Cost savings via collaborative learning

News   •   Oct 19, 2012 12:35 BST

The NHS was placed on high alert by NHS head, Sir David Nicholson in September to ensure that there are no failings as it gears up for the Government's reforms to go live in April. The NHS has been told that it is at the start of a savings drive, being required to save £20 billion by 2015 through becoming more productive. However, as the NHS comprises many organisations with some freedom to operate as independent businesses, there is the risk that opportunities to achieve savings through working collaboratively are missed.

Training challenges and generic content

In 2008, Alison Potter, eLearning programme manager for NHS South Central, (which covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire - and has a total workforce of about 80,000) found that the 24 NHS Trusts in the area had similar training requirements but were all independently commissioning or developing eLearning materials, with little or no knowledge of the eLearning that already existed.

There were already a number of nationally produced eLearning materials in existence, but some of the trusts thought the content was too generic for local use. Not unreasonably, many of them wanted content that was locally designed to meet local needs, though in reality, many of the learning needs of the NHS workforce are commonly shared and can be effectively met by using generic learning content. "Everyone focused on the 20 per cent that was different as opposed to the 80 per cent that was the same", said Potter.

"We as an organisation decided to bring all of our trusts together to look at ways in which this could be addressed."

A problem that required a solution

NHS South Central decided to take a collaborative approach to eLearning content development, using a 'club' model similar to one that existed in NHS Yorkshire and the Humber. The NHS South Central eLearning content club was born in 2009. Member organisations make a modest financial contribution to the club and bring their expertise together to reduce costs, reduce duplication and increase the delivery and uptake of high quality eLearning that supports improvements in patient care and safety.

An important first purchase for the club was an eLearning authoring tool that would enable members to develop locally-relevant content whilst supporting the club philosophy of avoiding unnecessary duplication and sharing skills and expertise. The club members knew they needed an eLearning tool that provided a high level of flexibility, and would support collaborative development, and local adaptation. They required a tool that could be used to create engaging eLearning on a wide range of topics, including clinical, technical and soft and statutory/mandatory training topics, and could produce modules that could be used within any local learning management ssystem, as a variety are in use across the area. Following an in-depth review of various tools on the market, the club chose Assima's Atlantic Link.

More than 150 individuals from the club member trusts have now been trained to use the eLearning authoring tool. Some central training has been provided, but more than 50 per cent have been trained by other club members willing to share their expertise. Each of the member organisations has access to their own development folder and content can be viewed, shared and locally adapted.

Democratic decision-making and best practice development

A process has been established for deciding which development projects are funded from club funds. There is a call for proposals every six months, and members submit these using a standard form. Proposers need to be clear about the objectives that will be supported by the development, provide evidence of need, and have given consideration to the target audience, learning outcomes and method of delivery (e.g. whether the learning is for stand-alone, self-paced learning or will be used as part of a blend). They need to have identified a project manager and lead subject matter expert, and have given thought to the intellectual property rights of the assets, images and text that they plan to use within the learning. A key requirement is to have established, as far as possible, that an eLearning module that could meet the identified learning needs is not already in existence or in development somewhere else in the NHS. Although still relatively new, the NHS eLearning repository ( is developing into a helpful means to find out what's already out there and with the owner's permission, be adopted or adapted, rather than starting from scratch.

Club members then score all the submitted proposals against an agreed set of criteria, and those with the highest scores are progressed (budget permitting).  A series of templates and check-lists have been developed to support all the necessary next steps - from product specification, project planning through to testing and evaluation. These, plus best practice tips on development of eLearning and on the all-important marketing and promotion of the end products, are included in the club handbook.

Significant ROI

Four years since its inception, the club has developed more than 100 learning modules and 150 versions, on a wide range of topics, from management of absence to management of anticoagulation. Recent developments include development of a set of online competence assessments for statutory and mandatory training topics, and investment in a collaborative tool for the development of mobile apps.

The club has now saved its members a total of approximately£4 million through collaboration as opposed to individual trusts commissioning and development of eLearning modules.

Gihan Wanigera-sekera shares the eLearning programme manager role at NHS South Central and recently spoke at a seminar put on by Assima in Birmingham last month to share the benefits of using Atlantic Link's Content Club. For more information see or contact Gihan at