In the past, charities may have looked longingly at big corporate eLearning budgets, but in the current global economic climate, those same corporations would do well to look at the inspirational work that is being done in the third sector. The expression “necessity is the mother of invention” has never more true than for these charities, who have to be really inventive with both their time and money.

Charities here in the U.K. are doing such fantastic Learning and Development (L&D) work that this year the Charity Learning Consortium launched the first Charity Learning Awards – to celebrate our charities’ eLearning journeys as well as their successes. The well known and much loved U.K. children’s charity Barnardo’s was a well-deserved winner of the best overall eLearning program. Lisa Johnson is Barnardo’s Assistant Director IS Learning and Development. She is an inspirational leader, who I know looks at what she’d like to achieve first – and then works out a way to achieve it within a charity’s budget.

We were particularly impressed with the charity’s wide use of learning technologies, including virtual classrooms, increasingly popular short videos that they make in-house, wikis, and an online community. To immediately overcome any reluctance to virtual classrooms, all new recruits now enter the virtual classroom environment as part of their induction. It’s such a simple, but highly effective, means of introducing them to the concept of virtual learning, and the L&D team can also showcase their resources at the same time. It’s a simple, but brilliant, idea – and one that businesses could easily emulate.

These kinds of initiatives are proof that you really don’t need a big budget to make eLearning a success, although it helps if you have a good helping of creativity and drive. So who better to give eLearning advice to others than the exceptional Lisa Johnson? Here, in association with The Charity Learning Consortium, are Lisa’s top tips for eLearning success:

Keep in contact with your learners

Despite the popularity of eLearning and virtual classrooms, it is vital to maintain face-to-face contact with your learners so you can to keep up to date with their changing needs. We can credit a large part of Barnardo’s success to the L&D team’s ability to listen to the challenges staff face, to appreciate their issues, and to develop solutions that meet them. This has had a noticeable impact on Barnardo’s learning culture. Staff members are now choosing self-directed learning, rather than just requesting training.

Be creative with existing learning technologies

Barnardo's L&D team supports the development of some 8,000 staff and volunteers, at

1,600 sites spread across the U.K. and Northern Ireland. Managing the learning needs of this diverse workforce takes creativity and imagination.

ELearning, and the use of other learning technologies, has revolutionized the way Barnardo’s supports its IT users, with 60% of training now provided online. Barnardo’s uses a range of learning technologies, including eLearning, virtual classrooms, video, wikis, and an online learning community.

When the team discovers a new technology, they immerse themselves in understanding how to make best use of it, in order to fully understand the benefits and challenges the technology presents. This allows the team to build up a toolkit of resources that they can use in any combination to provide the right solutions.

Engage new recruits early – get them hooked

Initially, staff members were reluctant to try eLearning, but the Barnardo’s team helped them overcome their concerns by introducing individual learning contracts, team-based learning, and the promoting of learning in small bite-sized modules. The Barnardo’s team also observed that when virtual classrooms were introduced some learners were anxious at first, so the team ensured virtual classroom sessions became one of the first learning experiences for all new staff.

All new recruits to the charity are now given a 45-minute virtual classroom session that introduces Barnardo’s IT systems. After attending this first session, staff members overcome their nerves and are happy to sign up for more.

Learn to walk before you run – success comes in small chunks

Make your resources easy to find and quick to use. The Barnardo’s team didn’t implement the full range of learning technologies overnight. The team took a measured approach, gradually introducing learners to new technologies, taking time to consider feedback, and engaging groups in testing new content.

The Barnardo’s team has also created a single point of access for all IT-related learning resources. This is accessible from within the organization’s central document management system. It provides a series of task-based links that guides users to the appropriate resources for the precise piece of learning they need. Whether it is a piece of eLearning hosted on The Charity Learning Consortium’s customized Moodle site, a short video demonstration, a printable user guide, or even an e-mail to a member of the team, this approach allows learners to choose how they prefer to learn.

Keep reviewing your progress – plan for the future

The issues you need to deal with will change over time and you need to be able to adapt to a range of challenges. Regular analysis of calls to the Barnardo’s IT helpdesk led the team to produce “tips and tricks” online fact sheets. As a direct result, “How to” calls were reduced by 50%. The team continues to review this data and update the learning resources as inquiries change.

At a strategic level, Barnardo’s continually assesses organizational and external challenges that will have an impact on our learning community. For example, the team expects to see an increasing need for flexibility and mobile technology, with a growing number of staff members working from home and on the move. Barnardo’s is exploring developing the right content, applications, and hardware to support a more mobile and diverse workforce to keep one step ahead of the needs of staff.

With thanks to Lisa Johnson, Barnardo's Assistant Director IS Learning and Development. Barnardo’s won the Charity Learning Award 2011 for the Best overall eLearning program, and is “short listed” for The Learning & Performance Institute’s Learning Awards 2012.