Published on October 9th, 2012 | by Orion Partners


How SOCIAL learning technologies CAN impact your Bottom line

Is your L&D team struggling to meet all of your business’s training needs?

Are the results of your development programs failing to deliver change in the work place?

Does your learning management system suffer from low user adoption?

Do you lack visibility of your knowledge experts?

It is more than likely that your business faces at least one of these challenges – if not all. These problems cross into all industries and are being magnified by our rapidly changing business environment and current economic pressures. Companies today are looking for new ways to manage their training programs and have begun to employ social tools like Yammer, Bloomfire and Chatter in an attempt to overcome some of these challenges. Having adopted these new tools they have seen positive benefits in the following key areas:

Servicing the training long tail

It is common in many organisations for a traditional top-down approach to be taken when delivering training i.e. an expert teaches a bunch of students, and they pass the learning on down the hierarchy. However because L&D teams only have a finite amount of resources – time, money and expertise – they typically can only focus on the most popular topics.

Now while it might seem logical to concentrate on satisfying the most common need for the majority of people (the short head), this still leaves a huge amount of training needs unanswered (the long tail)

By embracing social tools, L&D teams can tap into the wider employee network and “crowd-source” knowledge over an increased breadth of topics.  I read an article from Josh Little at Bloomfire a while back and he had a great saying that “none of us is as smart as all of us” and for me, this perfectly sums up why it makes sense for organisations to enhance their existing expert delivery model by encouraging other experts to contribute and share knowledge with others. It makes learning a much more collaborative and connected experience and helps ensures the right information gets to the right people at the right time.

Greater adoption via A more brain-friendly User Experience

Neuroscience is the science of how the brain works and amongst other things it has shown us how people learn most effectively. Humans are social creatures and research has shown that we are more motivated by social interactions at work than by money. This applies to learning as well – people learn best in a community where they can help each other and additional research has shown that learners have a strong preference towards peer-to-peer learning.

Modern learning platforms have embraced this concept and offer the ability for learners to create groups in which they can share ideas, raise questions and submit responses. They have also taken concepts from commercial applications like Amazon and Netflix, and now use sophisticated algorithms to suggest learning that is might be of interest to the individual.

These tweaks are more than just a new set of features and functions – it is a whole shift in experience – away from being compliance focused to a more personalised, brain-friendly experience with options for self-exploration.

Increased employee engagement

History has shown us that content must be relevant in any learning system otherwise learners disengage quickly and do not return. Teams today have to rapidly respond to changing business needs and so learning must be directly connected to the working environment. This requires a highly collaborative approach where all parties are accountable for content generation.

In 2011, Thompson Reuters took action in this way to help drive up sales performance. They developed a learning framework called the Sales Academy which blended self-paced learning and testing, with manager-led coaching sessions that encouraged idea generation and online feedback online. With this collaborative framework they found they significantly raised the impact and perception of learning in the front line and over 88% of participants agreed that this had created greater team engagement.

On top of this 64% of participants in the Thompson Reuters programme confirmed they had seen success from one of the ideas generated in the collaborative sessions and 55% agreed that they had seen a positive impact on their sales as a direct result of the Sales Academy.


All three areas of improvement mentioned above are very interesting and appealing to businesses but in truth the ROI is rather still rather anecdotal. Understanding how this impacts the bottom line impact is what most businesses really want but very few companies are able to measure this. However, one company that has been able to measure its early pilots is Dixons.

At Dixons, they track the average transaction value of each product, store by store, using a unique product code. They provided each store with the same training material as part of a product launch but only 500 employees were involved in a pilot that enabled them to share ideas on how to sell the product better. During the pilots they found evidence that both the personal sales of individuals contributing ideas, and the overall sales of the stores that they worked, were better than average. In fact in a presentation at the Learning Technologies conference at the beginning of this year, Dixons revealed that the stores that had participated in the early pilots increased their average laptop transaction value by 30% – which is equates to an increase of approximately £100 per laptop sold. Now I’m not sure how many laptops Dixons sell on a monthly basis but I’d hazard a guess they sell quite a few! It’s no wonder then that they were pretty excited about these results and that they planned to scale the initiative immediately.

To meet the increasing learning requirements of global audiences, organisations generally recognise that the use of technology and self-directed learning is essential. Unfortunately not all organisations have embraced social tools in their businesses yet as some are just unable to get past their preconceived fear about losing control. But as our workforce demographics are changing, bringing with it a greater level of expectation and demand for this type of connective experience, I’m sure it won’t be long before more and more companies making the shift.

About the Author

Orion Partners is a Talent, Leadership and HR consultancy who believe every organisation has the talent they need. The organisation just needs to identify and develop that talent and because this involves change we also believe it is essential that our clients can deliver transformational change in their leaders, HR and employees. Orion helps organisations create and deliver leadership and talent solutions aligned with their business strategy and ensure their HR teams have the right process, capability and technology to deliver on it.

Back to Top ↑