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Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited
MPs and their staff become IT-literate
MPs and their staff become IT-literateKeywords: Parliament, Information technology
Our politicians, and their support staff, are fast becoming computer-literate. The engine for change is the ADAPT "Learning in Parliamentary Workplace" initiative – a project based on a social partnership between the Industry and Parliament Trust and the Centre for Employment Initiatives. This has set up a free-to-use IT training centre in the Norman Shaw building, where MPs' support staff are based. The project also supplies constituency offices with free IT learning packages to allow staff and MPs to acquire new skills via their computers. These include award winning multimedia courses produced by e-learning company NETg.
The learning systems are designed to train staff to use the very software packages on their office PCs – standard packages such as word processing, spreadsheets and browsers, even Web design software. NETg has already licensed about 1000 CD-ROM courses suitable for this purpose, and some can be accessed directly by MPs' staff through the ADAPT learning centre.
The centre opened in January 2000 and has established a clientele of about 250 regular users, including MPs and their administrative workers. Trained staff are available to help people who use the centre's seven terminals and a range of courses can be accessed directly from each computer. Users can optionally have their abilities assessed as they progress through the various modules and can work towards the accreditation of the European Computer-Driving Licence.
Since the courses are highly flexible, access to the computers is easy and the NETg courses use simulations of "real" products, many staff find the process more enjoyable than attending traditional classroom-based courses. The use of multimedia and interactivity should also ensure that this enjoyment is matched by high levels of learning and retention.
Staff work through a process that diagnoses existing skills, ensuring that each person starts at a point appropriate to their current skill level. This enables staff to maximise their effective training time by avoiding time spent on irrelevant training.
Quick quizzes ensure that even the smallest piece of information has been taken in and more significant testing is used at the end of each phase to check that knowledge has been retained and skills transferred. If learners do not pass the tests, they are required to retake the instruction (or a "remedial" section) before going on to the next stage.
However, the courses will only continue to be successful if they are able to respond to the changing needs and views of the people taking them. Research is being carried out in the constituencies to find out precisely what kind of training MPs' assistants feel they need. Further learning materials will then be based on the learning-needs research.
Constituency workers are already gaining a greater sense of inclusion from the project – not merely in having access to training but also in obtaining a platform to discuss their ideas for future courses. It is hoped that the research in the constituencies will help give a voice to these hitherto silent and geographically-disparate parliamentary entities and provide an exemplar to other organisations in an era of "lifelong learning".