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9/6/2011
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Deloitte Bets Big On Informal, Social Learning

Chief Learning Officer Nick van Dam says 90% of all corporate learning is informal learning, including information gleaned through social networks.



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Because a consulting organization is only as good as its people, Deloitte wants its people to learn every which way.

While classroom training still holds an important place, Deloitte's Nick van Dam also emphasizes the importance of informal learning, including learning through social media--public social networks as well as company-controlled enterprise social networks. Meanwhile, about half of Deloitte's formal training has shifted online, he said in an interview.

Van Dam is the Chief Learning Officer for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., the parent company for Deloitte's global accounting, consulting, audit, and financial advisory businesses. That means he is concerned with "everything that has to do with technology-based learning systems for Deloitte member firms," including those that foster informal learning through collaboration and communication as well as learning management systems and online classroom software, he said.

The company employs about 170,000 people worldwide, so it's a big job.

"Ours is an intellectual capital business," van Dam said. "There is no software, no hardware we're selling--it's all about the people." Deloitte plans to hire about 50,000 people in the coming year, many of them straight from university recruiting programs, so it has to continually bring new people up to speed, he said.

For those new hires, as well as the workforce as a whole where the average age is 31, online networking and collaboration is a way of life, van Dam said. "Almost everyone is coming in with a smartphone, tablets, iPads, and they're on Facebook LinkedIn, you name it. They embrace technology, and it's part of how they learn, how they collaborate. We need to support the needs of our talent, where we provide them working technology they like to use and have been using before they joined Deloitte," he said.

These workers expect to have technology to support how they learn and share knowledge, van Dam said. "If you don't do that, first of all you might not attract the people you want to attract, and you will not be creating a workplace where they want to stay."

Also, where some organizations try to limit access to public social media from the workplace, Deloitte acknowledges those social sites as part of the learning environment as well, van Dam said. That also means making employees responsible for what they post and that it not reflect negatively on the Deloitte brand, he said.

As a framework, van Dam starts with the assumption that about 90% of all learning is actually informal learning, including blogging, microblogging through tools like Yammer, participation in online communities, videos and recorded webinars, and career-oriented learning such as working with a mentor. Formal training programs include traditional classroom education, virtual classrooms, live webinars, self-paced Web training, and online assessments. He lays out his approach in detail in his book Next Learning, Unwrapped.

Many elements of Deloitte's online learning environment are based on products from Saba Software, and van Dam said one of his important initiatives has been getting all Deloitte's divisions on a common learning platform. Saba also has been developing a "People Cloud" platform aimed at broadening its presence in enterprise social networking and collaboration, currently in production with a limited number of its customers.

Van Dam said he works closely with Saba on shaping its next-generation platform, including adding more social and collaborative features, but will not necessarily make Saba the centerpiece of its enterprise social network. "We look, to a large extent, for best-of-breed, best-in-class products for our people," he said. "We don't believe there is one platform that will do it all."

For example, Deloitte uses Saba Centra online meetings for virtual classrooms but Microsoft Live Meeting for many other online meetings, he said.

Meanwhile, Deloitte has been adopting Yammer on a country by country basis, with bigger adoption some places than others (see this video from Deloitte Australia). Van Dam said a global implementation is in the works. He sees Yammer as "a platform to support informal learning, providing an opportunity to connect with other people and share knowledge with people around the world."

Yammer can also be blended with other forms of online learning, allowing the conversation to continue after the class is over, he said.

Deloitte is also in the process of deploying SharePoint 2010 worldwide and developing its own enterprise social application on that platform, the Deloitte People Network. "That will be where all the collaboration platforms and learning technologies come together," van Dam said. The plan is to make it the company's common portal, with information about employees, their expertise, and their assignments, and also have connections to other relevant systems, he said.

As important as all that online activity is, van Dam said it's still important to match the specific learning needs with the right mode of delivery. If a consultant is trying to improve presentation skills, there might be online courses and simulations that can help, but that shouldn't be the end of it. "When it comes time where now they need to do the presentation, that's where you bring them together in a classroom, with a camera, to practice."

That the company still values classroom training is shown by the fact it is investing about $300 million in Deloitte University, a training facility in Dallas that is due to open later this year, van Dam said. "About 50% of our formal learning is online based, but we're making significant investments in both."

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