Matthew Borg, co-managing partner of Information Transfer
Matthew Borg is the co-managing partner of Information Transfer, a learning technology and training consultancy company based on Newmarket Road in the heart of Cambridge. Its international clients include household names such as Nestlé, GlaxoSmithKline, United Biscuits, Cotswold Outdoor, Priory Group and Thames Valley Police. This year the company celebrates 30 years at the forefront of training innovation and is actively recruiting.
1. What first attracted you to Information Transfer?I just knew this was the job for me when I was given the tasks for my application. I was asked to explain clearly and concisely a complicated share-option scheme, write opinion pieces on the Government’s response to the Foot and Mouth crisis, and create instructions on how to use my washing machine for someone who doesn’t speak English. The task I was given is typical of the sort of challenge we set all job applicants, It is a good way of finding people who enjoy communicating complex information in an engaging way, which is a key skill for the job. Before Information Transfer, I had been working as a UK-based public affairs officer for the US Air Force, charged with media relations as well as internal communications with the 10,000 people stationed at the Mildenhall and Lakenheath bases. I had developed skills in using new media and web-based technology for communications and I had a strong desire to use those skills to help inform, train and equip employees in different organisations – to help them make a difference through their work. Information Transfer is the perfect place to do that.
2. What was your first project?Information Transfer was one of the first companies to develop e-learning tools. An early project was with the accountancy firm KPMG. We developed an interactive training programme for its 10,000 auditors across the UK. This was 2002, so it was delivered across the internal network but it also allowed individuals to work off-line and then synchronise with the online system. They are still using the parts of the programme but now it is internet-enabled which creates the opportunity for people to link to external resources and to incorporate video and animations which help the learning process.
3. Do mobile devices have a role in training?The wider use of broadband has made a huge impact. Not only are more people connected, but it is faster, so you can use videos and graphics more easily, creating opportunities to present training in exciting ways and make it available wherever you are. Smartphones and laptops also offer another dimension by giving learners control over when and where they do their training.I think that mobile devices have huge potential for delivering training in different ways. Smartphones have unique features such as GPS to identify your location and a camera that can be used as a scanner or to upload information. This opens up the possibility of creating courses that offer relevant regional information, which is great if you are travelling.The small screen on a mobile device does bring challenges. You have to present information in different ways, for example having tables that open and close to save space. Although we are exploiting these new technologies, it is important to see each project on its own merit and choose the right medium, not just technology for the sake of it.
4. Is e-learning always the best way to deliver training? This depends both on the people doing the learning and the kind of information being presented. Our projects will usually incorporate different types of resources and this still includes manuals and materials for classroom-based sessions. We have recently developed a course for anaesthetists; this includes extensive manuals and an online portal. We involved world opinion-leaders in the development of the materials, which inspires trust in the training resources. Doctors can use the portal to share information and it includes talking-head videos of experts explaining and expanding the written information. Whilst most of our work is web-based, we continue to blend information in a print manual with dynamic information on the web. A good example is using a phone to scan a barcode in a manual to direct you to helpful animations and videos on the web.
5. Do you help others to develop their own resources?Since the company started 30 years ago we have been refining our authoring tool, Seminar Author, to make it as easy and intuitive as possible for people to use. It is possible for a health and safety officer to use it to design a one-off course even if this is the only time they will ever use the tool. For example, The London Fire Brigade has recently developed some training materials using our tools and this has created a terrific response from the staff. Something we have built in the last two years that has been quite groundbreaking is an online review system, which allows the writer to upload the course to a secure web area and invite their colleagues to comment on it. They can make suggestions and annotations on the screen, a bit like track changes in Word. This speeds up the development process and supports a more collaborative approach to delivering training.
6. Has multi-media changed the way people learn?Fundamentally, the way people learn hasn’t changed. However, using a mix of different media can help make the learning process more effective and efficient when chosen well. For example, some tasks are best taught by watching an expert demonstrate. Online video allows that same expert to demonstrate a task to people all over the world.
7. What is the biggest development in training? To be competitive, companies are aiming to be more responsive and agile, so motivating employees to continuously gain new skills is now business critical.The move to e-learning allows training to be rolled out across an organisation very effectively and helps reinforce corporate messages. This means we can be working with the corporate communications team one moment and with human resources or product support the next, depending on the business objectives of the company.
8. How can you motivate people to learn? Most people want to learn; it’s something we do naturally whenever we can see the benefits. To demonstrate the benefits, effective internal communication and a champion at a high level help get buy-in from people at all levels. This improves uptake and ensures the employer gets a return on their investment. Sometimes the training involves a major cultural change; if managers are reluctant to release their staff for training then the programme won’t benefit them.
9. Is training just for new joiners? No, our clients are delivering training to people at all stages of their careers. It is ideal to give new joiners the opportunity to access e-learning before they start, when they’re keen for information. It’s a good chance to introduce them to the culture of the organisation and hopefully it launches them on the right track. But training is also about capturing knowledge; the experience of older staff is invaluable and many companies want to ensure this asset is available to other staff. In other cases training programmes are focused around the release of a new product or a new project.
10. Information Transfer is on the look out for new talent – what kind of skills do your employees need to have?We’re people who like to explain and get a thrill out of ‘watching the light bulb come on’ as someone starts to understand. We believe that well-informed and well-trained employees can do great things, and we enjoy being a part of making that happen. Whatever your role, from technical support to senior consultant, you need to be patient and eager to communicate effectively. A role at Information Transfer is about constantly learning something new and this is one of the elements that makes it so rewarding.