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From Little Acorns… Forest Holidays

When Andrew Willison, National Health and Safety Coordinator for Forest Holidays, decided to use elearning as part of the company’s training policy, he didn’t initially choose Nimble. Instead, he went with ‘a much more complex and detailed system’. But, as the old adage goes, ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’, and Andrew soon realised his mistake. “I did have experience of Nimble, and when I found the other system was far too complex and overkill for what Forest Holidays needed, I decided to adopt Nimble as our elearning platform.”

The sowing of seeds analogy is relevant to this story. Not just because this company’s mission is to connect people and local communities with Britain’s forests, to create authentic holiday experiences, it’s also because their story is all about the organic growth of an elearning culture within the company. The little acorns they planted when they moved from ‘paper-based training, informal role-play with the odd bit of “read and sign”’, have already formed healthy green shoots.

Andrew readily admits that planting the seeds of his training vision wasn’t easy. For a start, each of the company’s ten locations had previously operated semi-independently. Standardising training into a cohesive programme meant addressing differing attitudes to change. Not only that, but elearning was a new approach for some people. Andrew recognised he needed to increase the growth of participation as well.

One factor that made this challenge easier came down to the company’s foundations, where the roots of change management would form. Forest Holidays had a well-established culture of empowerment, and Andrew tapped into it by demonstrating the capability of his system to bring about that change. A launch followed with two courses that were made mandatory by senior management. Empowerment remained a feature, with each location controlling how and when the elearning courses were to be completed.

As the company’s learning culture grew, Andrew introduced ways to enhance learner engagement. Competition between the location teams brought elements of fun, as did light-hearted questions and photographs in the courses. Meanwhile Andrew, as the sole author, found it easy to transfer his PowerPoint slides into Nimble.

Growth can be enhanced with analysis too. This is where the company’s use of their Nimble LMS proved essential – in measuring progress. Andrew provides detailed reports on KPI and Health & Safety audits to senior management who use the data to identify training needs with middle managers and consequently plan training calendars.

With so much responsibility resting on Andrew’s shoulders, he maintains Nimble’s excellent customer service was a vital feature. “I really cannot commend Nimble high enough for customer service I’ve received. Every query I have is answered and my expectation met. Each time I visit the team I get a friendly warm welcome and the Directors always ensure they say hello. It always feels like a truly personal service and that my comparatively small amount of business makes a real difference to Nimble.”

The green shoots of early growth continue at Forest Holidays. Elearning has proved popular with everyone. Earlier hesitations have disappeared as data from their LMS proves the effective impact being achieved through their training provision. But what has Andrew learned as he manages this growth – particularly as the sole author? Here’s what he said,

“Time. Give yourself time! It’s easy to think you can smash out a training module in half a day, but realistically you need to be in the right frame of mind, have access to the right resources and know your content.

When I write from scratch it can take me hours just to decide exactly what I want to say. Then I have to devise the best way to say it and how to make it engaging for the learner.

I also try not to write elearning when I’m not in the right mood, it’s counterproductive.

My role covers a huge range of things and, technically speaking, training, in general, should be a small part. I created work for myself by taking it this big because long term, Forest Holidays will benefit massively from our partnership with Nimble.”

It’s a reminder of that African proverb: ‘No man fears what he has seen grow.’ When learning is embedded in the culture of an organisation, sustained growth blooms naturally. That certainly looks to be true for Forest Holidays.

About Forest Holidays: https://aboutus.forestholidays.co.uk/

With log cabins at 10 forest locations across the UK. Forest Holidays are part owned by the Forestry Commission and set exclusively within Forestry Commission land. Their company has grown from the first cabins built in Scotland in the 1970s to almost 600 cabins in stunning locations, as well as almost 600 team members.