Empowering the Enablers

How technology can be harnessed for learning in the social service sector.

Tell us more about your role in the Social Service Institute (SSI).

 As a unit under the National Council of Social Service, the SSI seeks to develop the capabilities of the social service workforce by offering a range of learning activities such as courses and seminars.

My role in the Business Development and Marketing arm is to develop new initiatives to help brand the institute. This requires me to first understand the needs of the organisations, professionals, and learning partners.

What needs did you observe in the social services sector back when you joined?

Back then, I found that the growing social sector workforce meant a brick-and-mortar institution would eventually be limited in terms of physical space. Currently, we yield over 12,000 training places annually.

Additionally, we needed to cater to a large pool of non-professionals, such as volunteers, who may not have the time to attend formal classroom learning. For me, technology was key in making education scalable, sustainable and affordable.

Tell us about the Education Innovation project you started.

In 2015, we embarked on Education Innovation 2020 which, in essence, is workplace learning augmented by technology. The project involved setting up a Learning Management System where learners could remotely access SSI’s structured courses through the web or on mobile.

We also introduced Gatherhere, an online learning community where users could congregate to conduct discussions, post questions and contribute to ideas. It provides real-time, peer-to-peer assistance on new ideas or workplace issues, and ensures that learning sticks.

However, we recognise that while technology is a powerful enabler, offline interaction still is crucial in encouraging deeper discussions and forging stronger collaboration. Hence, we schedule blended courses that combine both online and classroom learning to reap the benefits of both worlds.

How did you feel about having your idea implemented?

It brings me much joy to implement a system that opens a world of learning possibilities for various stakeholders, and to see how a concept that was articulated on paper finally come to life. Now, we hear serious conversations about courses that require digitisation, or change management pertaining to adult educators.

Did you face any challenges along the way? How did you overcome them?

Beyond simply harnessing technology, it was important for us to have a strong understanding of the users involved. My team spent a few months engaged in deep conversation with professionals and voluntary welfare organisations, to understand how learning happens in the sector.

Also, despite initial doubts about whether the sector was ready for technology, I’m glad that I persisted because, shortly after, the Government’s Smart Nation initiative provided strong impetus for the project. New technologies such as 4G and the high penetration of mobile devices has also enabled us to overcome accessibility and adoption issues.

With your experience across different organisational settings in the private sector – from start-ups to conglomerate – how did it feel making the switch to the Public Service?

As a mid-career switcher, I was glad to find that the Public Service is similar to the commercial sector in its willingness to question assumptions, try new things and lead the change.

Indeed, Singapore has always been a torch-bearer in terms of being bold and innovative. The difference for me is that what the Public Service does has a more significant impact on the lives of people – and this resonates well with my values and beliefs.

    May 10, 2017
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