Remote communities and e-learning: the challenge and the solution

Rodney Spark

Rodney Spark is the executive director of eWorks and chair of the E-standards for Training Expert Group (EEG). Rodney focuses on improving the flexibility and quality of learning through the application of information and communication technologies (ICT). Flexibility has proved particularly important in his recent work with the East Arnhem Regional Council (EARC). Together with a team of technical, educational and business strategy experts at eWorks, all coordinated by a senior project manager, Rodney has been tackling The Council’s challenge to deliver training to over 300 staff in nine remote and dispersed locations.

The Challenge

East Arnhem Regional Council (EARC) is situated in the far north-eastern corner of the Northern Territory mainland, covering a land mass of approximately 33,359km2. The Council provides core local government services to nine remote communities of Arnhem land: Milingimbi, Ramingining, Galiwin’ku, Gapuwiyak, Yirrkala, Gunyangara, Umbakumba, Angurugu and Milyakburra. That five of these nine communities are located on islands only exacerbates the unique challenges of providing services to the Council’s remotely dispersed constituents. However EARC is recognised as being more than a service provider to these communities. As the predominant employer, EARC’s mission is to provide sustainable employment and development for the people of East Arnhem Land. Through the creation of quality training and an inclusive workplace, EARC is working with the communities to develop pathways for employment and to empower people through the acquisition of skills and personal development. For EARC, delivering ongoing training and development extends beyond the Council’s 300 staff and presents several key challenges:

1. Dispersed staff

With EARC staff dispersed across such a large area, the costs of face-to-face delivery can be considerable. This, combined with infrequent transport options to island communities, limits the amount of training and development which can be feasibly delivered each year. In addition, face-to-face events cannot be planned with any certainty between October and March because of the unpredictable and extreme weather.

2. Learner requirements

Approximately two thirds of EARC’s workforce is Indigenous, and for many of these staff English is not their first (or in many instances second) language. Indeed, unique languages are spoken in nearly all of the communities serviced by EARC. Acknowledging and valuing individual community identity, indigenous culture and heritage is a core value at EARC. Consequently, challenges exist in providing training to all their staff that is consistent in terms of content but tailored in terms of local context and language.

3. Limited technology

Internet access in several remote communities is slow and/or unstable and many EARC staff do not have personal computers. Mobile devices and smart phones are the primary point of internet access for remote indigenous communities but the mobile coverage is unreliable and the data costs can be prohibitive for individuals. Introducing online training successfully for EARC requires an appreciation of the technology limitations.

4. Community engagement

EARC seeks to increase community capacity and empowerment by providing employment for individuals, facilitating businesses to develop and promoting safe and healthy  communities. This requires education and training programs that extend beyond its current workforce into the communities it services and their success will depends upon community ownership and engagement in the planning and delivery.

Australia Outback panoramaCredits: Australia Outback panorama by Joan Campderrós-i-Canas

The Solution

East Arnhem Regional Council is currently undertaking an initiative to transition towards an e-learning model of training delivery to its remote staff. They are doing this in order to achieve:

  • quality training outcomes
  • broader training delivery availability, and
  • greater return on training investment.

eWorks is assisting the Council to implement a multi-faceted project comprising:

1. Development and implementation of an e-learning strategy

The successful roll-out of e-learning within an organisation involves considerable organisational change, and this needs to be supported by a clear strategy and stakeholder engagement. In consultation with EARC stakeholders, eWorks is creating an e-learning strategy designed to maximise the effectiveness of the e-learning rollout. The strategy needs to articulate the change enablers required to support the technology uptake and will include a project plan of measurable outcomes to ensure that e-learning implementation occurs as efficiently as possible within the organisational context.

2. Management of e-learning platform implementation

A key component of the EARC e-learning strategy is the roll-out of an enterprise-level training platform, which is accessible to all EARC staff. Key considerations in this component of the project include ensuring that the platform is readily available and intuitive for EARC staff, and that the platform accurately tracks staff accomplishments and facilitates learning pathways for staff members that are aligned to personal and organisational goals.

3. Resource development

A learning management system is only of limited use without a comprehensive suite of learning resources and training materials. eWorks is assisting EARC in this area by:

  • Identifying existing EARC assets that are suitable for rapid conversion to an online format.
  • Developing systems and processes to enable EARC to create engaging training materials from scratch.
  • Identifying free and cost-effective training materials available in the marketplace, capitalising on eWorks’ existing network of content publishers.

eWorks’ ongoing support and project management, designed to maximise the cohesion and outcomes across the multiple sub-projects, complements all of these services. We look forward to providing you with an update on the Council’s transition to an e-learning model of training delivery in a few months.

Do you have any stories about delivering training to remote learners that you would like to share with our readers? Contact us today.