DILO Armaturen und Anlagen GmbH, headquartered in the beautiful Allgäu region of Germany, is a hidden champion in specialised plant engineering for emission-free management and handling of gases (e.g. SF6gases). With representation in over 80 countries, the company not only supplies solutions for the professional processing, mixing and extraction of gases worldwide, but's also known globally as a technology leader in this sector – an expertise that is also reflected in its customer training courses:
"DILO is not only a supplier of products, but our know-how and experience are also seen by a great many customers as an important resource for their own employees. This is where our vision of "ONE VISION, ZERO EMISSIONS" with our state-of-the-art, high-quality products and the training we offer to customers go hand-in-hand: because only if I know why and how to operate a piece of equipment can I take leverage its full potential and handle the various insulation gases without emissions," explained Ulrich Ammer, Sales Manager and Project Manager at DILO.
By the spring of 2020, the DILO team had completed approximately 560 training days at their customers' sites or at their own training center in Babenhausen, thus training around 2,500 participants: inside, annually in the handling of SF6gases or in the use of DILO's own products. The first lockdown in March 2020 brought these training sessions, an important sales tool, to a sudden standstill. As with so many other companies, the task suddenly became how to find alternatives.
DILO's advantage here, however, was that they had already decided before the pandemic (and the resulting travel restrictions) to modernize their training concept and supplement the location-based classroom training with various digital training formats.
The motivation for this came from different directions:
- First and foremost, DILO is concerned with meeting an increasingly clear demand on the part of its customers: Namely, to offer training formats that can be easily integrated into the daily work of customers' employees and thus enable regular (i.e. 24/7-available, and at the same time practical) learning opportunities.
- The e-learning units are also intended to provide an additional digital touchpoint to the end-customer. DILO hopes this will not only strengthen the after-sales market in the long term, but also increase customer loyalty and satisfaction across all product life phases.
- In addition, there's the desire to use the modernisation of the training concept in parallel, to roll-out the SF6 certifications, which DILO has been successfully conducting in Germany for years; globally in the future, using European standards.
- And finally, it was DILO's stated goal to reduce travel activities in order to conserve resources – those of its own employees, environmental as well as financial.
For this reason, DILO decided some time before the pandemic to introduce a global Learning Management System (LMS) and to transform the existing face-to-face training into a holistic blended learning training offering.
Incidentally, a decision that fits harmoniously into current training trends: The latest results of the 15th trend study "mmb Learning Delphi" (2020/2021) demonstrate that blended learning is seen by the majority as the central form of learning for the next few years. In this context, user and customer training in particular are in first place among the most sought-after learning content. The trend towards blended learning is also very positive.
It’s also interesting to note that face-to-face learning is by no means considered superfluous, due to the use of digital learning. On the contrary, classroom learning is apparently being upgraded as a result: "Slightly more than half of the experts (51%) view classroom learning as the new "premium learning". [One can compare] face-to-face learning, which has been the standard form of learning, to a live concert, where one particularly enjoys the music, but otherwise uses streaming services to listen to music most of the time."
The wheat from the chaff: How can external support help with the selection?
DILO itself has already evaluated, selected, and implemented systems in other fields of activity within recent years. Nevertheless, the project team decided to bring in external support for the selection of the Learning Management system. Ulrich Ammer explained the decision this way:
"In addition to the additional budgetary costs, external support naturally always entails the additional effort of first having to explain to the external consultant what you actually want. At the same time, however, it also offers some opportunities, since you're forced to refine your own requirements profile or – as happened in our case – to redefine the entire scope from scratch. The scrutiny by an external partner helps to reflect, concretise and prioritise one's own requirements. [...] You also benefit from the wealth of experience and market knowledge, of course.”
In fact, it's also our experience at kothes that it's often good for such projects that we're a little "on the outside". For example, a certain division of roles often develops among the parties involved – especially during joint meetings between the customer as a potential system buyer, the contact people of possible system providers, and we as a system-neutral consultant:
In such situations, our customers can confidently go with their gut feeling, have the freedom to evaluate superficially the look-and-feel of the systems, or can invest their energy early-on in a good customer-supplier relationship with the potential system providers. Meanwhile, we do the rational requirements testing. If we have to, we're happy to take on the role of the "bad cop", put our finger in the wound and critically question whether the functionalities presented are just a warm-and-shiny promise or whether the systems can really deliver on what they promise.
The forest from the trees: How can you find the right Learning Management System?
Anyone who's ever examined the market of system providers for e-learning will know: The choice is huge. It's not always easy to find the right system for your own requirements. That's why we decided to take a multi-step approach during the project, during the course of which we were able to narrow down the number of suitable providers bit-by-bit:
At the beginning of the project, we worked out the most important requirements for the system – both from DILO and the customer – during a joint workshop and defined so-called "knock-out criteria". For example, we quickly decided to only consider systems with servers located in Europe and jointly defined a set of mandatory languages in which the system interface must be available. We prioritised the remaining well over 100 requirements in a requirements catalog. With these must-haves (e.g. a connection to MS Teams) and nice-to-haves (e.g. an integrated payment system) as a basis, our team of consultants began researching suitable systems, contacted the respective software suppliers on their behalf, and made an initial pre-selection for DILO.
This list of suitable providers was reduced with each further step in the selection process, starting with the evaluation of the requirement specification issued to the system manufacturers, in which "soft" criteria such as reliability, accessibility or commitment were also taken into account. This was followed by product presentations from the most exciting vendors and the presentation of a possible implementation schedule. Finally, we conducted an extensive pilot test, in which the DILO Trainer team not only formed a better impression of the look-and-feel by working within the test system, but above all was able to put it through its paces to see whether the planned didactic concept could be realised with the system – after all, the system is ultimately only the tool. The real sophistication lies in the content, the methods and the didactic design.
Quitting old habits: What is the right didactic approach to blended learning?
For DILO, it was already clear at the start of the project that they wanted to offer their training courses in a blended format – as with a mix of digital training units that the students work on independently with their laptops or smartphones, and analogue training units that take place together with a DILO trainer – either live on-site or, in the current situation, often as live webinars.
The advantage of this mix is that you can combine the best of both worlds: With the e-learnings available in the LMS, participants can learn at their own pace and repeat subjects as often as needed. In this way, participants deal with the learning material independently and can then apply what they've learned directly at their workplace. Knowledge acquired in this manner is usually very sustainable. In addition, the use of e-learning has very pragmatic advantages: Many participants can be trained in parallel, independent of time, location and language. Especially for DILO, which offers its trainings worldwide, it's a huge advantage if obstacles like time zone differences are reduced.
In the live sessions, on the other hand, participants learn primarily through social exchange with others, through dialog with the trainer and discussions within the group. This offers the opportunity to ask questions. In this way, situational ambiguities can be quickly resolved. Particularly in the case of application knowledge for technical products, it's also important to enable haptic training so that the handling can be tested and the learners get a better feel for the weight, size and material of the devices, for example.
The didactic expertise of the trainers at DILO was already very well developed due to their many years of experience in customer training. However, only a few of them had the didactic know-how to implement blended learning. In particular, the distribution of learning content to the different training formats or the design of e-learning modules is often difficult for many good trainers, at least initially.
© DILO Armaturen und Anlagen GmbH
Parallel to the selection of the Learn Management System, we therefore also advised DILO on the conceptual design of their future training courses. In a workshop, we dealt with the question of how the interplay of different training formats can best be implemented. The result is a didactic concept of about 30 pages, which serves as a kind of guideline for the decision-making process.
In it, you'll find help for the following questions, for example:
- How do you break down complex learning material into smaller units?
- How do you define the appropriate learning objectives for the individual training units?
- How do you decide whether a learning objective is better achieved within a classroom training session or via digital learning?
- Which media (and methods) are suitable for imparting knowledge in e-learning?
- How can knowledge be regularly safeguarded? When's the right time to refresh what's been learned?
How should learning success checks be created?
Where there's a will, there's a way: How does DILO reflect upon the project and the cooperation with kothes?
At the beginning of the project, our contact people, Ulrich Ammer and Axel Schuler, formulated a clear goal: "One year from today, we'll be able to offer our customers their first training session in the new Learning Management System."
And this was achieved: Within a year, DILO not only selected, purchased and implemented an LMS, but also developed a parallel didactic concept suitable for their products and their individual customer structures. In this context, the DILO Training team regrouped, created the required technical editorial and translation processes, and now also creates digital e-learnings and webinars in parallel with the training courses, which are now live again. A truly ambitious achievement, of which – just between you and me – we at kothes are also a little proud of!
Of course, we didn't miss the chance to follow up with DILO to find out how they rate this collaboration with kothes:
"The project was handled very professionally and efficiently. The milestones were reached on time, the breakdown of the individual project steps was coherent, and the targets in terms of time, content, and costs were also met. The timeline was always tight and certainly presented kothes with one or two difficulties, but the capacities were planned both well and correctly. Also, the positive attitude and enjoyment of the project on kothes' side also contributed to the overall success."
We actually really enjoyed this project and would like to take this opportunity to again thank all contributors at DILO. It was blended!
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