Among other areas of excellence, the Hong Kong government is best known for its long established staff training systems. Times change and in order to keep pace with the fast-growing needs for technological advancements, a comprehensive e-learning platform Cyber Learning Centre Plus (CLC Plus) has been developed to complement the multitude of currently available classroom training programmes.
"In line with the e-government initiative, the objectives of our endeavour are to build on our training infrastructure and construct a complementary learning portal which will enable all civil servants to acquire timely and requisite skills and knowledge for discharging their duties and preparing for the next step up the career ladder," says Erica Tsang, chief training officer, e-learning unit, Civil Service Training and Development Institute (CSTDI), Civil Service Bureau.
Geared towards staff of all levels, the bulk of CLC Plus e-learning materials including more than 200 standalone web courses and a wealth of useful information are open for free access while a handful of licensed courses require authorisation.
Ms Tsang notes that the expanding portal also functions as an integral part of an increasingly popular blended learning model. "For instance, colleagues looking to enrol in a performance appraisal workshop are required to study certain materials and complete a quiz on CLC Plus before beginning the classroom training," she explains. With the facilitation of trainers, participants in such dual-mode training programmes may also be asked to watch a video clip online and discuss related issues in class.
"Unlike classroom training where a high level of interaction is almost guaranteed, online training programmes must be interesting enough to arrest learner attention and offer a retreat from time and space constraints that are commonly associated with a classroom setting," Ms Tsang emphasises.
To encourage staff to better leverage available e-learning resources, monthly and ad hoc announcements are made to inform members of content updates and newly launched web courses; leaflets are produced and distributed to acquaint staff with the e-learning concept and invite registration. "There are also online quizzes to arouse interest," Ms Tsang says.
Statistics reveal frontline to middle management staff amount to 80 per cent of the 70,000-plus registered learners, with senior management to directorate grade staff making up the remaining user population. Last year alone, the department recorded more than 40,000 web course participations, in which 50 per cent of participants chose to study outside office hours.
"Statistical results divulge user behaviour, learning preferences as well as personal interests, helping us to measure output and modify future development focus," Ms Tsang notes, adding also that monitoring user progress is partly a customer relationship management initiative. "In some instances we may issue reminders to users who are due to move on to the next stage of a course," she adds.
According to Ms Tsang, the CSTDI e-learning unit also offers advisory services to government departments on ways to develop and promote e-learning. "At present, a handful of government departments like the Police and the Customs and Excise Department have signed on and built some of their training programmes and learning tools on CLC Plus. Access to departmental and vocational training materials are primarily available to staff from these departments, while general materials are open to all," she explains.
The CSTDI e-learning team comprises mainly training officers. These subject experts conceive training concepts, set training objectives, identify target audiences, develop programme content and decide on the medium of delivery before they hand the project over to external IT consultants who in turn recommend the storyboard, overall design and finally come up with the much anticipated product. Ms Tsang expands, "After assessing all the technicalities such as the programme organisation and navigation, we may suggest adding on other elements such as games and quizzes so as to encourage participation." The unit may also convert existing classroom training programmes on a case-by-case basis.
In a bid to benchmark standards and keep on par with industry best practice, the department facilitates idea and experience exchange opportunities with the private sector and actively participates in e-learning interest groups, conferences and seminars. "Closer to home, user comments and general feedback are collected via the CSDTI helpdesk and a biennial satisfaction survey," Ms Tsang adds.
As a result of this, a two-pronged redevelopment plan is in the pipeline to further enhance platform functionality and content comprehensibility and this will incorporate an array of new functions like personalisation tools, content search and RSS (really simple syndication) on different learning topics. Interactive mechanisms such as user groups and discussion forums will also be installed to create interest and boost learning effectiveness. "Work is also underway to expand our electronic training administration system," Ms Tsang notes. "The majority of government departments can expect to fully utilise and benefit from this system by 2012."