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Children’s charity NSPCC made volunteer training in the pandemic fully virtual—and it isn’t going back

Gary Flood Profile picture for user gflood June 1, 2023
Cornerstone’s ‘Programs and Cohorts’ app helped NSPCC deal with COVID-19—but has proven so useful its L&D team can’t see a reason to stop

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(Image by Pexels from Pixabay)

UK children’s charity NPSCC says use of the Cornerstone talent experience platform has allowed it to make both the onboarding and ongoing training of both staff and volunteers fully digital and much more efficient.

Digitizing training has also meant the organization is now able to both identify skills gaps, but also provide high quality, personalized learning content.

This is accessible 24x7 and is not restricted to being near a physical NPSCC office or training center.

Implementing a range of self-directed learning content that is virtually accessible and inclusive has helped modernize NSPCC’s learning strategy, moving the charity away from traditional “classroom style” workplace learning.

A particularly welcome win out of its work with the AI-powered talent experience solution, says the non-profit, is a move beyond just classroom education to continuous e-learning.

This is sparking what its Learning Solutions Officer, Ken Croft, calls a new “NSPCC learning culture.”

That’s being spearheaded by a new NSPCC online Learning Academy, he adds.

Set up nearly 140 years ago, NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) and dedicated to ending cruelty to children in the UK, the body is the UK's leading children’s charity.

NSPCC operates several services, including working with schools and communities, as well as a free phone, text and online national counselling service for UK children and young people up to their 19th birthday, Childline.

“We went back to the platform to see if it could help”

NSPCC’s relationship with its main edtech partner goes back to 2014.

Then, the system was brought in to help with all the charity’s learning and development, performance management, and succession planning processes.

However, not all parts of the suite were being seen as needed - until the world was upended when COVID-19 came along.

Croft says:

When the pandemic hit, we had to rethink everything. Up until that point, most of our training was happening face-to-face and in NSPCC bases, especially for Childline training. When lockdown started we had to move all training online, so went back to the platform to see if it could help.

The most pressing training need would be around Childline - the organization’s flagship service.

Set up to confidentially handle issues children may have - everything from child abuse to bullying to teenage pregnancy - on average a child contacts Childline every 25 seconds. And in 2021/22, the service provided 204,926 counselling sessions to children and young people.

Croft says his colleagues in that department told him that as the service pivoted to virtual in early 2002, a key problem was getting new volunteers fully trained and still maintaining a sense of connection.

The London-headquartered organization places a huge reliance on volunteer help—calling them “the beating heart of the NSPCC” - so this was a key issue of ‘belonging’ was a key issue for NSPCC. 

Croft says:

We have thousands of full-time staff, but if it wasn't for our volunteers and what they bring in terms of giving their time to help us, we wouldn't be able to do half of the work that we do. The volunteers are key to everything that we do to deliver our mission, which is to stop child abuse and neglect.

NSPCC already had great trainers to help, he says, but even the best people need to have the right specialist information to handle many of the highly sensitive topics callers want to get help on. Croft adds:

We would have face-to-face training and potential Childline counsellors would come to our office or to one of our bases like Leeds, London, or Nottingham. That had to stop.

Croft says he found the answer he needed in a previously unused part of his learning management system called ‘Programs and Cohorts’. 

This is an application provided by the supplier that provides a classroom-like online learning experience where learners can collaborate with each other and communicate with an instructor.

He says:

A lot of the things that the platform offers we’ve put into place since we started the relationship, and that functionality was in the back of my head. So, I started making inquiries, and it was just what we needed.

Croft and his team were particularly drawn to what he calls the software’s “community” support aspect, such as its chat and social media-like capability. That would be critical, he says, as:

We want our volunteers to still get the same experience as face-to-face and for it not to be complicated and for them not to have to take up too much time worrying about the technology, but just being able to get in and be able to work through the things that they need to know and work easily with Childline trainers.

Everything connected

Finally, Croft extended the Programs and Cohort functionality with his platform’s existing integration with Zoom and Microsoft Teams. He says: 

When we turned on the videoconferencing integrations, we were able to make everything connect up in an easy way.

NSPCC says it was able to deploy enough remote and virtual Childline training and onboarding to deal with the immediate crisis of COVID-19.

However, it has proven so useful, online has continued as NSPCC’s primary training delivery channel.

He confirms;

We've continued to use this model even though restrictions have ended because what we’ve found is not just that we're able to train at the same high standards, but we have sped up the whole process - from deciding to volunteer right the way through to being on the counselling floor.

The charity is also now able to train more people, moving from sequential training of a cohort of 20 people at a time, to running multiple cohorts simultaneously. He says:

The full Childline training is 10 to 12 weeks, and when it was just face-to-face we had people who maybe couldn't go at certain times. A lot of our volunteers have day jobs and a life outside of the NSPCC, so accessing training was limited to when they could come to the office. Now, they can access it anywhere, anytime.

The system is also the basis of a new landing page to attract volunteers, Learner Home.

There, staff or potential helpers get a range of useful information on all the different training on offer to help further their development beyond the Childline induction - such as aiding with fundraising - with what he calls ‘playlists’ of useful modules.

Next steps for Programs and Cohorts at the organization is to offer it as the basis of other NSPCC volunteer training, such as its schools outreach.

Summing up his experience of using virtual education for this important NSPCC service, Croft says that collaborative support from the organization’s edtech partner proved its worth in a highly stressful time.

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