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A strategic collaboration

An
ingenius development in workplace learning is helping to create communities of
knowledge that empower individuals and the corporations they work for, says
SkillSoft’s Kevin Young

We
are thought to be more intellectually engaged than ever before because of the
internet; its ability to accelerate the flow of information and increase
interaction has created innumerable opportunities to learn, communicate and
collaborate. The social networking explosion has taken it even further, creating
a proliferation of discrete communities of interest, driven by their need for
information and propelled by their own momentum. The result has been
unprecedented collaboration across many fields, resulting in the mass
empowerment of individuals.

For
an arresting example of this, simply look to the US health system where patients
and carers are empowering themselves in record numbers. Over 80 million of them
use social media for health issues, whether creating or contributing to health
blogs, posting onto message boards or joining chat rooms, they are creating
virtual health communities with the result that in 2009, the internet surpassed
physicians as the USA’s principal health resource for the first time. That’s one
powerful community, but it is also just one or many.

In
the UK, similar viral activity is spreading, affecting not just consumers but
their habits, interests, lifestyles and their workplaces. Two years ago, the
only interest most employers had shown in social networking was to issue
directives restricting the time staff could spend on Facebook. Today, they are
developing policies aimed at leveraging social networking principles to drive
business.  Meanwhile, social media continues to transform the world of work as
employees use it in ways their employers may not know about – yet may
unwittingly benefit from.

There
are almost certainly social media projects going on within large organisations –
including your own – that are simply under the IT radar. But rather than stifle
them, forward-thinking firms feed, encourage and learn from them, strategically
turning staff social networking into corporate collaboration. 

When
one of the UK’s biggest computer services companies wanted to find out what
22,000 of its staff were really thinking (as opposed to what they might tell the
boss), they went straight to a social networking model to find out.  “It was
like a cross between a survey and Facebook,” says Robert Humphreys, EMEA
functional learning and development manager at CSC, the £1.5 billion British
computer services giant. “What it gave us was not answers but discussion and we
learned more about our staff behaviour than we could ever have discovered any
other way,” he adds.

CSC
subscribes to Books24x7, the online reference library from SkillSoft for use by
its subscribers. Through its relationships
with over 500 publishers, SkillSoft takes thousands of non-fiction titles,
digitises them and makes them available via an easy-to-use, online platform,
the
content of which expands almost daily. With all these benefits, Humphreys was
puzzled by the low overall usage by employees.

Looking
at CSC’s utilisation of Books24x7 last year, Humphreys was interested to see the
differences across Europe; usage in the German-speaking countries is about four
times higher per capita than in the UK, and in India, people will queue in the street to get at training, whereas in
much of Europe, you have to drag people to it. But
cultural differences aside, usage looked too low. CSC already subscribed to
e-learning and to Books24x7 on a global basis so it was effectively free at the
point of delivery. To maximise the investment they’d made in training, he needed
to get to the bottom of it.

To
find out what staff thought about Books24x7, he devised a hybrid-style research
programme based on the principles of social networking. He ran what was
effectively an unstructured survey with inbuilt social networking functions
which, conducted via the web, encouraged staff to start discussing e-learning
amongst themselves. They posed five key challenges to UK employees on why they
were not using e-learning.

What
came back was a general lack of awareness of what was available from e-learning
or how to access it, together with an overriding concern about whether managers
would let them learn on company time. Dialogue emerged like: “…my manager won’t
let me do this sort of thing” and: “…I’m expected to do it in my own
time.

By
strategically probing the thinking behind staff attitudes and actions, CSC found
it was easier to prescriptively address these issues – in this case, taking
steps to ensure the e-learning portal was both highly visible and highly
accessible – key drivers of successful uptake.

But
whilst e-learning provides a fast, effective, low cost means of delivering staff
learning, it is the bolt on of collaboration – through user-generated content –
where the real magic happens.  By incorporating a collaborative module as part
of an organisation’s staff learning resources, it is possible to extend the
value of trusted expert information by surrounding it with the knowledge and
expertise of its employees.

Unlike
standalone social networking applications that can lack business focus, a
tailored collaborative module – like SkillSoft’s inGenius – can build on
existing e-learning content to foster a serious contribution to the corporate
knowledge base.

Building
a social networking style user community in the workplace can effectively
connect thousands of employees via a forum where they can talk and support one
another, solve problems share ideas, archive solutions and build a whole new
interconnected culture, ultimately for the corporate good. Given the speed of
growth in social media it’s probably already happening in a company very near
you.

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