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2011 – The year of social learning: Five keys to realise true ROI


Why care about social learning?

"The interaction between learning and forgetting is like racing down an upward-moving escalator. Just like people, companies can forget the know-how they gained, due to labour turnover, periods of inactivity, or failure to institutionalise knowledge that is being taken for granted. An analogy is tennis. I used to play it very well, I practiced a lot, I developed muscle memory. But if I didn’t play for a few weeks, I’d start forgetting, and over the winter, I’d certainly forget. California kids would come and cream us. They could play all year round."

- Kellogg Insight, June 2011, Kellogg School of Management

The top three challenges for effective learning are: 'organisational forgetting', 'multiple generations' within the workforce who learn differently and the inability of organisations to 'develop skills at the rate of business change'. In a rapidly changing business environment, where employees are expected to be "always on and always available," employees cannot sit and wait for answers to their daily questions. They need to access what they need immediately instead of waiting for a formal training course that may address these situations. In many instances, the formal training they received often is not sufficient to help them address these uncertain situations.

For example, when a sales representative is trying to close a strategic deal at the end of the quarter, they may be facing issues and concerns from the prospective customer around a particular unfamiliar operational issue. For the sales representative this is a 'never-seen-before' situation and one that will be critical to the success of the deal. Instead of searching for answers into an ocean of potentially outdated content, they need to get an insight from a subject matter expert who had experienced a similar situation and who can prepare them to close that strategic deal by providing expertise in real time. The sales representative also needs to have confidence in this expert’s ability, based on their track record and ratings provided by the sales community about their expertise.  Once the deal is closed, they need to bring back this specific experiential knowhow and make it available to rest of the sales community to allow them to benefit in the future from this success.

The world is changing and at a rate faster than anyone could have imagined or prepared for. Today the workforce is not effectively able to keep up with this rate of change. This creates what is in effect a change gap, which if unchecked will rapidly increase over the months and years.  This growing change gap underscores the need for rapid skill development in order to remain competitive and up to date.  This challenge is made more complex by the four generation categories in the workforce, each with their own learning and working style. Compounding the problem, it is estimated that around 40% of the workforce are in the last decade of active contribution and so unlocking the tacit knowledge in the brain of these retiring leaders is critical to ensure continued success and sustainability. This coupled with an employee’s basic ability to retain knowledge, where research on employees shows in general them losing up to 84% of the knowhow gained within 90 days of a formal training program if not in regular use. This means that unless you can counter these issues and challenges your employees will be operating at a sub optimal level. It is clear that implementing a program of continuous learning and knowledge retention is a business imperative in order to ensure continued effectiveness on the job, unlock organisational tacit knowledge and turn pace of change into a strategic competitive advantage.

What is social learning?

Social learning is an innovative application for informal, collaborative and community-based learning that enables continuous learning and real-time knowledge sharing between employees, partners and customers. Social learning allows learners to sustain expertise gained from formal LMS-based training programs by connecting with the community, experts, coaches and interest groups, collaborating and getting critical questions answered in real-time to deliver exceptional results. Additionally, social learning helps companies to unlock critical tacit knowledge from retiring workforce, engage new generation of employees with collaborative interfaces and rapidly build new skills across the organisation to respond to changing business landscape.

In fact, social learning shifts the paradigm from finding the 'content' to finding the 'expertise' within the business network and relying on them to increase effectiveness quickly. It can also significantly reduce training costs through user-generated, experiential content and is proven to increases user adoption as well as frequency of usage. This all points to a greater ROI from the investment into the learning management solutions.

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High impact use cases that drive business value:

There is a lot of interest in social learning and intuitively it just seems like the right thing to do. However, many L&D teams are not sure where to get started, where they can apply it and what are the high impact use cases which will help them show immediate results.  After collaborating with hundreds of best in class companies, research has identified patterns of success when companies implement social learning for following use cases.  Mission critical business problems solved by companies using social learning include:
  • improving sales force’s effectiveness and their knowledge retention after a formal training
  • optimising channel engagement and extended enterprise effectiveness
  • reducing time to productivity of new hires with strategic on-boarding
  • achieving customer service excellence with rapid sharing of best practices
  • unlocking tacit knowledge from retiring workforce and engaging gen Y employees
  • Sustained sales force effectiveness: An average learner loses over 84% of knowhow within 90 days after a formal training program. The drop in their knowhow about the new products or positioning directly impacts revenues. The sales reps get busy chasing critical deals, and are often unable to take time away for a refresher course. Social learning helps enhance and retain the knowhow gained with continuous peer-based learning, engaging with communities, discussion forums, asking questions to experts, exchanging best practices, and getting help from coaches.
  • Customer service excellence: Quality of customer service directly impacts revenue, customer churn and bottom line. When a CSR (customer service rep) is handling a critical customer escalation, they need accurate answers and expertise immediately. They can’t afford to wait for next formal training program. Social learning plays a critical role in a CSR’s ability to rapidly resolve a customer issue with on-the-job, community based continuous learning that consists of Q&A, access to experts, discussion forums, communities, and ability to rapidly share best practices and new insights.
  • Strategic on-boarding:  When a new employee joins a company, it can take months for them to become productive. Strategic on-boarding involves social learning to help employees form key connections with experts, communities, coaches and mentors very quickly. In addition to the formal training programs, these connections allow them to get help on-the-job and become productive rapidly.
  • Channel & extended-enterprise engagement: The difference between a successful channel partner and others is usually the difference between their level of commitment and engagement. More often than not, partners and extended-enterprise employees are too busy executing and are unable to find time for a refresher training program. Social learning plays a critical role in engaging and making the channel partners and extended-enterprise more effective with on-the-job, community based continuous learning that consists of communities, discussion forums, access to experts and ability to rapidly share best practices and new insights.
Key attributes of your ideal social learning solution:

How do you know you have a right social learning solution that will effectively solve your business problems? What key capabilities the social learning solution should possess which will help you fulfil your use cases?  After working with and listening to hundreds of customers who have leveraged collaboration capabilities for enhancing the learner’s knowhow, I would like to summarise some of the key elements you should look for in a social learning solution:
  • Expertise Locator: Your social learning solution should have ability to identify people who can provide domain specific expertise and answer critical questions. To do this, the solution requires a ‘unified people profile’ to provide a comprehensive and searchable view of people’s expertise and  knowledge which is endorsed by the community.
  • User generated content: Ensure that your solution allows experts and practitioners to create content quickly, provide comments/input based on real world experiences, rate the content to demonstrate the value perceived by the community as well as tag and bookmark it for future use.
  • Secure communities of practice and discussion forums:  Your social learning solution should help learners to engage with targeted communities, discussion forums, ask questions to experts, exchange best practices, and get help from coaches to become more productive. It should allows you to create class groups create cross-functional secure communities of practice that nest students in the area of the learning concentration at the discipline level, at the team level, at the organisational level but also at the category, curriculum and certification level.  Shared interest and context is the greatest driver of success in social learning.
  • Knowledge sharing:  Your solution must deliver capabilities such as rating, tagging, bookmarking, following experts or groups, sharing resources directly with the mentees fosters rapid knowledge sharing and unlocks tacit knowledge from experienced workers and executives.
  • Embedded online collaboration:  Built-in online collaboration, web and video conferencing capabilities are essential for allowing learners to collaborate with remote co-workers, experts and coaches, conduct virtual training sessions, record these knowledge transfer sessions and share them with rest of the community.
  • Mobile, anytime anywhere capabilities: Your social learning solution should allow learners to get answers to key questions while being in the field, review video tasks performed by experts and launch an online collaboration session with an expert via a mobile device such as iPhone and iPad.
  • Course channels to create a YouTube-like ease of video sharing to the enterprise by organising recordings and videos of all kinds, enabling video content to be arranged by subject or topic or course or other organising principles. These video channels allow students any time access to key learning experiences highlighted by the instructor or by other students.
  • Complementary to your LMS: The social learning solution should seamlessly work with your existing Learning Management System (LMS). Social learning is meant to augment your formal learning solution to offer continuous learning. You are NOT replacing your LMS or formal learning solution unless you are unhappy with it for other reasons. It should provide learners a single place where students interact with course content, both formal and informal, unstructured, and structured courseware and seamlessly search content, informal activities, and experts.
  • Scalability: Your solution should scale to millions of users as the network grows and extended-enterprise learners start participating.

Benefits of social learning:

Companies that have embarked the journey of continuous social learning have realised a wide array of benefits – some with a very strategic impact on Revenues and Customer Satisfaction (CSat) and others impacting tactical learner engagement and frequency of usage. Here is a quick summary of benefits from social learning:

  • Drive bigger revenues by rapidly enabling your sales force on new product launch
  • Drive channel effectiveness & engagement with on the job, continuous learning
  • Reduce time to productivity of new hires and set them up for success
  • Solve knowledge retention issues for effectiveness of your sales, support and channel partner employees
  • Reduce content development and training costs
  • Drive user adoption, frequency of use and learner engagement

Five keys for realising ROI from social learning:

After working with hundreds of customers who have leveraged social capabilities for enhancing the learner’s knowhow, I have identified some of the common organisational challenges companies are likely to face and the steps they can take maximise the opportunity for success. The five key steps before implementing a social learning solution include:

  • Pick a business problem that affects Revenue or CSAT and get executive sponsorship
  • Identify roles that would most benefit from continuous learning
  • Keep pilots limited to groups with higher social media adoption and enthusiasts
  • Help build domain specific CoP’s and recognise contributions from domain experts
  • Clearly identify, communicate & measure success metrics


Social learning when combined with your formal learning solution enables continuous learning to help you rapidly build new skills, share knowhow and retain/enhance the knowledge you gained via formal training programs. It helps you drive user adoption and frequency of usage so that you can realise greater ROI from your investment.  Social learning provides your employees with the means to overcome and minimise the change gap, leading to higher performance and company success.

About Saba
Saba (NASDAQ: SABA) enables organisations to build a transformative workplace that leverages the advent of social networking in business and the ubiquity of mobile to empower an organisation's most mission-critical assets - its people. The company provides a unified set of People Cloud Applications including learning management, talent management, enterprise social networking, and real-time collaboration delivered through the Saba People Cloud. Saba solutions help organisations leverage their people networks to become more competitive through innovation, speed, agility, and trust.

Saba's premier customer base includes major global organisations and industry leaders in financial services, life sciences and healthcare, high tech, automotive and manufacturing, retail, energy and utilities, packaged goods, and public sector organisations.

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