When Hilton Hotel group rolled out a technology platform to deal electronically with check-ins, check-outs and reservations, its staff needed to be trained on the new system. Helen Wilcox reports on how Hilton went about creating online learning materials to do that job and what the team learned itself in the process.

To train staff on the new proprietary platform, called OnQ technology, Hilton decided to create online learning materials. In total, 55 hours of online materials were needed to cover all the different aspects and users of the systems. These had to be translated into seven languages so that 15,000 users in over 70 countries could use them.

'It was the biggest ever bespoke training event that we had run,' said Gail Sadler, Director of Training (commercial development and IT) at the Hilton Hotel Corporation. The process was therefore a learning curve for the department, and Sadler shared the lessons learned with the audience at Learning Technologies show in January.

'Preparation was key,' said Sadler. 'We spent a lot of time at the planning project stages. We agreed on three stages of e-learning. Stage one was 84 lessons, stage two 48 lessons, and stage three 20 lessons. We spent a lot of time initially on what each person would do in the development cycle.'

A lot of the preparation within Sadler's team focused on agreeing standards, so that the material was consistent and of high quality. 'For example, we decided always to use the 24-hour clock as it is internationally recognised. We used red boxes when the learner had to do something, and blue boxes when it was just for information. We always used the same format for objectives and minutes on each module. Having standard text also meant that some translating could be done early by translators.'

Once ready to move on to the material creation phase, Hilton did the storyboarding in-house, which it then sent over to its e-learning partners to create the actual material. Subject matter experts from the Hilton group reviewed the finished products.

Despite carefully planning, Sadler found that her team needed to be flexible once material creation began because not everything worked exactly as expected.

'It doesn't matter how much you plan, the reality is different to the theory,' she said. 'For example, the subject matter experts were not as accessible as expected and took longer to complete their tasks. We had allowed three days for reviews but they actually took five to seven.'

Other obstacles the team had to overcome included: the system not always working as expected because it was new: signed-off storyboards sometimes changing as the business found new ways of working; and translating taking far longer than expected.

'It was the first time we had translated bespoke e-learning,' explained Sadler. 'We thought it best to use local people as they understood local practices. We massively under-estimated how long they would take to translate.'

'It took a few months to work out the translation process. German was the first language we did and it took nine months for 84 lessons. Japanese was the last and we did 125 lessons in four months.'

As well as translating the materials, sometimes bits of training had to be added to accommodate local practices and customs. The process also had to be refined, for instance, for Arabic script, so that the text could go from right to left.

Simply planning the creation of online materials and managing them was not enough, according to Sadler. Her team also had to be project managers for all involved - the subject matter experts, external providers and so on.

The team had to work closely with the subject matter experts, for whom e-learning creation was not the main part of their role. They also had to understand what the e-learning vendor was doing in-house. Once they had understood that process, it became clear that if Hilton didn’t meet certain deadlines the e-learning vendor would not be able to meet theirs.

Similarly, it took Sadler's team a while to learn the capacity of the audio studio, and that, in order to keep content flowing, a batch of content had to arrive at the audio studio in time to make it back for a certain deadline.

'We needed to understand others' constraints,' said Sadler. 'We had to communicate well and be resourceful - and make sure morale didn't slip.'

Good communication among the team was also vital to the project's success, according to Sadler. 'It's important to tell dates to all stakeholders,' she said. 'That way, everyone knows what to expect when and can see the big picture. It's also important to make sure you are communicating with the right parties.'

Sadler stressed the importance of a good team and trying to maintain it for the whole project, so that team members learn and know the standards and processes. 'Recognise and make use of individuals’ strengths,' she recommended. 'For example two of our team are good at reviewing and picked up deviations from the standard much better than the rest of us. They created a process to make sure each standard was reviewed.'

Integrating external partners into the team was also beneficial. Some external vendors were based in the Hilton offices and they were invited to team meetings. They also attended regular social outings.

'It took months to refine the process to create material, but it finally reached the well-oiled machine stage, where we put content in and out it came,' said Sadler. 'All parties know what to do, and communications worked. The satisfaction rate with the learning among staff stands at 88 per cent.'