Knowledge Sharing Using Enterprise Content Management and Social Learning

Using ECM and ESN for Informal and Social Learning

Social learning is not new – don’t we all learn through social interactions even if it is as simple as talking to someone at the water cooler? What is new are enabling technologies that can supplement online interactions in a variety of ways beyond the decades old concept of dial-up bulletin boards. While not specifically labeled or designed as a social learning platform, virtually every ESN interaction has learning value. Likewise, Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Informal Learning software products also include overlapping content management and knowledge sharing found within an ECM. Stand-alone social and informal learning software products are relatively recent. However, not every organization can afford the complexity or have the desire to use one of these products independently from the ECM/ESN. Organizations considering consolidating technology solutions, scaling their ECM or adding ESN should create an overall strategy around the various types of knowledge sharing already in place or being considered. Organizations should also review the increasing functionality of ECM/ESN such as tight integration of socialization and content, the need for organizational access to external information sources, information governance, and user recognition.

Advantages of combining ECM and ESN for learning

Given that most of the non-structured information of an organization is in their ECM, it is most often the best starting point for integrating, capturing, and rewarding the informal and social learning activity of users. This can include content from within the ECM/ESN, collaboration, social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter, and external information sharing from YouTube or Dropbox. Organizations that consider a holistic approach by combining and integrating the various ways of sharing organizational knowledge using their ECM/ESN have distinct advantages. These includes more empowered employers, aligned technologies, optimized business processes, increased visibility as a progressive organization, as well the ability to accommodate employees who already use social networking tools. Each of these advantages can be correlated against organizational objectives.

But… We come back to the fact that ECM and ESN were not designed as learning systems

Yes, it is true that both ECM and ESN were not designed as learning systems. However, among other attributes, their infrastructure is universal across the organization. Information governance, crowd sourcing of content, ease of information organization, common user interfaces, ability to share, peer review, and workflow are just a few of the other benefits. Multiple steps can be taken toward building awareness and increasing learning value and use within ECM and ESN. For instance, consider a new product introduction and related learning materials. This could be as simple as a SharePoint list that has a collection of corporate PowerPoint presentations, soft copy brochures, links to web-based external competitive information, a public-facing YouTube product demo, and an ongoing collaboration in Yammer. The business value or effectively the learning impact of an ECM/ESN can be measured in qualitative and quantitative ways using metrics such as trends in sales before and after social or informal learning, achieving organizational objectives and utilizing Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).

Many organizations have successfully embraced making use of their existing ECM/ESN investment for informal and social learning. For instance:

• TELUS, a national telecommunications company in Canada, is using SharePoint and Yammer in their Learning 2.0 initiative where informal learning includes webcasts, books, mentoring, coaching, and job rotations, while social learning comprises videos, blogs, microblogs, and wikis.
• Nationwide is one of the largest insurance and financial services companies in the world. To encourage a culture of collaboration, Nationwide is using Microsoft SharePoint and Yammer for a training community.
• Tonkin & Taylor, a New Zealand based international environmental and engineering consultancy, used SharePoint to create an informal learning process called Knowledge Shots that allowed anyone to contribute, providing collaboration across the business and reducing the loss of institutional knowledge.

Embracing and expanding the capabilities of ECM/ESN

Most ECM and ESN systems provides support for complementary third party add-ons. A more significant step for yielding even higher returns from the investment in ECM/ESN is to utilize an add-on that bumps the ECM/ESN up to a full informal and social learning solution. This combines the benefits of the ECM/ESN knowledge sharing, and at the same time provides additional metrics, validation possibilities, accountability, and user recognition. The metrics the organization collects can determine if goals are being met and highlight users who are good at contributing, sharing, or consuming. Users benefit by being recognized and rewarded with techniques such as badging.

Jerry Goguen is the CEO of Intralearn Software

Valued Knowledge Sharing with SharePoint

This may sound like a silly question, but have you ever shared any knowledge from within SharePoint with one of your organizational peers? Obviously, the answer is yes. Did anyone other than your peer know you did that? The answer is less obvious, but is probably no. In order to do your work, do you seek sources of information from your organization’s SharePoint system, YouTube, Yammer or Twitter that help you do your job better? Perhaps like me, you have used a video on YouTube to quickly figure out how to use a function in an application or you have re-read a Word document from SharePoint such as a procedure. Do you think that the person who provided the video or procedure got attribution for doing so? These brief, point-of-need exchanges of information are different than more formalized and structured content, such as the material offered in a course. However they are both forms of learning.

Formalized learning systems, called Learning Management Systems, have been present since the late 1990’s and you have likely used them. LMS’s provide the ability to track utilization of courses that have been placed into the system, and people who take the courses can be rewarded for their effort. Some LMS’s even allow you to use content directly from within SharePoint. Courses within the LMS likely also meet the requirements of an information governance policy. For a variety of reasons, it does not make sense for an organization to put every piece of information worth sharing into an LMS, as the information may already exist someplace else, and it would inundate the Learning and Development organization. To expect the people who are sharing knowledge within the organization to learn how to create courses within the LMS is also unreasonable, since course creation could be outside the bounds of their primary skillset.

However, it does makes sense to think about tracking utilization and doing knowledge checks for information that might have repetitive or other value. In addition, some of this more informal exchange of information may well fit into the organization governance requirements. Examples of informal learning that might already be in place in SharePoint include policies and procedures, onboarding processes, employee manuals, and sales presentations. While these pieces of information were created outside of the Learning and Development function, they may carry similar value and weight. This valued knowledge sharing with SharePoint and the organizations Enterprise Social Network platform such as Yammer needs strategy and guidance from both the SharePoint team and L&D.

Consider again a variation of my first question: What if you had participated in a Yammer discussion with someone? This is a social learning sub-role within informal learning. Imagine if this discussion concerned an important piece of information that you had shared previously and would likely share again. Wouldn’t it be interesting if you received recognition for having shared that knowledge? Wouldn’t it also be useful if the people who continue to consume the knowledge also received credit for doing so?  SharePoint add-ons are just coming to market that offer the ability to wrap a small amount of structure around an array of informal information resources for tracking and rewarding purposes. These products provide options to provide reward systems (like badging) and give the corporation visibility as to who the key knowledge creators, sharers and consumers are.


Jerry Goguen is the CEO of Intralearn Software.  

Curating Informal Learning

Earlier this year I helped my son create a temporary art gallery in an old mill complex. His objective was to showcase recently graduated young artist. It was interesting to observe the curating and jurying process of selecting the various diverse works of art that would be at the opening. These artist each had their unique talents ranging from three dimensional paintings to live performance art. My own experience with new product introductions had a remarkable parallel when it came to collecting, sorting and distribution of the related information (curating).

For instance final product design is in a constant state of flux as it is exposed to others familiar with the problem the product proposes to solve. Competitive research is also collected and analyzed to determine how to position the new product. The information reviewed during this (jurying) process helps to shape and further define the product. Marketing tag lines, “elevator pitches” and slide decks need to be created. Product reviews written by a knowledgeable independent industry professional critique and help position the product. The value and inclusion of complementary multiple source references and confirmed research data need to be considered.

Consider the additional other elements surrounding a new software product:

  • Pricing models
  • Technical briefs and specifications
  • Sharing in meetings, discussions and presentations
  • Press releases
  • Demonstration storylines
  • Analytics regarding target audiences
  • Materials used to build partnerships
  • Conference exhibit information
  • Collection of customer references and quotes
  • Expert opinions
  • Planning for the follow up feature sets

These collected nuggets are all part of the total set of information that various people need to be involved with and learn from. Each contain a certain degree of new experiences seemingly diverse but all united around a single objective of launching a new product not unlike the curating of art around a specific theme for an art gallery. Organizing and distribution of these of associated learning experiences are classically outside the function of Learning and Development and do not fit well in Learning Management Systems. Instead the fast flowing dynamic cycle of these information nuggets are stored inside the organizations Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system, discussed in enterprise social networks (ESN) and referenced from external sources.

Learning and Development should not miss the opportunity to have a facilitation role in the process so these small learned experiences are not lost but instead captured for the next product cycle. Systems are now being introduced into the market that are able to integrate and use the existing ECM and ESN platforms by adding value to these otherwise lost nuggets. These lightweight systems are designed for specific purpose of broad sharing of knowledge. L&D should embrace these new systems which clearly need to be independent from complexity of an LMS. L&D is in the best position to offer their talent as guides for the curating of informal learning value using these new systems.

Creating a Corporate Personal Learning Environment

Acquiring just the right amount of information on an as-needed basis is rapidly emerging as a significant learning style. The array of on-demand information sources is growing exponentially. For instance:

  • Corporate knowledgebases stored and managed by SharePoint
  • Traditional hardcopy media such as articles are now available from on-line sources
  • Self-published blogs and wikis providing access to information that previously may have gone through an editing and publishing process
  • Online videos from sources such as YouTube can quickly explain a technique with a how-to
  • Social media tools from Facebook or Twitter with character limits can be a source of information
  • Collaboration tools such as Yammer can provide employee’s access to individuals or groups where they can seek answers to even complex problems

All of these sources combine to comprise an individual’s undocumented personal learning. Until recently, this personal learning container was a person’s brain, classically limited by whatever that person is able to retain in memory. This human stored information had no real or permanent connection to more structured kinds of learning such as taking a seminar or course. Systems have been in place for decades to tap into storing more formalized education. However, new academic research indicates that only a fraction of learning fits this highly structured model. According to sources such as Aberdeen, the greater percentage of learning is done in an informal, unstructured manner, utilizing an individual’s undocumented personal learning network. This includes not only all the sources mentioned above, but can even include asking a business peer a question.

The status quo of learning is in the early stages of a disruptive period where virtually anyone can be (and is) the teacher. Without some ability to manage this quickly changing learning process, corporations will not know the impact of unstructured learning within their organization. What if the source is incorrect or there are multiple levels of expertise within an organization? Without a measurement system that can correlate the use of both internal and external information sources to bottom-line expectations, a corporation will never know if the information they provide (either directly or indirectly) is helping the corporation succeed. Corporations must align methodology with accompanying technology to provide enough structure for employees to create and access all forms of information while in a corporate personal learning environment.Permissioned employees become a contribution source for information that can be shared as well as measured and tracked against corporate objectives. Consumers of this information can provide social feedback on the content and be rewarded with concepts like badging.

Jerry Goguen is the CEO of Intralearn Software

The Role of Learning and Development Professionals in Social Learning

When using Learning Management Systems to manage training in classrooms, seminars, webinars, and eLearning courses the audience is typically participating in some capacity for a defined period of time using structured content. Not all learning happens in these controlled environments; there are significant amounts of learning done in smaller nuggets through informal ways.

Informal and or social learning needs guidance and knowledge to maximize its value in an organization. Some LMS’s may include social learning, but its optimum design usage is within the confines of eLearning content if collaboration is integrated into the learning environment. Social Learning within this environment makes sense for a good portion of an organizations structured learning, however LMS’s becomes unwieldy when applied to informal learning processes.

A large percentage of corporations have Microsoft SharePoint installed for document management, workflow and with add-ons that support specific business unit requirements. Collaboration products like Microsoft Yammer are also quickly being adopted. External information sources such as YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, and Facebook are also providing small nuggets of information at the user’s point of need. Attempting to force users to go through an LMS rather than using these native tools that are already in place is burdensome to learning and development functions.

It is far better to separate the informal and formal learning styles, uniting them at the business intelligence layer using analytics. This means that an LMS is not viable across this broad use. However, some limited concepts from the LMS world can be used in Social Learning if used judiciously in a lightweight fashion contained within the framework of the corporate infrastructure.

Learning and development should contribute to social learning within their enterprise. Their role can be to help the organization define, guide, and lightly oversee the use of social learning to help employees contribute (share) and consuming knowledge that may otherwise be lost. Beyond the initial implementations, learning and development can assist in assigning value to these small nuggets and interactions and by rewarding employees with point-based badging. Learning and development  can help determine what types of informal learning should have some level of validation. Perhaps most importantly, they can help curate these nuggets into collections and assist in deciding/assigning predetermined SharePoint groups. Learning and development can also help management understand the overall impact of social learning at your enterprise by measuring and correlating its effectiveness against corporate objectives.

As the saying goes, don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. LMS’s with integrated social learning or stand-alone social learning platforms that are not designed to be installed inside of SharePoint will ultimately fail the corporate fabric test. It may already be obvious that Social Learning is happening at enterprises well outside the scope of learning and development.

We challenge you to consider that social learning cannot be controlled or adequately addressed by your existing processes or LMS. Instead, we suggest you align with your IT organization offering to maximize the corporate SharePoint and or Yammer investment with a lightweight add-on combined with your intellectual knowledge and services.

Jerry Goguen is the CEO of Intralearn Software