DPG found they were receiving over 100 enquiries each month via their website for an online programme on human resources management. To make the most of this opportunity, they approached Virtual College to help them transform their CIPD-accredited Level 5 Human Resources Management course from a blended to fully online option.
Virtual College’s experience developing innovative and effective e-learning with customers like the Home Office and Tech Partnership, plus their award for E-learning Development Company of the Year 2016, meant they were in the ideal place to partner with DPG for this extensive project. DPG were also looking for a strategic learning technology partner to work with for the next three to 10 years, and Virtual College were similarly keen to form a long-term relationship.
DPG had a number of objectives for this project. Their desire to move from delivering the Level 5 qualification via blended learning to a fully online option was driven by a central business objective to grow their CIPD portfolio and increase their market share by accessing more learners. In particular, they wanted to offer international learners who weren’t able to access face-to-face training CIPD-accredited courses.
DPG’s competitors had begun to offer online-only training, so this project also had the aim of allowing them to compete in the market, and ideally offer something unique which reflected their reputation of developing the best individuals in the field. Blended learning can cost significant time and money to deliver, so another aim of the project was to increase DPG’s profit margin through an online option.
From an educational perspective, DPG wanted to maintain the high-quality, practically-applicable style of their blended learning in any online-only alternative, ensuring the educational content and learning strategy was appropriate for learners and aided them in developing transferable skills.
Developing People Globally (DPG) are an international organisation who’ve delivered high quality HR, L&D and management courses to 20,000 people across the world, including in organisations like Nationwide, British Gas, ASDA and the NHS. Their approach takes key theories and skills and applies them to real life challenges using case studies, helping learners apply what they’ve discovered to a practical situation while developing workplace-ready skills.
Working together, Virtual College built on DPG’s trusted approach – using case studies to explain theoretical or practical content – with Kolb’s experiential learning theory to create an innovative learning strategy inspired by an earlier project. This concept was a central 'business district', where learners were employed by an HR consultancy and 'visited' different businesses across the district, each with unique HR challenges. This idea would enable their learners to access authentic scenarios where they could apply information they had absorbed during their learning journey. Furthermore, to ensure the material was pitched at the right level for a CIPD-accredited, Level 5 qualification, Virtual College worked very closely with DPG’s subject matter experts to ensure they fully understood the course’s educational content.
The learning solution
Developing People Globally (DPG) and Virtual College partnered to take DPG’s Level 5, CIPD-accredited Human Resources Management course fully online to increase DPG’s market share while maintaining their reputation for high quality training. This innovative online-only qualification features a central business district where users learn through applying their knowledge to help individual businesses, from retailers to restaurants. The course, launched in October 2016, now has over 500 enrolled learners, a significantly increased profit margin, a withdrawal rate of just 2% (compared to 23% for the blended option) and 97% of learners recommending the course to others.
Through working together, DPG and Virtual College developed the concept of a virtual ‘business district’ with an HR consultancy at its heart. Learners were ‘employed’ by the HR consultancy and supported each business in the district – including retail, manufacturing and restaurant businesses – with their unique HR challenges. This strategy helped them gain foundation-level HR knowledge and then encouraged them to apply it directly to diverse, real life examples from across multiple industries. In turn, this developed their transferable skills and allowed every learner to solve business challenges even if they didn’t currently work with that type of business.
The technical solution
An online-only technological solution was chosen to fulfil DPG’s requirements and ensure costs were reduced, and it was designed to reflect the high-quality learning experience participants of the blended learning course would normally receive. Virtual College developed a set of characters in a naturalistic, professional look and feel who guided learners through the in-depth content, including business owners and HR colleagues who presented learners with challenges to complete. Characters were designed to reflect the real world of work, with a diverse mix of genders and ethnicities. The overall design was engaging and visually appealing without being distracting or inappropriate.
Each module of the Level 5 qualification is linked to a different business in the district, which allows participants to consistently learn then apply theory to a range of real life situations. The modules use interactivity to keep learners active and consolidate learning, with tactics like drag-and-drop and ‘find the missing word’ as part of the learning experience. All information is communicated in bite-sized chunks, and learners can choose to look at further resources – such as glossaries and independent activities – or continue with core content. Each module is completed through a formative scenario-based assessment where learners gain feedback on answers, and a final summative assessment to test consolidated knowledge.
Alongside the learning content experienced in the ‘business district’, learners are able to attend monthly webinars to discuss specific assessments and their assignments. These are delivered in the evening, to fit with the course’s flexible approach, and recorded so they can be accessed by those unable to attend live. Learners are also able to participate in webinars of different cohorts – those further on or further behind in the course – to help enhance or refresh their own knowledge.
Participants in the course can also access DPG Community, a social platform with over 6,000 members where learners and HR professionals share resources, answer each other’s questions and discuss content from the course. The course also has an experienced and invaluable Personal Online Consultant Facilitator, Gary Norris, who learners can access via email, text, phone, via DPG Community or in webinars for detailed individual support.
In developing and rolling out this course with DPG, Virtual College took their trusted partnership approach and spent time fully understanding DPG’s business, learner and project management requirements. Working closely with stakeholders, the project team at Virtual College created a clear scope with specific KPIs to keep the work on schedule and to brief, then split the project into manageable chunks so it could be handled most effectively by their content development and project management teams. This included regular liaison with DPG subject matter experts to make sure the learning content was communicated at the right level for this higher education qualification.
As part of the project’s promotion, Virtual College and DPG:
DPG also run social media hashtag campaigns for the course, and the virtual owner of the business district’s HR consultancy has her own Twitter account.
One specific challenge DPG faced was receiving CIPD approval for the online-only option of this course before it was launched. Virtual College supported DPG in gaining this accreditation during the development of the project by producing a detailed learning strategy and using this to help CIPD understand what the final outcome would contain.
The overall learning strategy was effective in achieving DPG’s objectives and had a widespread positive impact on individual learners and DPG as a whole.
The increased flexibility afforded by an online-only option has a number of benefits to learners:
Learner feedback shows the effectiveness of this online-only learning strategy:
“I was drawn to this course specifically because I was able to complete online, at a pace that I felt suited me. The design of the programme is easy to follow.”
“I really enjoyed the flexibility of the course, found the portal easy to use and the tools/support provided really useful and helpful.”
“The programme is well designed for a personal learning journey, allowing you to learn on your own, but with the knowledge that the facilitators are there if you need any assistance.”
Since the rollout of the programme in October 2016, DPG have identified multiple benefits to the business which show this course has effectively fulfilled their original objectives.
Aim: Growing DPG’s CIPD portfolio, learner numbers and accessing international learners
DPG have secured just under 40 international learners for the online-only course, compared to zero on the blended option. There are currently more than 500 enrolled learners, with the number of learners for 2017-18 exceeding the year’s target by more than 50%. The participants of this one programme make up 25% of DPG’s total learners across seven CIPD-accredited programmes. The withdrawal rate for the online course is also significantly lower than for the blended option; 2% compared to 23%.
Aim: Offering a unique and high-quality online-only option for this Level 5 qualification
Karen Cottam, Head of Product and Design at DPG, has said the course "really is different to anything else available in the market", and that it has opened up new revenue streams for the company: the bite-sized chunks of educational content mean individual sections can be marketed to learners looking to upskill in a specific area.
Aim: Increase DPG’s profit margin through an online-only option
The cost of the course for learners has been significantly reduced with the introduction of an online-only option – by over £400 for the certificate and £600 for the diploma – while DPG have managed to increase their profit margin. Profits on the blended learning Level 5 course are 50%; the profit margin for the online-only course is 30% more, at 80%.
Aim: Maintaining high quality HR education with a professional and appropriate tone
The combination of pedagogical, technological and community elements of the course has resulted in a high-quality e-learning product that upholds DPG’s reputation as a trainer of the best in field. In a learner survey, 97% of respondents completing the course would recommend it, and the company, to colleagues, while 94% of respondents scored the course’s introductory module as better than average or exceeded expectations.
DPG have also seen an improvement in pass rate for specific modules, with a 76% first time pass rate for the online-only course, compared to just over 50% for the blended option.