Austria’s SPAR Group

Specialized Knowledge Tailored Precisely to Learners’ Needs

Astrid DürnbergerMichael FallySalzburg (A), April 2022 - Michael Fally and his "Digital Education and Training" department have been working on the advancement of a modern educational concept at SPAR Österreichische Warenhandels-AG, Austria’s largest grocery retailer, for more than ten years. His co-presenter, Astrid Dürnberger, and he will give a talk entitled "Five Countries, Five Languages, Five Faces: Implementing an LMS for 90,000 Employees at the SPAR Group" at the LEARNTEC congress, 31 May at 16.30.

To what extent do standardized processes and individual solutions constitute an area of conflict in the realm of learning activities?

Michael Fally: With over 50,000 employees, SPAR is Austria’s largest private employer, and if you count the neighboring countries of northeastern Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, and Croatia, the SPAR Austria Group now has a total of 90,000 people.

In 2020, SPAR overtook its main competitor, REWE, for the first time, and it has maintained a clear lead in the Austrian retail grocery market ever since. In its core business, the retail grocery trade, SPAR has faced the challenge of finding and recruiting suitable employees for years.

Through standardized target training concepts, ladder climbers and career changers acquire exactly the specialized and leadership skills they need for a particular position. In this process, acknowledged standards for digital learning formats ensure the quality of in-house training.

However, this presents SPAR with a two-fold challenge:

  • Every SPAR unit (SPAR subsidiary) wants individual solutions that meet its own needs, e.g. individual process flows, certificates, reports, etc.
  • At the same time, though, a standardized target training concept should take competencies that have already been acquired into account and not deploy a watering-can approach that pours the same content over all learners. To achieve this, SPAR is working on a competency model that should make it possible to better target learning content to specific groups and take previous experience into account.


What influence does this conflict have on the learning requirements and on the learners themselves?

Astrid Dürnberger: The learners want to be able to identify with the learning content and have the feeling that they are receiving exactly what is appropriate for them in order to do a good job.
The job details, products, and expertise have to be tailored to the learners’ exact needs.
Furthermore, it’s possible that there might be a difference between the learning content designed for SPAR (the parent company) and, e.g., for INTERSPAR (the hypermarket subsidiary).
Content that does not cater to the characteristics of a specific organizational unit will not be well received by learners.

Can technical approaches help meet the additional relevant requirements?

Astrid Dürnberger: The company’s Totara LXP is based on the tenants principle, which makes it possible to provide individualized training for different units using a single system. For example, each of the various SPAR subsidiaries gets a user interface with its own branding, so its individual identity, which is very important, is also taken into account.

In addition, in an attempt to meet the needs of all the units while considering the interest of the entire group, individualized adaptations are made. Far-reaching core code changes are avoided, as they always mean additional effort for future updates, which Totara develops quickly anyway using input from its worldwide community. Possible corporate-wide synergy effects of any new development are also taken into account: Is it needed by several units of only one?


You once mentioned wanting to "make the bait attractive to the fish". Has there been any change in regard to this attractiveness changed in terms of learning activities, or how much more specifically do today’s learning materials need to be adapted compared to the past?

Michael Fally: Besides the usual basic recipe for successful online training, which means it has to be lively and explorative and deploy various media, storytelling, imagery, etc.), SPAR attempts to produce learning snacks that are as small as possible and that can be combined flexibly for later use.

Also fundamental in our approach is the combining of online and face-to-face efforts in the form of blended learning, in which technical and factual knowledge is imparted online and then deepened in face-to-face seminars that deliver specific knowledge and provide practical examples.

Requirements and expectations with regard to the learning content’s topicality have also grown considerably, and SPAR now ensures this with a dedicated editorial team. Keeping the one hundred or so courses current wouldn’t be possible without it.

In the future, a much stronger focus will have to be "on-the-job learning", i.e. making it possible to acquire learning that is directly relevant at the "moment of need".