As part of civil service reforms it is planned to implement a distance learning system for civil servants. The project is already under way and Ameria consultancy is one of the parties involved.

Our guest is Mrs. Karine Nikoghosyan, Senior Project Coordinator, Ameria Management Advisory Services, who gave us details about the distant learning project.

– To begin with, which are Ameria’s key business lines in advisory services?

– We started back in 1998 and our key business lines are private (corporate) and public advisory services. Our corporate advisory services include such areas as strategy development, organization of processes, marketing, corporate finance and HR. I should like to note that we have succeeded in becoming a reliable partner both for a number of major and mid-scale local companies and many foreign investors wishing to enter our market.

In the public sector our clients are various government institutions and international agencies, our projects here extend to public finance administration, judicial reforms, social reforms, economic analysis, infrastructure, transport, energy, agriculture and forestry, environment, etc. Naturally, civil service is in the limelight of our attention, too. With the depth and breadth of experience of working with international agencies, and an impressive portfolio of public administration projects, we decided to bring our professional input into civil service as well.

By the way, Ameria is a member of International Consulting Alliance and a consortium member under the EU framework convention, which gives us access to an impressive list of professional contacts from across the globe, so that we can involve them in our projects.

– Recently experts of Ameria were conducting training courses for the Civil Service Council of Armenia, which were attended among others by representatives of agencies responsible for professional development of civil servants and the staff of Civil Service Council. So basically what was the purpose of these trainings?

-Firstly, the government of Armenia has embarked on large-scale public reforms as part of WB-financed Public Sector Modernization Project 2, which particularly refer to HR issues, and this in its turn means determination of training procedures and implementation of distance learning modules, such as experimental programs and manuals. Last year Ameria participated in and won the WB tender for modernization of training system for civil servants as member of consortium of 3 international companies – Institute of Public Administration (Ireland), Public Administration International Limited (UK), EUROPE Ltd (Hungary). The aim of this project is to facilitate human resources management in public agencies through development and implementation of distance learning and related modules.

To organize distance learning, first 7 training modules had to be developed which covered the following components: policy analysis, monitoring and evaluation; performance management, including organizational changes; human resources management; professional ethics in public administration; service provision and management; project management; capacity building for elaboration and management of territory development programs. Also, an individual managerial skills manual had to be developed. We successfully completed these works, cooperating with the Civil Service Council of Armenia.

– Was this your first experience of working with the Civil Service Council, or had you had any joint projects before?

– Actually we had already implemented several projects with the Civil Service Council. In 2009-2010 we implemented the Development of Civil Service Strategy for Armenia project with the Civil Service Council and Ministry of Finance. Our partner in this project was England-based Breckenhill. The aim of this project was to develop the civil service system in Armenia through detailed in-depth analysis, determination of strategic development lines, implementation of appropriate mechanisms to address strategy issues.

Later, in 2013, we were involved in development of distance learning platform for civil servants. Oh, and yes, the modules I just mentioned are to be implemented using this selfsame platform.

We had developed distance learning platforms for civil servants and judicial department alike, only we couldn’t actually launch the platform and start training then because of lack of necessary technical capacities. However, Ameria had undertaken to implement the platform for the Civil Service Council if there were sufficient technical resources, which we did as part of the current project and then proceeded to trainings both for lecturers and persons in charge of the process.

I would like to thank the Civil Service Council for their support and cooperativeness, which were both crucial for successful completion of the project.

-Will you please describe the advantages and operation mechanisms of this distance learning platform. What is its appeal vs. traditional learning methods?

– The main advantage of the platform is time-saving, cost-efficiency (less money spent on transport), ability to choose the time that suits you best, not to mention accessibility for the remotest areas which means that people from far-off districts who previously could not come and participate in all trainings are now included too. In addition, the platform is interactive which is in line with modern learning technologies and crucial for proper grasping of the content and meaning of information. It even enables users to evaluate the course, lecturer and trainees (by means of testing) and the results can be used to make future courses more targeted and effective.

The platform is operated as follows: lecturers log into the system and post course materials, which can be in the form of text, video or audio alike. Trainees can log into the system online and browse through the materials any time during the day; they are free to study, ask questions and get answers using email technologies.

As for advantages vs. traditional methods of learning, well, they are obvious: the platform is accessible anywhere any time, which alone is enough to make sure that users are comfortable and time managed effectively.

– For civil servants distance learning is something new. Basically, is it easy enough for both civil servants and trainers?

– Indeed, this is a completely new experience for civil servants in Armenia; we are making the first steps to implement a fully-functional distance learning system. We need time to get our eye in and initiate the necessary legislative reforms. So far we have developed a distance learning procedure which once approved will provide the necessary legal framework and regulation for distance learning activities. To make use of the platform as easy as possible we have also developed a special manual.

We by no means rule out that there might well be difficulties at the initial stage of implementation of this platform, but then, every innovation is a challenge which should be overcome, especially as being up-to-date is a must in these rapidly changing times. Elsewhere in the world this sphere is experiencing vigorous developments. When you study international practices you can see that, for example, in England, France, Ireland where civil service systems are well-developed, about 90% of all trainings are distant-based. The same is true for all developed countries.

– As far as I know, the platform is complete with a function to evaluate the lecturer. Do you feel such evaluation is objective enough, data are secure and protected, and tests supervisable?

– Although the main goal of the platform is learning, the program management module we developed has an evaluation component as well. The platform enables you both to create tests and set values for questions. When you complete the test the system automatically calculates the number of correct answers and displays your results. This is crucial to secure the transparency and objectivity of the process. However, as we are just beginning to implement distance learning solutions in Armenia, for supervision purposes it might be wiser to make the evaluation centralized, i.e. have it performed by the Civil Service Council, so that they can see that tests are completed by trainees and none others.

Our wish is to have the platform and modules launched as quickly as possible. If not used for a long time, the system is likely to become obsolete, especially security solutions. Modern world’s developments and the need to be up to date and effective mean that we constantly have to review and improve our processes which should be a primary objective for everyone.