The most critical asset to a company’s success is its workforce. In a thriving organization, education becomes a pivot point on which the company can evolve as global economic issues arise and there is a need to take on new challenges. Education can be the component that determines the organization’s ability to make the transition.
Now the ability for an organization to make changes, open new doors, drive down costs and enter new markets is key to survival. Most organizations need to adapt to new markets, processes, product opportunities or customers, and getting the organization up to speed quickly can be a major advantage.
Learning@Cisco, the organization responsible for product training and career certifications at Cisco Systems, recognized these challenges and began to look for new ways to communicate with its global stakeholders, including employees, partners and customers — a collective community of more than 1.7 million — through collaborative, Web 2.0 social networking tools. Its goal was to bring Cisco’s The Human Network — its campaign to transform the way people work, live, play and learn by embracing new media — to the world of learning.
To reach a global audience and provide a comprehensive repository of learning materials, a unified social learning environment was necessary, and the Cisco Learning Network was created. This community helped the company reach new scale and growth that otherwise would not have been possible.
But before beginning to develop a social learning environment, it is important for learning leaders to understand the business needs the learning solution will address. For Cisco, expanding users’ access to education while lowering the cost of providing it was top of mind. Since its learning leaders knew they had to double the community size and provide a great learning experience, improving and scaling access while simultaneously offering program modularity for user efficiency was key. These same business issues and opportunities can drive and shape many organization-wide educational initiatives.
Social learning at Cisco helps in the following ways:
• Cost: For learners and their managers, the travel expenses associated with attending a weeklong course at a remote location can represent huge costs for the organization, along with the opportunity costs of having employees away from the office or away from customers. Social learning helps cut down on these costs.
• Access: Traditional classroom-based, instructor-led training poses constraints of time, geography and availability that restrict learning access. The same instructors — leveraged in a social learning environment that complements a virtual classroom which makes heavy use of video, integrated content and collaboration to create an online interactive classroom — greatly improve learner access and represent a valuable asset that can be tapped from any location.
• Scalability: A social learning network scales to make knowledge available to hundreds or thousands of learners simultaneously, at their convenience. It also enables an organization to better leverage global resources by utilizing subject matter experts across the company for customers and with partners.
A systematic approach to using learning technologies helped Cisco derive productivity gains from social learning, and can be replicated and scaled to fit any organization’s needs. The approach involves recognizing communication, training and assessments as necessary organizational learning components.
As the community evolves, new features and enhancements can be added, including study groups, e-commerce functionality, learning assessment tools and symposiums, creating the virtual classroom. There are inherent benefits to taking this new approach, in addition to the rewards associated with leveraging the community to help others learn. Social learning network expansion further encourages knowledge sharing, co-creation of content, and mentoring and talent development within the community. For Cisco, these enhanced capabilities have increased network use, boosted productivity, improved learning tools’ effectiveness and added to the educational experience for end users.
The community growth — with more than 19 million site visits to date and more than 1.7 million certifications — illustrates the effectiveness of a social workplace-learning program that any organization can adopt, scale and leverage.
Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn is vice president and general manager of Learning@Cisco. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.