6 months of Google

Paul McElvaneyPaul McElvaney, Director at Learning Pool, posts an update on how the company is faring with Google’s suite of enterprise tools for email, calendaring etc.

Learning Pool moved its corporate systems like email, calendaring and document storage into a Google service. I wrote about it at the time but thought we’d do an update on what our experience has been since.

In general terms the move has been a real success. We’ve never lost connectivity, our service is reliable and robust and there are no performance issues. It also lets us work in a different and often more efficient way. All that being the case, there are a few things that are different from what we were used to and in some cases not as good. While these things definitely aren’t as good a reason to despair, they might be useful for someone. Here goes:

  1. The new solution have us no way of managing our desktops in the office. This seemed like a solvable problem but in the end we relented and bought an Active Directory licence which cost about £2,000. Not bad value but we hadn’t budgeted for it and it was a bit of a pain – at least we can print again though!
  2. Connectivity with iphones just isn’t as good as with an Exchange set-up. Things like calendaring are a bit weird and we miss the Exchange set-up for this
  3. Using Outlook isn’t a wonderful experience with Google. In hindsight we should have banned Outlook and forced people to use the Google interface but we may have had a mutiny if we’d one that!
  4. Mail is sometimes unexplainably slow – it always arrives eventually but if its 4 hours late its a bit of a problem. That said if your exchange server goes down, 4 hours looks like a walk in the park!
  5. Google spreadsheets are a real let down – they are fine for managing simple spreadsheets but once you go into an complexity (like introducing a formula for example!) then you are pretty much on a hiding to nothing!
  6. Everything changes a lot – while this is fine in the main and the changes are normally good, things like removing docs offline access caused a stir!
  7. Training is a bit of an issue. I know I know, Learning Pool should be on top of this, but we have struggled to help some of our users learn how to use the technology most effectively. The stuff that Google give you is pretty good but you always need to spend some time with non-technical users so that they are up to speed. When you don’t do this, as we didn’t sometimes, acceptance of the system tanks pretty quickly.

As I said, those things are slightly annoying but we can, and are, living with all of them. Overall, I’d heartedly recommend moving to a Google environment to handle the boring stuff like email and calendars – and whilst the Google productivity apps (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations) can’t quite match the desktop equivalents for features or power, their web enabled sharing and social functions make them a fantastic part of the toolkit, especially for a distributed workforce like ours.

We’re also keeping our eye on developments in places like Los Angeles, where the city government is moving across to Google Apps. Here’s a video explaining why they went for a cloud based solution:

What community managers should know and do

CommunityFor an internal bit of work at Learning Pool, I was asked to contribute to a list of things that would need to be a part of the role description for a community manager – a position we might be recruiting for in the near future.

I quickly threw together a list and emailed it round, but then thought it might be something worth sharing here.

So here’s my list – this is in no particular order. What would you add?

  1. Network well online – either have or be able to build reach and influence online
  2. Has established online presence and regular use of online communities in either personal or professional capacity
  3. Ability to think strategically about the needs of the community, and of the products they support, and design the development of the community around those needs
  4. Draw up appropriate community guidelines and ensure adherence to them
  5. Encourage new members to join the community
  6. Write high quality, engaging online content
  7. Spread the reach of the community using a range of social tools
  8. Provide regular updates to community members through regular email newsletters etc
  9. Know and understand the community – be able to identify which members would be interested in, or have answers to, certain issues
  10. Good mediation skills and ability to defuse online arguments and tensions
  11. Ability to moderate content and manage difficult members an promoting good behaviour
  12. Has a good understanding of the technology and culture of the net
  13. Ability to measure and track analytics and membership stats and develop strategies to improve them
  14. Ability to identify technological improvements that would improve user experience and make the community useful for the company
  15. Proactive approach to interacting with the community – this is not a 9-5 Mon-Fri job
  16. Knowledge of the rest of the organisation and the ability to identify the people who need to be involved in responding to issues
  17. Good knowledge of the issues involved in the community and the ability to respond to topics in a knowledgeable fashion
  18. Ability to find and share useful related content to the community from elsewhere on the web
  19. Ability to identify key community members, and work with them to help promote and manage the community

Come work at Learning Pool!

I’ve had a great time since joining the team at Learning Pool. It’s a forward thinking company with lots of ideas, jokes and abuse bouncing around the whole time.

If you’re looking for a new job, why not consider taking a look at some of our current vacancies? They are all based in Derry, in Northern Ireland – the UK’s capital of culture in 2013!

All the links above are to PDFs with the details. If you fancy applying, bear in mind Mary’s helpful hints for people going for jobs at LP.

My main one piece of advice: it helps to love what you do when you work here.

Personal learning and technology

I blogged over on the Learning Pool site about the personalisation of learning and development in public sector (indeed, any) organisations, and the role of technology in it.

Thought DavePress readers might also be interested.

One of the interesting developments of web technology has been the increasing focus on individual, personal choices. Don’t like what’s on TV? Choose something for yourself to watch on YouTube. Nothing of interest in the newspaper? Use Google to find a blog that covers the issues you’re into. And so on.

Now this issue of personal choice isn’t limited to our personal tastes in media consumption. It applies to everything. Increasingly, it’s applying to learning and development – and that could have significant implications for workforce learning.

Read the rest of it here.

Learning Pool on tour in September

LP events

September is promising to be a busy month already, with Learning Pool having scheduled in some exciting events for you to come along to.

Firstly, Elaine from our Modern Governor service is hosting a breakfast meeting in Birmingham. Find out what the latest good practice is in supporting school governors and with e-learning:

Second are a pair of breakfast briefings in Scotland. The details are:

At these events you’ll be able to hear all about how learning technology can help your organisation improve and innovative in a climate of budget cuts. Carol Woolley from Worcestershire County Council will be telling her story of how she has used Learning Pool’s services to make her life easier and her colleagues’ lives better; and I’ll be wittering on about something or other too.

Last, but undoubtably not least, is Learning Pool’s fourth birthday party in London. It promises to be a rip-roaring afternoon of networking and interesting presentations, followed by an evening of getting mullered by the Thames. You know you want to!

It’ll be great to see some DavePress readers there!

Free webinar on social care training and e-learning

A short commercial break, if you’ll excuse me. Learning Pool are rather proud of our new social care e-learning offering, and if you, or a colleague, would like to know more, we’re running a free webinar.

All the details are below:

Delivering efficiencies on your social care training has never been as important.

This free webinar will help you create a more efficient and effective way of delivering training via e-learning.

Learning Pool Social Care is a suite of e-learning designed around the delivery of the Care Pathway with the added capability of tailoring content to your audience.

In a climate where cuts in every sector is inevitable, we can demonstrate savings of up to 80% to your current training budget.  Let us show you how we can do it.

Those who sign up before 1st August 2010 can get an early bird discount of £10,000 on their subscription.  Ask us today.

Title: Need to make savings on your social care training?

Date: Thursday 22nd July 2010

Time: 2.00pm – 2.30pm GMT

To reserve your Webinar seat click here or email amanda@learningpool.com or call 0207 101 9383.

Events, dear boy…

Quite a few events coming up in the next couple of weeks that I should probably let you know about.

Next week I’m attending a few things: on Monday, the Clay Shirky lecture on Cognitive Surplus at the LSE, followed by the Learning Pool steering group meeting on Tuesday. I’ll be talking to the group about our plans for further engagement work along the lines of our Let’s Talk Central project with Central Bedfordshire Council, as well as some updates to our Modern Councillor service, which I hope to be able to tell everyone about real soon.

Then on Thursday I am going to be talking to the Centre for Public Scrutiny conference about engaging with local communities online. I will be particularly looking forward to this as my second job in local government was as a scrutiny officer at a district council.

I’m ending the week in Bristol, at NALC‘s conference celebrating local democracy. I’ll be showing some local council clerks and councillors how they can be spending a little bit of time and no money at all on cool ways of engaging with their communities online.

After a rest – or should I say, chance to catch up on email – over the weekend, I hit the road again, or rather the train, heading down to NESTA’s ‘Digital Disrupters‘ event on Monday 5th.

Then it’s Wednesday at the LGA conference in Bournemouth where I’m facilitating a fringe session, optimistically titled “A thoroughly modern council”. You can sign up for it here.

Finally, on Friday I travel again to the south-west, this time to Cheltenham to the Institute of Local Council Management summer seminar. I’ll be talking about “using social networking technologies for mobilising political and community action”.

Busy times! I shouldn’t complain though, if it were any different I would probably be quite bored.

Webchatting in Kingston

Being part of something big is really nice sometimes. Take being on the Learning Pool team, for example. Now, quite a few people read this blog, and my gibbering on Twitter – but really, relative to the number of councils and government departments out there, it’s hardly any.

But Learning Pool have over 80% of UK councils signed up for one product or another, and from time to time I get to talk to those councils – usually by turning up to a meeting and performing, but sometimes in other ways. Normally I’d never get a chance to find out from these people what the issues are that they face, and how I might be able to help out.

I’ve spoken from my desk via a live webcam thingy using Skype, and have pre-recorded webinar type things which have been played within organisations or at meetings. Occasionally it’s a mixture of a couple of ways of interacting.

A great example of this is the work we are doing with the The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. A couple of weeks ago, RBK launched their Learning Pool based learning system, which is called Evolve. To provide some light entertainment I went along to present on the subject of all things social.


It seemed to go down pretty well – and I’m going to do a question and answer session this Friday with RBK staff on what they might want to use the social web to do, and how they can go about it. Only, I’m not going to Kingston to do it, I’ll be at home in my office, contributing to a webchat on Evolve. Here are some of the topics I’ll be covering:

1. During the presentation the other week, I showed several examples of public sector organisations engaging with citizens about the services they provide. Could your service reach out to residents in this way? What would be the advantages, and what are the barriers blocking you from doing this?

2. A major theme of my presentation was about how we can apply the tools of the social web within organisations, to improve learning, collaboration and knowledge sharing. How could these tools be used within your council and what are the issues they could help tackle?

3. An important part of any organisation’s approach to using social media is that it has the appropriate governance arrangements in place in the form of corporate strategy and user policy. What are the important things to consider when drawing up these documents? How do you think you can get buy in both from senior management and from staff?

4. I bought an iPad on Friday. Anyone want to know anything about it?

The Learning Pool system, you see, is based on a bit of open source software called Moodle, which you may well have heard of. It’s the pre-eminent learning management system, used widely in academic, perhaps most notably at the Open University. We call our version of it the Dynamic Learning Environment (DLE).

The DLE isn’t just about e-learning though, it also includes social stuff like forums, wikis, blogs and the ability to run chatroom style webchats. Hundreds of councils in the UK have this technology available to them thanks to Learning Pool – although not many use it to its potential.

Kingston really want to make the most of it though, which they are running my Q&A as a live webchat. It’ll only take up 2 hours of my time, rather than the whole day which it would take were I travelling down. Hopefully it will be of help to the council, as well.

We are always looking for interesting and innovative ways that we can help councils. If your organisation has a Learning Pool DLE, and fancy doing a webchat or similar, let us know. Even if you don’t, we’re testing things like GoToMeeting and DimDim to provide online sessions to anyone who wants to join in. Get in touch!