E-learning as part of a blended learning package has long been embraced by big business but how can HR managers persuade their staff to take up the reins?

Long considered the 'poor cousin' of classroom training, e-learning has undergone a wholesale image change as more companies - especially those with a large and geographically diverse staff base - have come to appreciate the merits of training staff quickly and affordably.

When the economic crisis began to bite, firms found that e-learning would let them respond nimbly and tactically to market conditions. For example, one firm reported being able to achieve national roll-out of training for a new product range in just over a week, due to the speed and reach of their e-learning programme.

An IT or HR manager might be able to build a very strong rationale for e-learning to their board - explaining the cost efficiencies, the early ROI, the overall business case for e-learning as part of the firm's blended learning package will get directors in agreement.

But what of the staff? When e-learning is not part of company culture and classroom training is the pre-conceived view of learning and when the question arises whether it will interrupt the work that has to be finished come what may, staff attitude can be the biggest barrier to successful implementation.

But some of the UK's largest organisations - together with their learning providers - have overcome these problems with some simple strategies that really work.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde employs over 44,000 staff and serves a population of 1.2million, including 35 hospitals, 50 health centres, 300 pharmacies and 300 GP practices.

Like all NHS trusts, one of its main preoccupations has been compliance with the Government's 2004 Agenda for Change and the huge and ongoing training challenge it created.

The NHSGGC invested in a 900-user license agreement for a wide range of IT related and business skills e-learning courses and also set out to develop their NHS Knowledge and Skills Framework.

Critical to the successful adoption of e-learning was to give staff autonomy and to give them personal responsibility and ownership of their own development plans. This helped staff identify the real and practical learning choices that enable each employee to engage in learning that is both relevant and convenient for them.

As the learning manager at NHSGGC explained: 'People tend to think "I've got my own personal development plan and I've got a development need, so I must go on a course for it."'

The need for personal choice was integral and employees were given the option of learning at their desks, in a separate training centre or even at home. This flexibility really appealed to staff and was largely responsible for the shift in culture that moved e-learning into the mainstream for NHSGGC employees.

This flexibility also complied with the NHS Agenda for Change in that it helped reach the cohort of learners that were traditionally hard to reach, notably those who are not professionally qualified, such as those in support services and particularly people doing shift work.

The learning manager found that although they would never have taken an interest in training before, they started by making casual enquiries and then ended up taking it forward.

Another tactic found to pay dividends is to provide e-learning mentors. By making sure that an early adopter of the e-learning offering is an enthusiast, he or she will then champion the cause, infecting others with the enthusiasm that will drive forward acceptance and positive word of mouth.

It is often easier to outline the business case for a new methodology than to grasp at the mettle of a personal rationale, as Thompson Reuters found when it expanded its e-learning operation.

Staff were encouraged to use the wide range of learning options, whether business or personal, at home as well as at the desk, and they discovered that they were able to succeed in personal growth and improvements, helping to increase job satisfaction as well as boosting their cv.

This open approach to learning - the encouragement of staff to 'better themselves' - is also beginning to win the hearts and minds of employees at Telecom Service Centres (TSC). As a call centre operation with over 3,000 employees, staff training is taken very seriously as staff knowledge and skills are critical to continued success in such a fast moving industry.

When the organisation first took on e-learning, even its head of learning and development was somewhat sceptical. Staff at TSC were used to classroom training - often on a one to one basis - so e-learning represented a culture shift. But almost without exception, most now say they prefer the e-learning approach because of the lack of time constraints and the autonomy it offers.

TSC encouraged staff to use e-learning by adopting a 'e-learning champions' approach at each site. The champions had the task of motivating as well as becoming a source of advice and guidance. Simple word of mouth then continued the job.

Interestingly, a major benefit of the e-learning approach was that many felt they were being spared the embarrassment of not being able to do something first time as they could go back and catch up at their own convenience.

Employees at TSC used to turn around and say 'I can't do this or that'. Yet this time they were able to work through their needs and then select the courses that were directly relevant to them. Which all comes back to the fact motivation to develop often comes with autonomy and freedom of choice.