Part three: Real examples of using ESNs to maximize learning transfer


In the concluding chapter of this three-part blog series, I share the experiences and best practices received from individuals in my own Personal Learning Network (PNL). I also relied on crowdsourcing to seek input from various communities of practice comprised of individuals with an interest in the domain of learning transfer and Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs). I have included the responses received, together with a summary of the key takeaways.

  1. If you have ever used an ESN as part of a learning program, what did the design look like?
    • We used an ESN to push out instructional assignments and survey questions to learners via their mobile phones
    • We use an app (Spot Me) that allows just-in-time networking and sharing before, during and after events.
    • We run virtual classroom training programs with questions which are simultaneously posted to Yammer, where participants engage to respond. The App Share feature of the Virtual Classroom helps see live action, but most people are listening in Saba and typing in Yammer.
    • We leveraged the Corp U platform to teach our Top 100 leaders of the organization on the updates and revisions of the Performance Management process.
    • We use closed groups in Facebook for specific learning groups to allow participants to introduce participants to each other. It is fun to feel belonging to the community of people who come with different background but are on the same learning path as you

2. How did you use the ESN to drive knowledge retention?

  • We push out program results and formal feedback to their mobile phones to improve retention and “on the job” skill sets post program.
  • We give them ‘pokes’ to deliver on challenges where people create plans to apply what they have learned on the job.
  • Before and after the course, faculty engage the participants in Yammer to ask what people want to learn on the subject, and how people are using the lessons on the job
  • Videos were created to share content online and explain concepts and participants engaged with one another to draw on experiences and to share best practices. Some discussions were also leader led.
  • Facilitators post questions to the group, and the group has to discuss and answer the questions as part of the learning process. The answers are then discussed in the class/online session (synchronous event). The online discussions were part of the learning experience.We bring the audience together in a plenary session and project their input/feedback in “real time” on a large screen using social media so learners can see the results and drive discussions in the learning environment.

3. What worked well?

  • “Just in time” consistent messaging to promote learning discussions, level setting the group to the next phases of their simulated learning environment. Also, post program follow thru of the learning applying it on the job and the ability to track that feedback post program
  • The use of the app is gamified in a number of ways so people collect points, teams collect stars etc.
  • Fun Yammer interactions, i.e. sharing photos to follow up with stories shared during class, or just selfies from VC class time or weekend adventures
  • Award points for discussions on Yammer
  • Mobile access to the curriculum and discussion boards, as well as off line access which allowed those who travel to participate during their down time.
  • Having a dedicated team member monitoring conversations and discussions daily was a benefit as participants knew that they will receive an answer promptly and also build trust in the accuracy and efficiency of information shared on the platform.
  • Facebook has an informal flavor; it calls for informal chatter, which unites the human side of people. People are often curious to learn more about people, what other networks they belong to, especially in their area of interest. Yammer does not have this as it is focused on the corporate network. It is also important to get notifications when someone has posted something in the group, which keeps the engagement high.

4. What didn’t work well?

  • The technology is not as effective as we would like. I think our desired use of the platform is ahead of its technical capabilities (for now).
  • The retention and application of this type of design is difficult to measure
  • Interaction from the faculty; it is easier to get them to involved during the actual training session, but not the follow-up session

5. What other tips and tricks do you have for driving the effective retention of knowledge?

  • Put the responsibility back on the learner by having them create a performance learning progress plan and how it impacts their day to day on the job activities.
  • Learning has to be integral to everyday life. It should be delivered through small, mobile-enabled bites and face-to-face practice programs that are all connected through the social networking app.
  • Faculty need to be active social media users and understand how to help drive engagement.
  • State what the purpose of using the platform is, as well as benefits
  • Provide engaging content via an easy to use platform
  • Provide gamification/incentives – who doesn’t like a healthy competition especially if there is a prize at the end
  • Regular content quizzes (preferably designed by participants, though that may be hard to sustain) – who can resist a quiz?
  • Allocate resources to ensure very active curation and management of the group in its early days to get people into the habit of sharing and collaborating after the event
  • Include jokey/spoof articles like “What kind of coach are you – answer these questions and find out!”
  • Listicles (e.g. “5 ways to actually incorporate feedback into your engagement”)
  • Have participants contribute stories about the first time they have tried to implement a piece of learning – eg “My first fee negotiation – what I learned”

What do these best practices, tips and tricks tell us?

These experiences demonstrate that the traditional form of one-time event learning is all but over for the most forward thinking organizations. Learning leaders in such organizations are trying to maximize learning transfer by seeking new ways to maximize the retention and application of skills taught in live or virtual classrooms. Using ESNs before, during and after the ‘event’ would seem to be magic potion to allow program designers to follow the AGES model described in part two of this blog. Such a design, on paper at least, allows for the spacing and retrieval of content over time and reflection on personal experiences. However, the examples outlined here indicate that only partial progress has been made and that the experiences are mixed. In the absence of engaged faculty and moderators, the interest in the ESN-enabled activities quickly taper out and the possible benefits of ongoing networked-based discussions disappear. Corporate ESNs just simply do not have the ongoing appeal to contribute as other, more personal, networks such as Facebook. Gamification seems to help inject an element of fun and competition into the learning, but adds significantly to the efforts required by program sponsors.

To conclude this series, we have seen that ESNs are being increasingly used to maximize the retention and application of knowledge taught in classroom programs, however there is still a lot of progress to be made. Advances in cognitive and neurosciences are increasingly helping instructional designers increase the effectiveness of their learning designs, however additional research is required to understand how to motivate everyone concerned by a learning programs. Sponsors of such programs need to understand the benefits of prolonged investment after the conclusion of the event and equip their learning teams and faculty to continue the learning transfer. Participants and their managers must also understand the need to prolong and support the time spent on learning to achieve actual business results. That said, the increasing inclusion of ESNs into learning designs is a strong indication that there is hope yet for inverting the direction of Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve.

Part two: Using cognitive science and Enterprise Social Networks to maximize knowledge retention


In part two of this three-part blog series, I introduce the concept of the Forgetting Curve as well provide an overview of two articles that describe techniques to help learners maximize the retention of the knowledge they learn on classroom training programs. I touch on the increasing interest taken by many organizations in cognitive science as a way to drive greater retention of concepts taught in the classroom. I also share how my organization has applied some of these concepts by leveraging our Enterprise Social Network (ESN) in the design of the program highlighted in part one of this blog. Finally, I describe next steps for how I will seek additional input from my own Personal Learning Network (PNL) to share best practices on leveraging ESNs to maximize knowledge retention, or identify other focus areas to maximize the retention and application of skills developed in classroom training.

But let’s begin by reflecting on your last classroom training experience. How much of the content can you actually remember? Probably not a great deal, if any. How much do you think you retained immediately after the program? I am certain your own experiences indicate that, like an asymptotic line, the percentage of information you are able to retain diminishes over time, without ever getting to zero.

Our brain’s ability to forget was first brought to light in 1885 by a German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, who tested his own ability to retain nonsense syllables over a period of time. His results are shown below. To discuss the validity and application of this model would require a thesis-like dissertation, therefore I will leave it to the reader to assess his/her own acceptance of the model. To me, it perfectly describes my own experiences. This curve therefore screams the question: why do we continue to pack training programs with as much content as possible over a short period of time, with little regard for retention that will lead to changes in behavior and actual business results?


As I researched this topic, I came across a fantastic blog that talks about the myriad of ways to improve your memory. If serving cabbage, sprouts or even kale for lunch isn’t enough to improve business results, or indeed playing a piano sonata by Mozart in the background, then a more focused approach to program design and delivery is required.

Authors Davachi, Tobias, Rock and Rock describe a four step model of how to make learning ‘stick’ in their paper Learning that lasts through AGES. In their paper, they suggest that program designers need to activate the region of the brains of their learners called the hippocampus through Attention, Generation, Emotion and Spacing. The A in the model is the full and undivided Attention of the learners, which means reducing any outside distractions and ensuring that the learning is both real and personal. An example of such learning is through the use of simulations to allow learners to participate in real-life scenarios that mirror their reality. The G stands for Generation, which allows learners to create associations with existing knowledge or experiences to “contextualize, retain, and apply knowledge in their own way”. This can be achieved by encouraging learners to elaborate on the learnings in their own words, as opposed to simply rehearsing them. The E signifies Emotion which triggers the activation of the hippocampus via the amygdala. The most effective trigger is negative emotions, such as fear and threat, however these emotions can also impact creativity and innovation, therefore the key is to ensure that learning triggers positive emotions through an enjoyable learning experience. The final key to greater retention, according to the authors, is to Space the learning over time, which leads to higher retrieval rates and therefore greater long-term memory.

To further elaborate on the neuroscience that companies are increasingly turning to, I found this article in the Chief Learning Officer magazine particularly interesting. This article provides further insights to maximize learner retention through a description of the practices of Ethicon, a global manufacturer of surgical sutures and medical devices, which introduced three cognitive strategies to improve the effectiveness of its learning programs.

Cognitive strategy No. 1: Repeated Retrieval

“Also known as the testing effect, repeated retrieval is the systematic retrieving of information from memory, such as when a person has to recall the answer to a series of questions. Research has demonstrated the act of retrieving information from memory — even as few as two times — actually produces a memory trace that is resistant to forgetting.”

The author of the article asks the reader to think about someone sledding down a hill. The more the person slides down the hill, the deeper the grove in the snow; “pathways in the brain work in the same way”.

BDW4A4 A boy sledging downhill

Other research by Brown, Roediger, & McDanial in 2014 indicates that the retrieval of information stored away and its repeated retrieval is fundamental to long-term retention. By making the brain work in such a fashion, learners can improve their neural plasticity.

Cognitive Strategy No. 2: The Spacing Effect

“Also known as interval reinforcement, the spacing effect indicates that information is better retained long term when it is presented repeatedly with specific time gaps between each repetition. This is in direct contrast to cramming, which involves studying large amounts of data continuously over a short time period.”

As I reflect on this, I look back to my undergraduate studies and I was often guilty of cramming for exams. Since embarking on my master’s degree, I have learned to adopt a ‘spaced practice’ approach that forces breaks in my studying and spreads it over a longer time. The problem with this, is that this feels less productive due to a degree of forgetting that sets in and I have to work harder to recall the concepts. Despite the extra work, I can see the benefits, as shown by a study by Soderstrom and Bjork in 2013, which also suggests that separating practice or study sessions over time or other activities facilitates long-term learning.

Cognitive Strategy No. 3: Deep Encoding

“Deep encoding happens when newly learned information is linked to information already anchored in memory, or there is another trigger that causes a person to remember the information more readily. To do so:

  • Build on existing cognitive structures by personalizing information to individuals based on their job responsibilities or demonstrated knowledge levels.
  • Break information into smaller chunks that can be processed and linked more easily.”

Therefore, what this research tells me is that organizations can no longer accept status quo from their learning departments. So what are companies doing about it?

In addition to Ethicon, in part one of this blog series, I described how Deloitte uses social media as part of the design of its Senior Staff Milestone. A comparison of the design of this program versus the two models described in this blog can be found below.







In conclusion, an increasing number of organizations are turning to neuroscience principles to understand how to better design their classroom learning programs. Like the design of Deloitte’s Senior Manager Milestone, I feel that organizations could better leverage their Enterprise Social Network to take advantage of the AGES model or the three cognitive strategies suggested in this blog post. Therefore, in part three of this blog series, I will share the results of my outreach to fellow learning professionals in my PNL to share additional best practices or identify areas where additional research is required to maximize the retention and application of lessons taught in classroom learning.

Part one: Can social media help maximize the ROI on classroom training?


As a learning professional, I have long been intrigued by the levels of investments organizations make on classroom training, particularly when most adults would agree that the most effective learning happens through the experiences we have and the relationships we leverage. If that is the case, what is it about classroom learning programs that are so ineffective in driving effective behavioral change and what can we do to maximize the return on investment (ROI) on training dollars? Through this series of three blogs, I intend to explore the role of social media in enhancing the retention and application of concepts taught in corporate classroom programs.

Like many learning professionals, I spend the majority of my time on activities covered by the full spectrum of the ADDIE model. This model helps instructional designers build a training solution through an Analysis of the needs, the Design and Development of a solution and its Implementation, and an Evaluation of the outcomes. Through my own early experiences, I have found that the Evaluation phase often leads to disappointing results, as measured by one or more of Kirkpatrick’s measures of learning effectiveness (click here to view a tribute to Don Kirkpatrick and hear about his views on the future of learning evaluation). In my current organization, we are looking at different ways to maximize the return on our investment in live classroom programs. To help in that effort, we are exploring the use of social media and the MOOC concept of social learning to turn one of our live classroom programs into an experience that spans over several weeks. Let me illustrate by sharing an example.

We are currently designing a program for our senior staff population (the most senior non-managerial role in our organization), which involves a two-day live simulation on the topic of Virtual Collaboration. After the program, the participants take part in a five-week “mini-MOOC” (which mostly resembles an xMOOC) that offers additional content on the same topics already covered in class. Each week, participants receive three learning resources in a variety of media (video, podcast, online articles, etc.) and must post their thoughts on questions posed to them via Yammer, our Enterprise Social Network platform. Participants become the faculty as they share their thoughts on the content and teach each other how they can be applied to their professional realities. An example of such content is the viral Youtube video: A Conference Call in Real Life.

After watching the video, we ask participants to post their thoughts on the following questions:

Many of you may have seen this before, but this short funny video highlights a typical conference call and how things may not go as planned.

  • What are the main obstacles to effective conference calls?
  • How can we maximize the effectiveness of virtual meetings?
  • What are the possible derailers?

Similarly to MOOCs, there is very little mediation by the course designers or classroom faculty over the five weeks of the post program component. The mini MOOC wraps up with a peer-marked assignment asking participants to share their key takeaways, how they will apply the concepts and their measures of successful application. We have yet to evaluate the effectiveness of this design, and I plan to use this series of blog posts to dive deeper into this use of social media and seek inputs from others with similar interests.

In my next post, I plan to discuss the concept of the Forgetting Curve. This model illustrates the importance of building on classroom program experiences to keep the key concepts fresh in the minds of participants and increase the likelihood of these concepts actually leading to changes in behavior. I will also look at the 70/20/10 model, and in particular how we can leverage social media to maximize the “20” or the Exposure/Social Learning component of this model.

In preparing for the next post, I’d be very interested to hear if any of our MSLOC colleagues are dabbling in the use of social media in the design of their own learning programs. Jinny Strand, Kristin Colber-Baker, Gus Vellios, do you have any interesting experiences or resources to share? I’d also be interested in hearing from Ryan Smerek and Samir Desai about their experiences in this space. After all, what better media to explore such a topic than soliciting input from my own network via social media?