The American Heart Associations partnership with SkillSoft to create American Heart University brings learning to every AHA employee.
The company: American Heart Association
The supplier: SkillSoft
The American Heart Association (AHA), the nations oldest and largest voluntary health organization, works to prevent heart disease and stroke. AHA wanted to eliminate redundant learning programs and reduce costs while increasing standardized, world-class education to more than 2,700 employees across the country. AHAs executive leadership cabinet and its Winning with Talent Task Force voted to create the American Heart University (AHU), hire a dean, and begin building a world class corporate university. AHU opted to offer SkillSoft and AHA custom courses, Books24x7 assets, and Leadership Development Channel videos. The university comprises 19 schools of learning organized around AHAs individual contributor and leadership competencies.
AHA has saved millions of dollars since launching the university in 2008, but savings in training and operational expenses have not cost AHA participation in training. To date, 100 percent of staff have enrolled in at least four online courses.
Establishing American Heart University
When AHU's founding dean, Derek Cunard, joined the association in late 2007, each regional affiliate had its own training and development department. "Although everyone was doing some really great stuff, training was fragmented and we had nothing online," explains Cunard. "To take a course, there were CDs sent to staff, who would then watch the course and send the learning package back. It did not satisfy just-in-time learning."
AHA's Winning with Talent Task Force examined the organizations training and development resources and decided to create a university. "Although corporate universities were thriving, it hadnt really been done with a nonprofit of our size, and there was literally no one to benchmark," says Cunard. "When I was recruited to build the AHU, the goal was to bring together all the affiliates, trainers, courses, and resources. Our team has been successful in doing just that." Today, Cunard leads the university, which has quickly become AHA's centralized resource for training and development.
Cunard says he knew immediately he wanted to bring SkillSoft to AHA. "I'd implemented SkillSoft courses in Hong Kong for a major financial corporate university that served 13 countries and about 50,000 employees. I knew that it would work on a smaller scale if we sprinkled in AHA custom content developed in-house, and augmented those resources with any face-to-face workshops we offered."
AHAs ongoing culture of education
"AHA is all about education--we have a bold mission and amazing goals. Our staff realize the importance of ongoing educationthat mentality was already here when I arrived," Cunard says. He met with executives, managers, and staff to select and package online courses organized around AHAs competencies. His goal was to support both personal and professional development and provide learning that supported a career path at AHA. Once he had organized course packages and created the 19 schools, he got buy-in from AHU's executive council, the universitys new governing body.
Division heads serve as deans of each of the university's schools, focusing on different functional areas and competencies within AHA. "We wanted to give people something with which theyre familiar," Cunard says. "We've got schools of advocacy, fundraising, legal, volunteer management. Depending on where you work, you can attend courses in those schools."
Ensuring widespread employee adoption
When the association launched AHU, Cunard went on the road for a series of townhall meetings at AHA locations nationwide. Called the "Dean Road Show" because of Cunards high-energy pep rally approach, the meetings illustrated how to best use AHU's SkillPort platform, what the universitys various schools included, and what the university meant to employees.
"I told them, 'You know this dean because theyre in charge of your area, and they've chosen some great courses for you.' That helped people feel engaged not just with their own areas, but with other schools of learning," Cunard says. "There were plenty of students excited to explore areas they might not have ever been exposed to."
Cunard challenged AHA staff to immediately go online and become students by using the laptops set up around the room at each townhall meeting. "Once people went online, they realized it wasn't difficult," Cunard says. Most enrolled in courses right away. "Some enrolled in 10 or 15 courses; others started off with one or two--it was mind-blowing to see the response."
Cunard's personal mission to bring AHU to every staff member has paid off with an astonishing 100 percent participation rate. Every AHA employee has taken at least four courses through SkillPort. New staff members are enrolled on their first day of employment and are assigned a blend of mandatory compliance courses and other courses that support AHA's competencies and introduce the culture. "This immediate introduction to our organizations rich history and extraordinary culture of dedicated leadership and motivated staff enables our newest talent to discover the heart and soul of the American Heart Association," says Cunard.
Short, engaging courses
When AHU migrated to the SkillPort learning management system in February 2011, Cunard says the universitys leadership agreed to offer only courses of one hour or less in duration. "We focused on the new one-hour courses SkillSoft is offeringthey are amazing," he says. AHU also uses SkillSofts Challenge Series and Business Impact Series tools to supplement face-to-face workshops. Cunard encourages people to use these short, scenario-based exercises as meeting starters or team activities.
AHU has two interactive multimedia designers who develop courses using a third-party authoring tool that allows them to insert Adobe Flash and video. "Our custom content runs perfectly in SkillPort and has become a critical part of our online offerings," Cunard says.
Keeping learning at the forefront
The AHU team makes a point of constantly marketing its learning program and pointing out new courses. Their diligence has prompted more than 50,000 course enrollments with a remarkable 80 percent completion rate (as of January 2011).
In May 2011, Cunard presented at Perspectives, SkillSoft's annual user conference. He emphasized that AHAs leadership and staff have truly embraced and supported the university. "They've pushed us forward to make it better. Thats one of the reasons we switched to SkillPortour old LMS was clunky and threatened our success," he says.
"To have a successful learning initiative within an organization, you absolutely need a team of people passionate about adult learning who see the importance of marketing it with flairthats more than just sending an email out," Cunard explains. For one marketing effort, the team developed a Flash video for the AHU homepage encouraging learners to spend the summer with AHU. The summer camp-themed video promoted new courses in various schools and increased course enrollments and completions by thousands in a two-month period.
These types of award-winning marketing efforts keep the university visible and thriving. When questions or business issues arise, Cunard says that AHA leaders ask "Have we looked to the university to see if theres an asset that can help us find a solution?"
Significant organizational savings
AHA estimates that it saves at least $800,000 annually through AHU. In 2010, the university implemented SkillSoft's suite of Microsoft Office courses and eliminated live Microsoft help desk support, resulting in an estimated $2 million gross savings.
Cunard says directing AHA staff to assets on particular topics, such as Outlook, rather than calling the help desk with questions increased staff satisfaction with technology support.
Expanding AHU's learning audience
AHU recently launched a pilot program for volunteers. "We rolled out some AHA custom courses that would benefit an AHA volunteer. We've created a partition so they have their own little piece of the university and its working out splendidly," says Cunard. The pilot program includes several hundred volunteers--a diverse group including executives from Fortune 500 companies, cardiologists, and others who have dedicated significant time and energy to the AHA cause.
Volunteers take courses such as AHAs National Wear Red Day or the Vision for Volunteerism series focused on recruiting new volunteers, as well as more skill-based courses such as How to Sell a Cause. "We're following up to see if they're using it and if its meeting their needs," Cunard says. "Well do some surveys and make some changes before launching to a potential audience in the millions."
"My goal is to have millions of volunteers taking courseseveryone from an elementary school coach who wants to have a great Jump Rope for Heart program to executives speaking at meetings regarding our causes, which could potentially bring in new donor dollars," says Cunard.
But his vision doesn't stop there. "Right now if you Google stroke education, youll come to our website, maybe find a document or video. How cool would it be to have a short formal AHU course on preventing strokes and be able to suggest additional learning in the future?"
As Cunard considers ways to expand the universitys reach, he's exploring options for building on new technologies. "I cant wait to see how were going to incorporate social and mobile into the university and make it even more accessible," he says.