Microsoft Teams for L&D: the time for predictions is over

By Billy Roberts

6 minute read
TL;DR: MS Teams is often talked about as the future of L&D. But it’s not the future any more. Rather than making bold promises about Sci-Fi features and utopias of learning, experts are finally talking about how we can use Teams now. And organisations are already putting that into practice using the unparalleled communicative and collaborative framework of MS Teams to expand social learning into every aspect of digital work.

"[Innovation requires] the perennial gale of Creative Destruction."

- Joseph Schumpeter

Creative destruction is the "process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one." While irresistible, this is not a passive process. Innovation isn’t just something that indiscriminately sails through an economy, picking up everyone at the same time. How each of us reacts is still important.

Microsoft Teams is clearly the latest gust of this gale. It’s a key part of a broader transition to digital working which is arguably comparable to what Schumpeter was originally referring to: Ford’s assembly line. But, like the assembly line and other innovations, Teams hasn’t been adopted by all parts of the working world at the same speed. The majority of the L&D industry is becoming aware of the vast potential Teams offers. But at this point, it’s mostly just the potential. 

And that’s the main barrier to adoption. Even if the water looks lovely, nobody wants to dive in until they’ve seen someone else do it first. With L&D in Teams, there’s a lot of hype about a utopia of natural language processing or total learning in the flow of work, but details of how that actually looks at an individual company level are few and far between.  However, examples of MS Teams enabling L&D to be more effective, more efficient, and more usable for employees do exist. 

Companies are now moving away from vague promises and are paying greater attention to the reality of how learning will look in Teams now . So we wanted to collect some potentially actionable plans on how learning and development can harness the power of Microsoft Teams - and how one of Filtered’s own clients, City & Guilds, is already doing so.

Like everyone else, learning and development has to claim its place in the new world as soon as possible. Eventually, everyone will catch up with the innovation. However, you have more agency than you think to become a part of this gale, not just get swept up in its wake. 

Solid plans for the future

A few experts and influencers are less preoccupied by futuristic ideals of what digital transformation could do for learning. Instead, they’re focussing on the specifics of how MS Teams can facilitate better learning now - in response to, and beyond COVID-19, which is having drastic effects in L&D, as in every other industry. The key theme all of these predictions come back to is social learning. This, they argue, is what MS Teams can unlock at an otherwise impossible scale. The experts suggest that MS Teams helps learning in three ways:

  1. Behaviour change


Kiara Graham, a learning strategy consultant for D2L, has argued that Teams is poised to  enact ideas developed in Social Cognitive Theory on a global scale. There are a number of sides of SCT but she specifically refers to the theory that behavioural changes can be best induced and reinforced by observing and modelling others’ behaviour.

So how does this work in reality? Within a specific Team - for example sales - a channel could be set up specifically for collaborative learning. If a junior salesperson has difficulty with an area, or someone senior wants to run a workshop, they could, through video coaching or instant messaging, run an interactive workshop for people across the globe. The teacher shares their screen as they go through a task and the learners watch but, potentially more significantly, interact with the teacher and their fellow learners at the same time. 

According to SCT: “If individuals see successful demonstration of a behavior, they can also complete the behavior successfully.” MS Teams not only helps us recuperate this ability post COVID-19, but can expand it on an agile and global scale.

   

2. Encouraging creativity

Linkedin Learning found that creativity is the #2 in-demand skill in the world. But it’s also domain specific. In an Adobe report, 30% of respondents said that online interactions with peers, especially on social forums, played a major part in helping to hone their creative skills. 

Leo Blankenship, General Manager of Learning Services at Conduent, argues in favour of establishing a “connective”. He suggests that, through Teams channels: “individuals can learn from each other or from their team interaction. The end result is often the ‘crowd-sourcing’ of solutions in which all parties can learn from each other."

This can take multiple forms - either a closed network of similarly skilled individuals or a company wide community. In both cases, this learning would be the unstructured cousin of Graham’s “observing and modelling”. Here, the fluidity of ideas that becomes the birthplace of creativity can be transported onto Teams, and expanded by the move. 

  3. Communities of practice 


Falguni Bhuta, Head of Partnerships and Communications at Kahoot, says that Microsoft Teams can formalise communities of practice. Originally COPs tended to be informal and unstructured - just any group of similarly skilled and passionate individuals improving on an area together through sharing ideas and experiences. What Teams can do is translate these onto specific Teams and channels. 

If, again for example, sales had a specific “best practice and discussion” channel, they could apply their collectively evolving wisdom to create “continuous training which results in better knowledge retention." And they wouldn’t have to be in the same room - or continent for that matter.

How does this look in practice?

One of Filtered’s clients, City & Guilds, is currently transposing its learning offering onto a Microsoft Teams framework. We spoke to Hannah Wysome, Learning & Development Manager at City & Guilds Group, and she explained that social learning is at the heart of this move.

As with a lot of digital transformation, this process was already in progress before being accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis. One of the earlier examples of the company using Microsoft Teams for learning was part of a scheme to keep furloughed employees motivated and informed. A “Group Connect” Team was created by the organisation for furloughed staff. This Team has channels for sharing COVID-19 related information but also provides a virtual watercooler channel, as well as a skills specific channel. In the latter, furloughed employees can share, and discuss, skills they are learning in lockdown - work related or not. Using Teams like this is the first step to weaving social learning into the fabric of a platform which is poised to become the number one location for work at the organisation. 

However, learning in Teams isn’t all about COVID-19. In fact, City & Guilds used Teams in developing and piloting its version of Filtered’s learning platform: magpie. A specific Team was created for everyone involved in the launch. Channels were used to communicate with internal product pioneers, get personal feedback, and integrate surveys. This Team was also used for instant testing as various parts of the project were launched; whenever a new development was made live, whoever was online at the time was asked to quickly give it a try and feed back their opinions on the channel. As Kite, the organisation’s iteration of magpie, is rolled out, deeplinked articles in magpie will be sent on Teams to introduce people to the concept of seamless learning and generate awareness and excitement ahead of the official launch. 

As their leveraging of Teams develops, City and Guilds’ plans are heavily focussed on social learning. Firstly, there are plans to enhance the social and digital possibilities of the organisations’ peer coaching scheme using Teams. Not only can coaching sessions take place on the platform, allowing for collaborative and dialogic working, but specific communities of practice can be formalised into channels. Coaches can discuss best practice, talk about their experiences, and share collective wisdom to improve the implementation of learning. 

Further in the future, Hannah’s team aims to create a virtual onboarding process. The most recent version of their onboarding programme took place in-person, in London, over the course of a single day. The problem with this, Hannah reflects, is that new employees are in danger of being inundated with information to the point of saturation and then not having enough time to digest everything. This might stop them being able to conduct meaningful discussions about what they have learned - and, consequently, keep some of the most important learning only skin deep. On top of this, a large amount of time can be wasted repeating information.

 A Teams-based onboarding process would help remedy this. Over the course of a few weeks, rather than a day, onboarders would be given articles to read, videos to watch, quizzes to take to test their knowledge, and lectures to attend. Once they were able to digest the information in their own time, there can be specific channels set up to ask questions and other channels in which to have meaningful discussions with peers and supervisors. It’s here, in a Teams based “connective”, that meaningful learning happens. And it will be available for everyone, wherever in the world they are. 

The last barrier that Teams can break down for City & Guilds, as for the rest of the learning industry, is engagement. In marketing, email open rates are, on average, 20% compared to 98% for SMS - instant messaging is far more likely to catch someone’s attention, and hold it, than a channel as saturated as email. Similarly, through Teams-based engagement campaigns, City & Guilds can ensure that, just as learners are able to assimilate the information they have already consumed through social learning, they’re enthused to start learning in the first place.

Conclusions

One reason that people might be hesitant about fully adopting MS Teams is that it doesn’t actually do anything new. And this is true. The bones of it: instant messaging, collaboration tools, video chat, are all already available on various platforms. What Teams really does is provide a connective tissue that brings all of this communication and collaboration software together (with a lot of nifty tricks added in). 

And all the most viable, realistic plans for learning on the platform - the ones that are actually being put into practice now - are predicated far more on this connective tissue than any fancy feature. That’s why the focus has turned so sharply towards social learning. 

As Hannah said, we need to change “people’s perception of whether they’ve actually done some learning or not”. Certifications and courses aren’t enough. Where real learning is already getting done on Teams is where people aren’t noticing it’s happening - the real innovation is that it’s making it easier for people to learn from, and with, each other. 

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