Corporate Learning In The Crisis: Microsoft Teams Coming On Strong

Over the last six weeks, all anyone has been talking about is COVID-19 crisis response, resilience, new models of leadership, and what I call The Big Reset

Well, corporate learning has been doing a lot too. And in many ways, I believe we are going to learn our way out of this crisis.

There’s a lot going on, and new platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are playing a big role. Let me fill you in.

First, almost every company I’ve talked with has lashed together a new learning program focused on working at home (our Remote Work Bootcamp is an example), staying healthy, and dealing with high levels of anxiety and stress. These “home work academies” are vital, because we’re all learning that “work at home” is far more complicated than we thought.

I really recommend you take this problem seriously. There are a whole myriad of issues associated with Remote Work to consider, and without a single “place to learn” everyone is going to try to figure it out on their own. Here is a 15-minute discussion if you want to understand the context and seriously think through your Remote Work Academy.

 

Second, after a few years of effort, “learning in the flow of work” solutions are now happening. MacQuarie Bank took their EdCast license and quickly rolled out new programs to support remote work. Salesforce’s MyTrailhead just went live and companies like Accenture are now delivering on-demand learning directly to sales teams. NextDoor took their onboarding program and converted it into a COVID-19 response library over the weekend. And almost every other company I talk with is adding videos and documents into their response programs.

Leadership development is also scrambling to adapt. Leadership events are canceled so vendors like NovoEd are seeing demand to put custom programs online. Vendors like 360Learning (which lets experts build content quickly and effectively) are exploding with growth, while a new breed of leadership content is starting to come to market.

Can you use Zoom for learning in the flow of work?  Kind of, but it’s not really optimal. I spent a lot of time coaching companies like GoToMeeting and CiscoWebex about this – good live learning needs breakouts, exercises, whiteboards, and places to store, retrieve, and measure what people are doing. Look at robust platforms like NovoEd, Bridge, Nomadic, or Intrepid – you’ll be far better off. And as I discuss below, Microsoft Teams is the dark horse to watch.

Third, most bigger companies (Novartis, for example) are offering free content for parents to teach at home. Simon Brown (CLO at Novartis) discussed how they are offering Coursera and Khan Academy courses at no cost to their employees, which of course makes employees thrilled. LinkedIn opened up a bunch of courses on managing your home office. And most other content providers dropped prices as well. (We reduced the price of Josh Bersin Academy to $25 per month until June 30, for example.)

Fourth, the demand for crisis management, wellbeing, and mental health programs has exploded. Whil, one of the leaders in wellbeing and mental health training, has seen a ten-fold increase in demand. LimeAid is now distributing its platform through CVS. BetterUp, the leader in on-demand coaching and AI-based performance improvement, just made their toolset free for healthcare workers in hospitals and clinics. 

These are urgent, badly needed training programs – and the vendors who positioned themselves here are ready to respond quickly.

Is This The Next Stage Of The Online Learning Industry?

I’ve been a part of the online learning industry since the beginning (around 1998), and it is an enormous marketplace that quickly adapts to trends. Whenever a big tech or social change occurs, the market adapts quickly.

In the early days of this market (2000s), it was all about putting corporate universities online, so companies like SkillSoft, Saba, Plateau, and SumTotal took off. Then we went through Google, YouTube, and the i-Phone, and the idea of video learning emerged. This enabled companies like Khan Academy, Jambok, and later Udacity, Coursera, and Udemy to emerge. 

In the last economic cycle we found ourselves with too much content, so the LXP market became the center. Products like Degreed, EdCast, Valamis, Fuse, and later Percipio and Cornerstone came to market. These were focused on “discovering” all this content, and are now fighting for position.

Since then we’ve seen an explosion in VR (companies like STRIVR labs are now as big as many large content providers), which I believe will explode in this new world, and integrated platforms like NovoEd, Nomadic, 360Learning, and Bridge are picking up speed. Why? There are so many content providers in the market, companies want more destination solutions for their people – so rather than offer a “flea market” of learning (which is somewhat the problem LXPs are trying to solve), they want a Capability Academy to appear. And that’s definitely where the market is headed.

Our Academy, for example, has seen enormous demand – because it’s an integrated, predictable, high quality “place” to learn. Rather than throw a lot of “programs” at people from many places, this is a time to curate, integrate, and concentrate employees in a single place. Right now people want truth, support, and lots and lots of resources.

Learning In The Flow of Work:  Microsoft Teams Coming On Strong

But there’s something even bigger going on. Learning in the Flow of Work has been building and it’s now playing into the hands of Microsoft. 

Let me talk about Microsoft Teams as a platform. All evidence shows that Microsoft Teams may be one of the most successful products ever built. Not because it’s the first corporate messaging platform (Microsoft has had Skype for years, and products like Slack, Webex, and Workplace are huge), but because it’s perhaps the most “corporate” of all. (Zoom’s reputation has been sullied by a variety of security holes.)

I’ve been a Microsoft follower since I worked at IBM in the 1980s. I competed with Microsoft when I was at Sybase, and then used Microsoft products most of my adult life. I am the only one in my family that has refused to use a Mac and I still find Gmail hard to use. So I’ve been using and following Microsoft (the “evil empire”) for decades. I was even one of the first people at IBM who used OS/2!

Well after years of flailing around, Microsoft really has its act together. Not only is Office365 a marvel at integrated data and communications (the Microsoft Graph and tools for Workplace Analytics may become the standard for productivity infrastructure in big companies), Microsoft Teams is an amazing product. The Teams group is highly focused, developing the world’s best audio, noise suppression, and video tech, doing extensive work on features for large groups and meetings, and adding AI in every possible way. (Teams has 3-times the user base of Slack, and recently announced that it has 44 million users each day.)

Today, as we struggle to deal with non-stop video meetings and calls, we’re learning how important these features are. Is the video easy to watch and clear? Is voice quality high? Can I quickly see who’s on and who’s not? How easy is it to blank my background or mute? How well does it work on mobile? You know what I mean. When these little features don’t work it drives us crazy, and Microsoft is working on all of them (including translation, transcription, intelligent indexing, and more).

Then there’s the problem of corporate learning. When I want to learn something (or collaborate on learning), do I want to login to a new platform?  Not really…I’d like to search, discover, start, and consume learning right where I am. In Teams, in Office, or in the productivity tool I’m using. And that’s where Microsoft is headed.

Last year we developed a Josh Bersin Academy integration into MS Teams. It was a relatively easy project, and already we have corporate clients using Teams to “ask the JBA” questions and use Teams for “Discussion Starters” which came from the Academy programs. But that is just the beginning.

Josh Bersin Academy Microsoft Teams

Today GO1, a leader in open content integration (most of the LXP providers use GO1 for much of their content library integration), announced a deep integration with Teams. Not only can you access content libraries from Teams, you can link directly to the LMS to use your established business rules to find learning programs.

What this means is that you can be online doing a conference or video chat, and you can search, find, and launch an online learning program directly from the Teams interface. 

GO1 Microsoft Teams

To me this is huge. Not only is it a great way to find and discover content, but it begs the big question about the real role of the LXP  (I can hear the LXP vendors screaming at me right now.)

What About The Learning Experience Platform (LXP)?

The LXP market, which I’ve written about extensively, is a fast-growing space. These systems (Degreed, EdCast, Valamis, Percipio, Instilled, Fuse, Percipio, Cornerstone, and others) were designed to solve the problem of “easy to use discovery platforms” for corporate learning. Think YouTube, NetFlix, Spotify of learning (all these phrases have been used). 

Initially these tile-based portals were exciting: our corporate LMS never looked so good. But over time they became “websites of content,” so the LXP vendors are swimming upstream. They’re building learning paths, recommendation engines, video indexing (Valamis does this), and all sorts of new features. Guess what: Microsoft Teams can do this too!

The real problem in corporate learning is not “intelligent search” like YouTube, but rather building a context and directed experience that helps people solve problems. So the “recommendation engine” is quite complex, and it is far different from the “click-bait” type of rules we experience on YouTube or Facebook.

We need structured learning paths, certificate programs, pre-requisites, mandatory training rules, and even skills-based recommendations. And the myriad of business rules needed (by role, level, tenure, geography, etc.) is highly complex, which is why we have LMS platforms. Where should all these business rules be stored?

This is the issue we now face. Should we put our skills and competency library in Workday or SAP, and then try to get the LXP and Teams to use it? Or should we try to build it into the LXP, which is a relatively new and slowly maturing platform? Will Microsoft (or LinkedIn) become the place to put this? Or do we just keep it in the LMS where it already resides? All these are decisions you now need to make.

Based on the rapid growth of Teams, I think you have to consider the following:

  1. Accept that Microsoft Teams is growing fast, and with features like video transcription, topic-analysis and indexing (Project Cortex), and built-in streaming and authoring tools. It will become a learning platform, whether you like it or not (tools like GO1 and the JBA accelerate this).
  2. Look at your LXP as a “layer” not a “repository.” If it does a good job of indexing, recommending, and arranging content, then it can be the center of your corporate learning experience. But it may be “behind Microsoft Teams” in some situations, and it may be “in front of Microsoft Teams” in others.
  3. Remember that your ultimate goal is not to “publish a ton of content” but rather to create what I call “Capability Academy” based content. People don’t want to browse through thousands of courses to get their job done – they want to go to a place that shows them just what they need. 
  4. Get ready for much more. LinkedIn’s LXP has not yet launched, nor has Cornerstone’s major new platform – so this entire space is yet to shake out. 

Let’s Learn Our Way Out Of This Crisis

Right now, as most companies are reeling from employee anxiety, job change, layoffs, and crisis management, learning is more important than ever.

And in many ways, we are all in the middle of one of the biggest learning opportunities of our lives. Not only are we learning about viruses and pandemics, but we’re learning how to adapt our day, how to work at home, and how to evolve our business to a new world where safety, quality, and trust become core values.

Open up your learning experience at work, keep it as simple as you can, offer lots of free content on the topics that matter, and make sure you listen well. Learning is all about individuals exploring, discovering, and sharing new ideas. In this world of economic and social stress, we need it more than ever.