Is there a business case for SharePoint in informal learning? Thought leader interview with BT’s Sundar Balasubramanian

Director of Learning Solutions at BT, Sundar Balasubramanian, describes use of SharePoint for informal learning within BT and other companies and advises how to make a business case for using SharePoint for informal learning.


Sundar BalasubramanianHow do you use SharePoint at BT?

SharePoint is our knowledge management platform. We used to have multiple platforms, but we are moving to SharePoint 2010 as our platform for all knowledge management – the single place for all web content, intranet material and the platform for all document storage. We’ll also use SharePoint for social networking activities, such as Facebook-like profiles, and creating our own social network within the company. We’re also using it for informal learning within the company – to upload podcasts, videos and so on. It’s becoming the platform for all knowledge nuggets anywhere within the company.

We have formal learning which is separate, but there is so much tacit knowledge across the board that needs to be tapped and we have too many systems for this at the moment. We want SharePoint 2010 as that one single platform for all such activities.

How does this fit in with your famous BT Dare2Share programme?

Dare2Share (our system for sharing podcasts and videos) is already based on the previous version of SharePoint. When everything moves to SharePoint 2010, Dare2Share will become one of the services within our SharePoint 2010 system.

How is the Dare2Share programme going? It got a lot of publicity a couple of years ago. Is it still growing?

Dare2Share has been a surprising success. Dare2Share is the kind of system which is very difficult to write a business case for. The person who evangelized this in BT sold it as a pilot, let’s test it and start small, not going for a big bang which does everything. And he got some seed corn budget. It was hugely successful, it still is. We are looking at how to improve it in future, including moving it to SharePoint 2010. People find new ways to use Dare2Share, and it’s also been very useful within Learning and Development, for instance health and safety managers use it to check people aren’t adopting wrong practices. We’ve also used it to front promotional campaigns within the company, which are fun but also business effective. For example we had a Global Services National Anthem competition last year, where the idea was to come up with the Global Services message as a national anthem video. And people from different countries posted them on Dare2Share, with prizes given.

Do you see in other organizations that people are looking to use SharePoint for learning more?

Yes, for instance we are working with a customer where they already use SharePoint and have some Learning and Development portlets in SharePoint. They are in the early stages of e-learning and we recommended they used SharePoint for their learning management needs because it already has other information such as people information, which needs to be linked with learning.

We talk to customers regularly who have this issue. They have an enterprise wide license for SharePoint, and use it for certain things, and they are working out how to get to grips to use SharePoint for learning and knowledge management.

What advice would you give people who are looking at using SharePoint for learning?

SharePoint is really easy for anyone to use and create stuff. But the downside of this is that it’s easy for things to creep, so unless you handhold people and provide a structure with templates and so on, you might end up with a mammoth platform with portals, wikis, blogs in many different places. That to me is the biggest issue to consider. SharePoint provides so much flexibility that you have to manage it so that it remains useful and not chaotic.

As far as learning is concerned, SharePoint doesn’t out of the box deal with all you need for compliance training, tracking and learning management, but there are modules from vendors you can add for this. You probably can’t match a true LMS (Learning Management System) within SharePoint, because there is a lot more in an LMS, but it can address most typical needs. So if you are an organization that wants the basics in learning management taken care of, such as compliance management, SharePoint can very easily do that: e.g. launch SCORM content, keep track of learning and launch assessments.

If you don’t have SharePoint at all in your organization, should you install it to use for learning? That’s questionable because you have lots more options and could look at true LMSs. But if you already have SharePoint in your organization for other reasons, then before you look at other options, you should consider SharePoint for your learning needs.

Do you see organizations putting all their learning in SharePoint?

Many organizations would like to. But most organizations have an issue of “legacy”. To throw everything away and clean the slate and start afresh and create a system that has everything in it is humungous, and so the change will take time.

What is your view on the 70+20+10 model where 70% of learning in an organization is learning by doing, 20% learning from others and 10% from formal learning? Is it useful? Is it true?

Very, very true. Whether in BT or within companies we talk to, it’s very true. Whether it’s exactly 70% vs 20% vs 10% or the numbers are slightly different, it’s debatable. I personally think there is slightly more than 10% formal learning and that the model is encouraged by people who want to send a strong message promoting informal learning. For instance, every time we launch a new product, we use formal training. Similarly, we use formal training for induction, sales accreditation etc. But a large of chunk of learning is on-the-job and peer-to-peer so I think the model is useful.

What kind of use of assessments do you see within informal learning?

If you take the view that we as an organization don’t care how people learn as long as they do learn, then using assessment as a means of putting a tag against your knowledge is very useful. “I don’t care how you’ve acquired it, I just need to know how much you have”. Assessment gives you a way of measuring learning. And most L&D managers really love ways of measuring informal learning – do people really learn, or is it just a talking shop? If you really want to know, then you can assess and measure value from informal learning. We have recommended that to customers.

Assessments help reinforce learning. For instance, there has been recent research with students to see who has learned the most, students who took a test after learning or those who spent the same amount of time revising. The research showed clearly that taking a test helps reinforce learning much more than revising. So this is another way that we see some customers using assessment.

With compliance training, which most people undertake because they have to, often people just take the test rather than looking at the material, to save time. My take on this is that it’s fine to do the test first – questions you get right reinforce your understanding; and questions you get wrong stick in your memory so when you go back and redo the test, you’ll get them right. Taking questions about something helps it stay in your mind much better than simply reading material. If you get something wrong and get corrected, you’re much more likely to retain it in memory the next day than simply by reading something.

How does one make a business case for using SharePoint for informal learning?

The key is to get an initial budget to pilot or test the idea. Then the business case becomes very straightforward. You can have 3 or 4 communities within the company who have used it in the pilot and benefitted, and you can write a business case based on the amount of time they’ve saved. Either because they didn’t have to do formal training to communicate and learn the same thing; or because they avoided incidents, for instance health and safety incidents, due to informal learning. In a business plan, you can identify 3-4 places within the company where it’s helped save money; and then extrapolate as to what the benefit will be if it’s rolled out company wide. But to do that up-front is nearly impossible, that’s why the idea of a pilot is fantastic. It’s still difficult to write a numerical business case for a pilot, and influencing at senior leadership level is important. You need some faith and vision from your leadership team – for someone to say that in principle this sounds good, and let’s do a pilot and evaluate if it makes sense after that.

How can BT help organizations looking at deploying SharePoint for learning?

BT Learning Solutions can help in two ways – advising on making the decision on whether SharePoint is the right system for e-learning as against other systems. And if companies go with SharePoint, we can help execute on SharePoint for learning strategy.

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4 Responses to Is there a business case for SharePoint in informal learning? Thought leader interview with BT’s Sundar Balasubramanian

  1. Pingback: SharePoint Daily » Blog Archive » Are You Good at Collaboration?; Benefits of SharePoint Virtualization; Microsoft’s Unification Plan For PCs, Phones, Tablets

  2. Pingback: Are You Good at Collaboration?; Benefits of SharePoint Virtualization; Microsoft's Unification Plan For PCs, Phones, Tablets - SharePoint Daily - Bamboo Nation

  3. Umesh says:

    We are very much interested to use our existing SharePoint infrastructure for slearning purpose, but due to lack of information it is becoming difficult to start the project. I would appreciate if you can run a POC/demo for the same. Please write back to me at

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