed us to jump in and think about how to convert it into digital format.

“One of the things I see that makes eLearning start-up costs expensive is when organizations haven’t thought about their learning objectives before they launch an eLearning project. Having the client come in and say, ‘We’ve done this training in person and we have these supporting materials,’ that definitely makes it much easier to do the multimedia and programming work.”

Engaging eLearning

Curran believes the completed course will make a big difference in helping ACCIÓN achieve its training objectives. “Our biggest goal is leadership, management, and supervisor development,” she says. “It was an amazing experience to work with the whole Monarch Media team. They got what we were looking for and got what we needed. They created an eLearning course that’s simple to use, but tackles some really challenging content.”

Curran foresees using the course in a variety of ways, both as a stand-alone eLearning module and also as the kernel of a larger training program. “We’ll work with specific groups to build a program around it,” she says. “For specific programs or units, we can have participants all take the eLearning module and then do a face-to-face training or a webinar.”

Others have taken note of the course as well. In March 2010, Monarch Media was named a finalist in the eLearning Global Giveback Competition. The contest is co-sponsored by the eLearning Guild and Learning for International NGOs (LINGOs), a consortium of more than 45 international humanitarian organizations.

More importantly, however, is that the course makes learning about leadership skills engaging and fun. “I love going through the training myself,” says Curran. “Monarch thought creatively and came up with a great solution.”