Friday, November 27, 2009

In Praise of SharePoint

Recently, we have made some great strides in my company in our quest to convert training from event-based to ongoing. We made a deliberate attempt to reframe training by thinking in terms of “learning environments” instead of “learning events.” Rather than simply setting up training programs as two or three-day instructor-led events, we have been viewing each class as an ongoing community of practice. Participants still gather to attend a learning event but then they continue to work and learn together virtually after the instructor-led segment of the training is completed.

To enable ongoing collaboration, we use Microsoft SharePoint. For those of you who may not be familiar with SharePoint, it is an integrated suite of tools that provides content management, discussion, and information-sharing capabilities. It can be used organization-wide or scaled down for small groups. In our case, we set up an individual SharePoint site for each class we conduct. Our training program participants, facilitators, and subject-matter experts connect through their SharePoint sites to build on topics discussed during their learning events and to capture and share new informal learning. SharePoint helps us do this in several ways:

1. Ongoing Dialog – There have always been options available for participants to use to stay connected after training, but few classes usually sustain their momentum for long. Because SharePoint offers so many capabilities, participants seem more motivated to stay connected through this tool than other means we have offered in the past.

2. Job Aid Sharing – When we conduct training, inevitably, someone asks a question and the subject-matter expert will respond saying, “I have already worked that out,” or “I have a spreadsheet for that.” The SharePoint site provides that subject-matter expert – and anyone else in the class – with a place to share documents that are relevant for class members.

3. Best Practice Sharing – Typically when we conduct training, we generate lists of best practices for the topics that we cover. We post these lists on the SharePoint site after class. This provides real value for the participants. They go back to the site to get this information. While they are there, they are able to build on those ideas or add new ones to the lists.

4. Action Planning – It is also customary for us to have training participants commit to specific actions they will take after they leave a training class. We challenge them to put what they have learned to use in the business. To do this, we distribute and collect back action planning worksheets during our classes. We post these commitments on the SharePoint site so the class members can see what each person has committed to doing. We also use the SharePoint calendaring function to set up milestones for tracking progress. This has been a great benefit to our class members. They offer each other tools, ideas, and suggestions on how to meet the goals they set during training through the SharePoint site.

5. Program Evaluation – The SharePoint sites provide us with another means to collect level 3 (behavioral change) and level 4 (business result) evaluation data. We mine completed action plans and general dialog in discussions on the SharePoint site for each class for evidence of applied learning and business impact.

One obvious usage I haven’t mentioned here is for program pre-work. At this stage of the game, most of our collaboration work is post-work. The reason? SharePoint is still new in our organization. Our training classes seem to be the first place our employees are encountering it. Also, my team is new to it too. We are still working out how best to introduce it on the front-end. Our goal is to begin using it for pre-work in 2010.


  1. I like the look of your basic shift in assumptions,"event-based to ongoing", Mike. Very realistic and effective, I'm sure.

  2. Joanna,

    Thanks for your comment. The shift is work in progress, but we are seeing some great results. We still have a way to go to reach "critical mass" with this approach.

  3. Great Post! One of the more common questions I've been getting is about how to continue the learning & support process after the "event" is over. This is a great way to address that. I've experimented with external mini-social networks such as Ning, to help keep the instructor involved as well.

  4. Rob,

    Thanks for your comment.

    We do keep the instructor connected with the class through the SharePoint site. We also include any additional presenters or Subject Matter Experts that contributed to the program. Little by little we are familiarizing our organization with SharePoint so that we can eventually use it to build communities independent of a specific class.


  5. Hi Mike,

    I'm very interested in implementing this at my work. Could you give some examples of the classes you use this for?

  6. Jaime,

    Since most of my current work is related to Management Development, I have been setting up SharePoint sites for each of my management classes. The classes are typical: new managers, developing managers, emerging leaders, etc. The structure of the site is the same for each class. We place all the course materials and job aids on the site, which initially drives them there. We prompt them with questions to generate activity on the discussion boards, and we post their training action plans there. We have them provide progress/completion updates on those plans.

    We also include any presenters and subject matter experts who helped out with the class as part of the class community.

    Thanks for you interest.