As learning and training professionals try to blend technology with learning programs, it can sometimes leave people feeling confused, directionless, and disenchanted with their learning experience. A 2014 Towards Maturity benchmarking study showed that 90 percent of learning and development leaders want to use technology to better adapt programmes to individual need/context, and 93 percent want to use technology to speed up the application of learning in the workplace.
In order to make the most of learning opportunities, we have to realize that technology exists solely as the enabler for us to bring learning to people in a new and different manner. However, to enact real change and bring real value to our learning efforts via technology, we must help our learners change their mindsets about what to expect from their learning activities and how to participate in this new form of learning that is more self-directed, social, and personalized.
A company that has made remarkable inroads to achieving this in their workplace, through their online corporate university, is Xerox.
Within the Xerox Services University (XSU) platform is a recent addition called The Commons, which provides a peer-driven, collaborative learning environment focused on helping employees develop the competencies, skills, and learning relationships needed for individual and organizational success. The Commons uses social learning technology to support modern mentoring, collaboration, peer coaching, and more.
“We built The Commons on the framework of the 70:20:10 learning model because we wanted to support the 70 and 20 (ratios for lessons learned from being on the job and feedback versus 10 percent coursework) as much as possible,” said Phil Antonelli, learning strategist and social learning manager at Xerox Global Learning Services. “Collaboration is really important for social learning and for business. If you’re going to innovate, but you’re not connected with people across the business, how do you find experts not in your business group? How do you stay nimble? How do you innovate? How do you share expertise? How do you spread best practices from one group to another or across silos?”
These questions and the desire to build a better learning experience for Xerox employees drove Antonelli and his team to add The Commons to XSU last September. While this area of the corporate university experienced good growth at first, with more than 1,000 people signing up in the first two weeks, the adoption and participation slowed down after a few months. “This was a vastly different way for people to learn and collaborate. Because it was a new way to do things, we found that they weren’t really sure quite what to do,” said Antonelli.
The Xerox Global Learning Services team needed to teach employees how to use The Commons and the social learning technology it was built on. They needed to highlight what the program could do for learners and how it could support learning in their daily work. To accomplish this, Antonelli created a Community Managers Program to train employees to lead social learning groups and be able to engage more people. Participants can be employees from any area in the company who have expressed an interest in leading a social learning group or who have been recommended by someone as a good candidate for the program. “We want to bring training to the company, communities, and professional areas where people are—bring it to them rather than have them comes to us,” said Antonelli. The program consists of three phases: Learn, Do, and Lead (see Figure 1).
Community Managers Program
Learn. The first part of the program is a six-week course in which participants learn how to use The Commons for social learning, including the software for learning engagements and features such as inviting others to join. If participants satisfy all of the requirements, they get a Level 1 certification as a community manager and a virtual badge that they can post on their profile in The Commons or on LinkedIn.
Do. During the second phase, people who have been certified as community managers are asked to “do” or actively participate in social learning engagements in The Commons. “We want them to be a part of the conversation every day, so we ask that they spend 10 minutes a day on the site, engaging in some sort of activity,” Antonelli said. Participants receive a suggested list of fundamental activities to follow, such as post something on Monday and invite someone on Tuesday. Once the managers have run a community successfully for three months, they receive a Level 2 certification.
Lead. The goal of the last phase is to build manager capability beyond the core team who runs and manages The Commons. To complete the “lead” phase, participants search for others who would be good community leaders and start developing them to take on that role. This enables people to lead by teaching others what they know about engaging in social learning and leading a social learning group. “Our goal is to drive mass collaboration,” said Antonelli. Employees who complete this phase receive a Level 3 certification.
Xerox Global Learning Services is pleased with the results of the inaugural run of the program and is on track for more positive results. From the first Community Managers Program cohort of 15 participants who began this May, 12 have been certified as Level 1 community managers, five have achieved Level 2 certification, and two have reached Level 3. A second cohort of 40 participants started in July and a third cohort is planned to begin in September.
Be sure to read the second part of this blog series for tips on how to make this work in your organization. (Full article originally published in the October 2015 issue of Training Journal.)
 “Modernising Learning: Delivering Results,” 2014-2015 Towards Maturity Benchmark Study by Towards Maturity, November 2014.
About the Author
Randy Emelo is Founder and Chief Strategist of River, a social learning software company. His new book, Modern Mentoring, is now available from ATD Press and via Amazon. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.