Caroline Plaice, Knowledge Services Manager, North Bristol NHS Trust

Central to the provision of high quality care within the NHS, is an effective and competent workforce with the capacity to respond flexibly to rapid and far-reaching changes by developing ‘new ways of working’.

The implicit capacity for role change and flexibility in this statement demands a robust system for both delivering and recording training opportunities for all staff. One means of addressing this is to introduce training and support through the medium of electronic learning or ‘e-learning’ to complement face-to-face delivery. Together these two types of training are known as ‘blended learning’.

In practice this means, for example, there could be a package on fire safety which could focus on types of extinguishers and correct use, with a classroom session reinforcing this with the tutor actually demonstrating the extinguishers.

Within the local NHS management area, the former Workforce Development Confederation (WDC), the procurement of a Managed Learning Environment (MLE), was identified as a key mechanism for both the national e-learning strategy and the development of such learning as part of a blended approach.

The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) describes the MLE as ‘the taking advantage of the potential of new technology-based learning environments to integrate information systems around the learner’. 

The local WDC product, procured in April 2006, is designed to be available to all 65,000 learners within the WDC academies.

The MLE was launched by North Bristol chief executive, Sonia Mills, on 29 March this year.

What’s in the Managed Learning Environment?

The Managed Learning Environment (MLE) is an internet-based system comprised of three modules:

Learner management system – providing managers and staff with the opportunity of managing their learning, be it electronic, classroom or a combination of both.

Training can be allocated to individuals or groups (for example, a group of doctors or infection control nurses). Records of training are kept and reports can be run for example, to support Appraisal and Development Reviews (ADRs). In a second phase of the project, beginning in September 2007, staff will also be able to book on to courses electronically.

Content management system – this provides access to electronic training opportunities. Where appropriate, these are assessed and the results recorded in the learner management module above. Examples of content at go live included: core learning unit infection control package; Beacon online, a course developed by North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT) to support management and leadership; and PRINCE 2 project management training.

Future packages available later this year, include: statutory and mandatory training, e- learning to support the roll out of the NHS Care Record Service (CRS), conflict resolution and information literacy skills.

Virtual learning environment – providing both real time and asynchronous opportunities for learners to communicate with fellow students and for a facilitator to communicate with a group of students.

Why are we using the MLE?

• E-learning as part of a blended approach enables NBT to work towards the challenges of new role development and the implicit skills training required;

• It contributes to support for lifelong learning;

• Supports flexible working patterns, the MLE being available from work or home 24/7;

• Supported by a study leave policy, an MLE can reduce the time learners spend away from the workplace, reducing the need for backfill and the funding of expensive external courses;

• It enables staff development to concentrate on acquisition and updating of skills in a practical way, whilst theoretical skills can be acquired and assessed via e-learning packages;

• The MLE will contribute to supporting the enormous training implication of NHS Care Records Service implementation. Training can be allocated to individuals in a role specific way.

Future Developments

The product will eventually be incorporated into the national electronic staff record Oracle Learner Management system. All the work carried out will be fully compatible with this future migration.

Martin Bell, director of IM&T at North Bristol paid tribute to Caroline Plaice, knowledge services manager and Jane Hadfield, assistant director of education, research and development: "Caroline and Jane, working with PCT partners, have done a fantastic job in delivering this new arena of learning, which will seamlessly integrate with existing classroom based teaching, to deliver blended learning solutions, across the Bristol health community."


BOYS, J., 2002. Managed learning environments, joined up systems and the problems of organizational change: A JISC report is available online.

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH. 2000. The NHS Plan: a plan for investment, a plan for reform. London: Department of Health.