Telus links social, traditional training

When a major Canadian telecommunications company wanted to change how it handles employee training, it turned to social networking.

Telus, based in Vancouver, had long run formal programs -- mostly classes and lectures -- to train its 35,000 employees around the world, but found they were becoming a bit too stiff, said Dan Pontefract, head of learning and collaboration.

Some workers have difficulty learning in formal settings, and can better master new tasks by communicating directly with friends and colleagues.

Learning, after all, is social, says Pontefrac. The training should be social as well, he added.

"We always thought training was an event," he said. "It was something that you went to. We had a plethora of formal learning options."

However, Pontefrac added. "That's just not the only way people learn."

Now, Telus offers a combination of learning tools for its workers. "We didn't throw classroom learning out with the bathwater, but we made it a piece of a bigger pie that included informal and social," he said

The Telus training philosophy is now broken down into the three broad categories.

Formal training refers to any self-contained event that people go to, such as a lecture or classroom course.

Informal training refers to live Webcasts, podcasts or mentoring.

And social learning consists of collaboration via online videos, blogs or discussion strings. For instance, workers can access a network of employee profiles to find someone half a continent away -- or in the next office -- who can answer questions.

With the three categories of training now up and running, Pontefract said it's on to the next step: making all three work together. For that, Telus turned to Microsoft's SharePoint software.

SharePoint, a Web application platform, already installed at Telus for other tasks will become an umbrella to manage the many pieces to the company's training puzzle in a social way by early next year.

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, said SharePoint is a viable option for combining the different means of training.

"When you try to transfer knowledge, it doesn't always happen in a classroom," he said. "To bring these different types of learning worlds together is stellar. It will make more knowledge available to everybody instead of just the people in a particular class."

Sharepoint faces a significant task of managing the growing training efforts at Telus.

For instance, the company has created an internal enterprise social network where employees are encouraged to create online profiles, including their specialties and work interests, to share with a network of colleagues.

Telus has also created its own YouTube channel, of sorts, where employees can post videos of things they've done on the job, ask questions of colleagues or offer up kudos to co-workers. More than 1,000 videos have been posted since the channel was launched a little more than 18 months ago.

The telecom also runs a microblogging service inside the corporate firewall. The service runs on desktop and mobile devices. About half of Telon employees are using the service so far.

Bringing multiple tasks together has long been important at Telus.

"We use a lot of different collaborative software," Pontefrac said. "Along the way, we've added pieces. We don't want people getting stuck in a silo of technology. We want them to move freely."

Telus has been using SharePoint for various tasks over the the past 18 months, after completing an 18-month Microsoft training program before that.

Now the company is focusing on using SharePoint to integrate all of the training options -- formal sit-down training classes, Webcasts, podcasts, blogs, content sharing, microblogging, video sharing and the corporate social network.

"We're trying to bring all the formal learning assets into the SharePoint experience," said Pontefract. "When we send people out to a formal class or something, we want them to be able to rank their course, or to add a video or a discussion thread. Learning should be part formal and part social."

Pontefract wouldn't disclose the cost of the training integration effort, but noted that work started at the end of 2011. The company expects that the training programs will be integrated by Jan. 2013.

Shimmin said SharePoint is likely not that enterprise social collaboration market leader -- that prestige likely goes to Jive Software with Cisco. Yammer and Moxie Software are big players, as well, he added.

"To me [the Telus project] a proof point of what has been SharePoint's strength for many, many years and that's it's adaptability," said Shimmin.

"It's about flexibility. The people who made SharePoint didn't say it will be a great training tool. They wanted the product to be a single solution with enough functionality to be beneficial across the board. It's good enough to get a lot of things done in the enterprise."

According to Pontefract, the biggest benefit for Telus will be the single stop shop for training.

"We can stop sending people out to sign up for courses," he said. "We really want the notion of a team member accessing both the formal and informal together in one place. That will make our formal more social. And that's really our quest here."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin. Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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