How UK charity Guide Dogs transformed L&D approach amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

Man walking with guide dog

The challenge

UK charity Guide Dogs helps adults, children and young people with sight loss to live actively, independently and well by providing life-changing services.  By 2023, Guide Dogs hopes to double the amount of support it provides to people living with a vision impairment. The training of dogs, staff and volunteers is key to achieving this goal.

Traditionally, formal training was largely delivered via in-person classroom methods and on-the-job training with coaches. With the workforce spread across the country and operational staff spending a large proportion of time training dogs and visiting service users, the charity needed a platform to deliver learning anywhere, anytime, and on multiple devices to meet the needs of all their staff and volunteers.

A paws-itive experience all round for Guide Dogs!

Having looked at many different learning solutions, Guide Dogs decided to migrate to Learn, with the platform going live right in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has been a strain for everyone, but it has also been an opportunity for us as it has made us accelerate our online learning capability. Learn enabled us to take practical training courses and deliver them as virtual classrooms with live and recorded webinars, plus video content, while still achieving strong levels of engagement with our learners. Learn is a very intuitive, accessible platform so our learners found it very easy to adopt. The quality of the technical support Kallidus provides is excellent.” – Jo Cottingham, Learning and Organisation Development LMS Specialist

Guide Dogs currently hosts more than 3,200 active learners using the new platform, with more than 28% of learners being volunteers. Learn is scalable and easy to use, meaning Guide Dogs can quickly and effectively roll the system out to additional learners as it grows.

Results have soared

Since the launch of Learn in April 2020, lesson completions have grown dramatically and learner feedback has been extremely positive.

June 2020 to October 2020 saw an average of 14,200 lesson completions per month. July 2020 was their hottest month, with more than 21,000 completions – when a lot of staff were on furlough!

  • 100% of operational staff who work with their dogs and people with sight loss are engaged in online learning, with almost 2,500 online learning hours achieved
  • Learner evaluation feedback has been excellent, with each course topic scoring at least 4 out of 5 stars

The move to digital learning has enabled Guide Dogs to train far more staff than was possible with face-to-face learning.

Learn is used to deliver the majority of inhouse learning including induction and welcome events as part of the onboarding process, CPD, management development and compliance training, and it allows them to report on completion rates which inform future business need.

One such example is the Training, Behaviour and Welfare Foundation course which all staff must complete.

Between May 2017 and April 2020, 231 people completed the three-day face-to-face course.

In comparison, 380 learners completed the new three-day online course between May 2020 and December 2020.

Learners didn’t even need to have a dog at home with them as they were ‘buddied up’ with a colleague who did have a dog, so that they could learn together.

Learn increased the number of learners in such a short amount of time by offering:

  • A blend of live virtual classroom sessions
  • Online learning materials
  • Interactive breakout sessions
  • A final online exam

One third of learners say they have built valuable learning networks thanks to the move to online learning. One third also say digital learning has had a significant impact on increasing productivity and job satisfaction.

“Our implementation of Learn and our transformation to digital learning has proven to be so successful that we will never go back to our old face-to-face model. We have moved the majority of our training online – even dog training – enabling us to make considerable time and cost savings and focus on training more people, more effectively.” – Jo Cottingham, Learning and Organisation Development LMS Specialist

The future

“Guide Dogs’ learning & development strategy has developed with a focus on the learner taking responsibility for their own development.  We are using a blended learning approach by maximising the use of digital learning to provide a flexible, agile approach to learning for all staff and volunteers. Learn enables us to provide a self-service offer for people to access learning when and were required”. – Linda Cooper, Head of Organisational Development and Learning.

Since the migration to Learn in 2020, the charity has added a further 1,000 puppy raiser volunteers to the platform enabling them to deliver an online offering to those volunteers for the very first time.

The majority of training will continue to be offered using a blended approach with the focus on online delivery in 2021 and beyond.

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