Background

In 2006-2007 the service coupled their PowerPoint presentations with manuals and DVDs to support their training needs, and developed the use of “PowerPoint Producer” – a PowerPoint add-on that enabled teachers to add a narration to PowerPoint slides. Around 80 of these were created between 2007-2008 for internal use. Although some success was enjoyed with this approach, the Service (and Hampshire County Council who were responsible for funding) felt that production costs were overly expensive.

Between 2008 and 2010 HFRS formed the view that a web based learning platform that could work outside of the scope of the County Council was the best way forward. A local self-hosted pilot was set up as an early proof of concept. In late 2010, Hampshire Fire and Rescue decided on Moodle as their learning management system (LMS). The service had evaluated other options prior to its decision but Moodle was the closest fit to requirements in terms of budget, delivering learning options with the ability to track courses and users and standardise teaching throughout.

A staple course within the HFRS course portfolio is the “Mod-A” Foundations Skills Course, comprising 10 modules on topics such as ladder drills and fire science. Mod A was delivered face-to-face over 10 days, every 3 months at Headquarters. Following training, candidates were required to take a test, undertake an assessment and then were booked on a practical course. The “traditional” approach lacked flexibility, in particular there was always a waiting period to join the next available course. Supporting Mod A in Moodle resulted in a reduction in the course duration by 4 days, benefiting the service with significant time and cost savings. In addition, there were enhanced opportunities to standardise the training to a consistently high level. The new format also received great feedback from learners! Based on this positive response to the initial Mod A trial a proposal was made to the Senior Management team who agreed to extend the initiative and to develop the site further. HFRS set out to find a Moodle expert who could help them develop and improve their Moodle site to get the most from it.

Moving forward – The next Moodle stage

HFRS had already used HowToMoodle (HTM) services for Moodle administrator training and representatives had attended a seminar hosted by the company. Following a review of requirements HTM were engaged to host the Moodle site and provide ongoing support.

At this stage HFRS decided that there was sufficient expertise in-house to take the project forward with internal resources and development of the site continued with minimal external input. An issue that emerged was the requirement for each employee to have a “Fire ID” to allow access to IT systems. Not all of the Moodle site’s users require this facility and the £400 per person cost was prohibitive. Working with another project to reduce costs and and allowing the use of personal emails has helped boost registrations from 1000 to 1300 users.

Future scalability of the system also emerged as a key issue with long term requirements being more extensive than those of the initial trial. Neil Rae, HFRS Learning, Inclusion and Development, was appointed to the project in February 2013 and quickly identified that the organisation of the site, course design to date and user management processes were unlikely to scale up effectively.

 Training is important

In attempting to reconcile the issues Neil identified that there were gaps in the in-house knowledge of Moodle. Neil opted to attend the full range of HowToMoodle open courses and invited key colleagues to attend too. Amongst the benefits derived from the training were:

  • A fuller appreciation of Moodle’s potential for the service
  • A realisation that current development wasn’t necessarily proceeding in the best way
  • A clearer understanding of user management options enabling the IT department to understand how it would fit with existing policies and procedures.

Implementing the latest stage of the Moodle project

HFRS runs a 2 year “Maintenance and Competence” (MOC) scheme, covering 220 competencies for firefighters. When the full potential of Moodle was realised, all training material was made available for the next training cycle in April 2013, initially, through 80 Operational Flexi Duty Officers. The whole service launch was in June 2013. Based on self registration, student registrations went from just over 200 initial students to over 800 when publicised.

HTM recommended setting up one area where experimentation could take place post-training without affecting the production site, and a second area where HFRS could become familiar with the latest versions and test extensively in advance of any changes being made to the production site.

Following the training HFRS made extensive use of HTM to discuss objectives, plans and issues. Ready access to a “critical friend” able to challenge assumptions and ask questions previously not considered was extremely beneficial. Facilitating 3-way communication proved to be vital; between those who required it, those who were delivering it, and Moodle experts who would help with guidance on realistic goals and good practice approaches to achieve objectives.

Moodle is simple! Upon implementation HFRS only received a handful of calls (mostly regarding log ins), however in general it was easy to use and pickup, which made it a lot easier to get people on board.

Challenges of the latest implementation

  • One of the main challenges that HFRS faced in implementing the latest stage in the Moodle project was communication. Communication across the service has the potential to be time consuming and difficult. Armed with the insights from the training and follow up discussions, Neil and colleagues negotiated a project pause so that senior manager’s expectations could be managed and agreed. Taking this “time out” to ensure that objectives were understood and clearly communicated from the top down paid dividends in formulating a future-proofed organisational plan for the site.
  • Encouraging and up skilling colleagues to be involved with the site to reduce reliance on the small core team. In addition, wider participation increases the likelihood of prolonged effective use of the system and meaningful feedback on future needs. This will require sustained effort and Neil is currently looking at managing and bringing in a 3 year training programme into Moodle.
  • The Public Sector challenge. Working in the Public Sector often means that seemingly small things can take a long time to achieve. The HFRS team focussed heavily on communication between stakeholders to ensure early awareness and resolution of issues.

Standardisation of training. A significant benefit of Moodle to HFRS is the ability to promote consistent courses and training throughout each station. Previously stations would carry out training (e.g. a ladder drill) in slightly different ways. With Moodle there was one standard of teaching.

Achievements and the future

The objectives for Moodle within the service have changed significantly since the initial trial.

  • Put the Moodle LMS in place with the right governance. It is now recognised as one of the top 12 projects in the service and one of the largest currently underway.
  • A formal communication structure; the service is now in a good position to integrate Moodle with policies managed by other departments and to obtain rapid feedback on areas of potential improvement. This is now supported by a project manager allocated to the eLearning team.
  • New possibilities for training on animal rescue. The Moodle site in use with the Chief Fire Rescue Association to deliver training on animal rescue, and is a national resource for International disasters. HFRS is working with 8 veterinary Universities in the UK, who are seeking to tie in trauma care animal care with their learning with full access to the site from February 2014.
  • Greater use of longer format video using Vimeo, a video streaming service that can be embedded within a Moodle site. HFRS would like to provide offices and stations with tablets from which trainers can deliver training through videos at each station, saving considerable time and reducing paperwork.
  • Joint working and sharing (a key objective for Public Sector organisations). HFRS have collaborated with Hampshire Police with its Moodle site and there are plans to collaborate with Hampshire Ambulance Service in the near future. It’s hoped there will be opportunities to design content packages for topics that are common across the services.

Benefits of Moodle for the Service:

  • Reduction in course time. The movement of HFRS courses from face-to-face onto the Moodle LMS has saved significant course time and costs as a result. For example, the implementation of the Mod-A course took 4 days off the training.
  • Cost benefits. By using Moodle it allowed staff to use their own email addresses to log into the system, saving the local Council considerable money from reducing the need to set each staff up with their own email account, a cost which amounts to around £400 per year per person.
  • Making training visual. HFRS now produce around 200 videos a year. Moodle is a great platform to be able to show them, as well as develop it for future use. The service receives the best feedback where video and film content is included in the training. This not only helps support the instructor, but brings it to life and makes it engaging for the learner – a crucial aspect of training for any organisation.

Students more prepared. By allowing access to training materials online, and sharing resources through the Moodle site, HFRS’ learners are now more prepared and their competence is improved.

Recommendations for developing the Moodle site

As a result of such challenges the following actions are recommended by Neil when developing a Moodle platform:

  • Set up an area in which you can test and demo before it is expanded across a wider area and number of users.
  • Get the right training, and for the right people. Ensure that the relevant departments are enlisted on the correct Moodle training in order to help save time and issues at a later date.
  • Have some governance and project management – especially important for the Public Sector.
  • Communication is key! This is vital prior to the launch, as well as once up and running, to ensure that there is global understanding of the process, objectives and timelines throughout the organisation.
  • User groups. HFRS set up a board to steer and set timelines every couple of months. User groups contain a member from each team to define how they use Moodle, communications take place every 4-6 weeks. This, coupled with a development site, allows the groups to work on and test issues, and collaborate to design resources to meet multiple needs. An end user group is also important in order to gain significant feedback, and to ensure that the end user is a key focus and is kept in mind at all times.
  • Enlist a Moodle expert in which you have confidence in and can work with throughout your project. HFRS found that using a Moodle expert enabled them make informed decisions to help achieve their objectives. Choose a Moodle expert who will ask the questions you haven’t thought of yet, challenge your assumptions and listen to and clarify your needs before making recommendations.
  • Be informed. Invest in training and consultancy it’s well worth it in the long run.
  • Public Sector Recommendations:
    – Get IT systems/departments on board.
    – Don’t be limited. Engage with other organisations about their systems (e.g. training packages) and share!
    – If you have the ability to make your own videos, rather than outsourcing, do it! HFRS will save £20,000 pa on one project alone. Moodle functionality enables you to assess understanding and monitor access.