To integrate learning into the work of its 57,000 employees, document services company Xerox leveraged its learning content management system to collaborate in developing real-time learning.
Xerox sees a brighter future for the way people learn. That future is not so much about what a workforce learns, although that is important.
Rather, it is about shifting the place and manner in which individuals gain know-how. The company’s ambition stems from a desire to improve productivity for its direct workforce, as well as its business partners selling and servicing Xerox products.
Xerox has a vision to tightly weave learning into the everyday fabric of work so that the two are virtually indistinguishable from one another.
A Custom Learning Experience
“In the future, we see an individual receiving custom learning solutions based on his or her experience versus today’s one-size-fits-all learning solutions,” said Steven Rath Morgan, manager of learning content services for Xerox. “We want to leverage the best of push-and-pull learning and fundamentally integrate learning with work.”
To deliver on its vision, Xerox Global Learning Services had to first focus on what happens behind the scenes to design this kind of learning experience for more than 57,000 Xerox employees, plus global business partners. According to Rath Morgan, creating a great learning experience takes two things. First, developing valuable content takes a lot of creativity and collaboration. And second, once experts create a course, a company must anticipate that people will want to tap into it in different ways.
To illustrate Rath Morgan’s second point, if a sales professional takes a 30-minute online course about Xerox’s latest product launch, it is not realistic to think that that same salesperson will skim through the whole course a second time if he or she wants to revisit a few key points.
“Well-designed learning should support getting the content you need,” said Rath Morgan. “We want to deliver resources in a variety of ways and make it possible for our people to access what they need while they are doing their jobs. Ideally, learning shouldn’t be an interruption in the flow of your work.”
Let’s assume a consultant is creating a proposal to convince a customer to add Xerox’s newest printers to a global network. To highlight some of the product’s competitive advantages, she looks to her notes for background. She finds a few facts. But she needs to learn more, specifically about the product’s network capabilities. In Xerox’s new learning world, the consultant is able to search resources and courses and launch a networked cluster of targeted content from her desktop that gives her what she needs.
“Creating learning solutions that fit an individual’s exact need takes the right learning technology,” said Rath Morgan. “You might be able to use a search engine and a learning management system to find a reference manual or deliver a rigidly fixed course to an employee, but those tools alone won’t adapt the content and resources to the learner’s specific need.”
The Fulcrum for Leveraging Learning
So along with relying on its internally developed learning management system, Xerox put in place a global collaborative development platform that is underpinned by a learning content management system from OutStart. Put in place 18 months ago, the LCMS gives Xerox’s internal and third-party content developers a way to collaborate in real time to produce learning.
“Eighteen months ago, we lived in a world where developers worked in silos and supplied their finished product to us as a packaged course for publication to the LMS,” said Rath Morgan. “With the LCMS, we can repurpose content to benefit learners and also engage in iterative development because everyone from instructional designers to the Xerox product expert can work from a common platform and then rapidly deploy the completed content.”
According to industry analysts, LCMSs have been overshadowed by LMSs because many training managers believe LMSs are the primary conduits for delivering training. But Xerox sees the LCMS as the fulcrum for leveraging learning in different ways.
“An LCMS is probably what you need if you’re going to be agile enough to tailor learning to fit an employee’s changing workplace needs,” Rath Morgan said. “It’s a technology that allows you to marshal your learning resources.”
This view may explain why use of learning content management systems is edging up, according to research from The eLearning Guild.
“An LCMS can be part of a toolkit that enhances the development, delivery and management of learning,” said Temple Smolen, interim director of research with The eLearning Guild. “The efficiencies of an LCMS can create a performance support system that shapes learning to meet an individual’s needs.”
One of the defining features of an LCMS is its ability to rapidly develop and deliver learning content in custom-made modules versus a one-version-fits-all approach. The work Xerox completed to implement its LCMS laid the foundation for the future of learning at the Norwalk, Conn.-headquartered company. By providing a common platform, approach and process for creating learning, Rath Morgan and his colleagues have set the stage to move from “monolithic learning solutions” to targeted learning that integrates with the multiple tasks people undertake throughout the workday.
Thus far, Xerox’s story of intertwining learning and work has been one of starting by putting the right pieces together. With the technology in place, Xerox piloted the effectiveness of its approach with small groups of instructional designers — both inside and outside of Xerox — experts, training administrators and learners.
“The goal is to enable our workforce, including our business partners, to maximize productivity and agility while minimizing the time away from work to complete training,” said Rath Morgan.
Xerox calls this adaptive learning. And here’s how it will work: Xerox launches a product. An employee will go to an online portal and see news about the product. He or she will follow a link to learn more. The learner will answer a few questions that tell the system which parts of a course to deliver. The personalized course will give the learner what he or she wants in a few minutes, along with resources for more study.
Xerox still is working to align what it has in the way of technology with its vision for learning. According to Rath Morgan, Xerox has about 90 percent of the pieces of this puzzle in place. But Rath Morgan’s colleagues still have to knit together the parts to give Xerox’s workforce the personalized learning experience everyone envisions.
“We’re over the major hurdle of having to select and implement a technology platform for all of this,” added Rath Morgan. “At each step of building our global platform, we’ve piloted technologies and new development processes using our early adopter model. When we see that something works well in one part of the business, we then replicate it on a larger scale.”
There is a core of approximately 75 Xerox people globally, and another dozen third-party content suppliers, working at different levels to bring Xerox’s learning vision into focus. Of the 75, only about half are content developers. Rath Morgan said an effort like Xerox’s may be easier or harder depending on the size and complexity of the organization, the sources of new learning content and plans for legacy content.
When it comes to managing content, though, statistics from The eLearning Guild indicate implementing an LCMS isn’t the bailiwick of large firms alone. “We found in our research that 84 percent of the companies that use an LCMS have less than 5,000 employees,” Smolen said.
Networking for Change
Rath Morgan was quick to point out that progress toward Xerox’s vision came about because of careful and concerted change management. To define and execute strategy, Xerox relies on a global learning network. That network is made up of the heads of learning from organizations across the enterprise, as well as a learning technology council and an LCMS oversight committee, with representatives from each of the major learning content development teams.
“Without the collaboration and coordination of the learning network and learning technology council, I doubt this learning content services initiative would have ever reached this point this quickly,” said Rath Morgan. “You can’t underestimate how important change management is to getting the agreement to roll out new technology, new processes and to transition to a new way of doing things.”
With the required buy-in, processes and technology in place, Xerox will continue to pilot its concepts for its new learning world throughout the remainder of 2009. According to Xerox, the work done thus far is the foundation for boosting the productivity of the company’s people and business partners.