Social Learning & The Benefits of Employee Generated Content [Customer Story]

• 6 min read

Patrick Veenhoff, head of Learning & Development at Swisscom, showcases social learning’s benefits.

In June 2017, Swisscom Enterprise Customers switched from a top-down Learning and Development content generated approach to a social learning marketplace. In other words: our nearly 5,000 employees conceptualize, create and deliver all of our organization’s corporate learning content. This allowed the corporate L&D team to transform from trainers to learning organization enablers.

Over the past year, I always get the same two questions:

  1. How do you motivate employees to embrace social learning and share their knowledge?
  2. Employees don’t have the necessary training to be a trainer. How can they train others?

In short: our numbers clearly show that employees do create a lot of training materials (>200 courses in the past 12 months) and the employee satisfaction on corporate learning content has risen by 10%.

Is employee-generated content good enough?

We survey our employees for each training course they take and ask them three questions:

  1. Were the topics and content addressed clearly?
  2. Is what I learned helpful for my everyday work?
  3. Would I recommend this training to others?
The light-blue line shows the increase of employee generated content by 200 trainings in 12 months. The dark blue line indicates the number of active learners per month.

Social learning allows learning to happen in the working environment, rather than relying on typical training environments with low recollection rates. Learners can pull knowledge from experts and other employees in the organization rather than have it pushed on them.

The graph above shows that content generated by employees compared to content generated by the previous L&D department mandated by the business has improved learner satisfaction by 10%. In discussions that my team and I have had with some of our learners, we generally heard that content was more relevant, authentic and applicable to their jobs. I firmly believe that empowering employees to teach each other through social learning is the way forward in this ever-moving, digitized and globally connected society.

How do you motivate employees to embrace social learning and share their knowledge

I actually recommend our employees to not create training at all. This often comes as a shock, especially coming from the head of corporate Learning and Development. After all, shouldn’t I be the one wanting to make people learn more?

My view is that in my role I should enable the organization to let them close the skill gap themselves and I enable them in doing so. That also means that I need to critically assess where learning can deliver an impact. Often, tools, processes or incentives are not well aligned or not at the maturity level yet where it needs to be. In such cases, equipping employees with new knowledge or skills will not deliver any impact as their ecosystem is not enabling them to apply their newly-learned skills.

And so, all training done will simply go to waste and increase the reputation that corporate L&D is a cost factor. Looking at how corporate learning is generally done, I fully agree that corporate L&D is a significant cost factor because there is no qualification process in place to decide when learning actually makes sense.

I recommend employees who are mandated to create a training asset to first check with all stakeholders if tools, processes, and incentives are at a high enough that these new skills can be applied to. Then, a management summary (including goals, non-goals, and limitations among others) for a training concept can be created. This helps learners reflect on whether or not a training is actually the way forward or that, upon looking closer, a different approach might be more impactful.

With social learning, people are often open to the idea of training others, but somehow, they don’t know where to start. In this case, I recommend something they need to explain 10 times per month and make a small training asset about that. This way, they are highly familiar with the problem they address, the audience impacted by it and the payoff is immediate: fewer questions per month so more time to do something else.

Through 45-minutes of e-learning, and with the guidance of coaches from my team or myself, we support this person through the first couple of times making and/or providing a training asset. During this process, we equip our employees to rationally question the need, purpose and business impact of the training they are creating. This approach helps to build the confidence people need to take on bigger training projects.

We further put a lot of energy into addressing the fear of potential job loss. A common understanding is that knowledge equals power equals keeping their job. And so, by sharing their knowledge, the risk of losing their job would increase significantly based on this understanding. The speed of market changes and changing skill requirements due to digitalization doesn’t make it a whole lot easier either. That is why I am very passionate to empower each of our employees to change their mindset from “knowledge = having a job” to “delivering value = having a job”. That all starts with knowing what you as a person want from life, where your strengths and weaknesses are and how that can be translated into delivering value inside an organization. It is a tough process that I also went through with all of my team members, but a highly rewarding one once the mindset switch is made.

Enabling employees to generate social learning content that delivers value

The first belief corporate L&D teams need to throw away is the one where they believe they’re the only ones equipped to teach others. If that belief is still there, there is no way you can enable employees to deliver impactful training.

A second mindset change is one of having customer centricity as a primary focus and operating a corporate learning department like a profitable business. Profitable being that it is delivering more perceived value to the business than the perceived costs. The communication gap between corporate learning and the business is often too big to be closed. Having people from the business taking over certain responsibilities inside corporate L&D teams can help close this gap.

Thirdly, it needs to be less painful for an employee to deliver impactful training than to simply stick with the status quo. That means it needs to be an overall great user experience for them, with a very low threshold to try it out. The user experience should be, putting it bluntly, “idiot proof”. A 16 or 60-year-old with no prior knowledge on delivering formal education should be able to create and execute an impactful training.

We do this by offering an e-learning course, where within 45 minutes you know how to create a blended learning concept and build your training to deliver it with a business impact. We started off with 5 training formats:

  • Presentations or knowledge sharing (using PowerPoint)
  • Webinar (using Skype for Business & PowerPoint)
  • Workshop (using meeting rooms)
  • Podcasts (using smartphones to produce and distribute)
  • Smovie (using smartphones to produce and distribute 60-second movies)

All of these formats, except Smovie, have hardly any learning curve at all. But by combining them in a smart way with a few tips, you can create training that is good enough for the majority of employees to enable them to do a better job. And that leads me to the fourth point: good enough.

Letting go of the belief that only the best or the highest quality training material is good enough for employees to learn from, will be the hardest one for both corporate L&D teams as well as the business. Good enough is when the content helps employees achieve their targets. Good enough is not when all didactical standards are being kept and the content can be of an award-winning level. It is at this point where employee-generated content will stand a chance to be piloted, tested and accepted by the business.

Patrick Veenhoff is the Head of Learning & Development at Swisscom, Switzerland’s top telecommunications provider. In his role, he is responsible for spearheading innovative, disruptive, digitalized and agile approaches to corporate learning and development. Discover how you can drive learner engagement and results with Docebo today.