Using Yammer to deliver informal learning

This post by the Department of Health's Dave Briggs originally appeared on Gov.UK's Digital Health blog

As part of my role on digital capability, I’m experimenting with different ways of delivering learning activity to people within the department.

The traditional course is fine as far as it goes, but with increasing limits on both budgets for learning and development and time to take out to attend courses, we need a blended approach that doesn’t rely on just one method.

I’ve also set myself some rules to help me focus on what people here really need from learning activities:

  • In context -  learning should be delivered to people in the context in which they would be using that learning and not in classrooms
  • Task orientated -  learning must be focused on the tasks people want to complete, rather than being conceptual or so high level that it requires a lot of work to make it relevant
  • Timely -  learners need to get the skills and knowledge they need when they need it, not weeks or months in advance when most likely it will be forgotten
  • Accessible -  learning should be delivered in a way that learners can access it when they want, where they want
  • Scalable -  we need to be able to deliver learning to large groups of people

One new experiment, which is kicking off this week, is using Yammer to deliver an informal learning course. In case you don’t know, Yammer is an internal social networking tool that provides a Facebook like experience only accessible to people working within an organisation.

It’s what I was alluding to when I wrote on my personal blog about using tools you already have, rather than always building something new.

There are a few reasons why this is a good idea:

  • Time and cost -  we can get started right away and without any additional investment
  • Familiarity -  hopefully everyone involved will be used to the system and the way it works
  • No access issues -  everyone can access Yammer, so we don’t have to do anything to make this happen

So, I have created a new Yammer network to run alongside the usual DH one – this keeps all the learning stuff from cluttering up the main one. Also it means that in future, people from outside the department could take part if we decide it would be a good idea.

Inside this new network, the structure is that each ‘course’ will sit inside its own group. Anyone can join the network, but course group membership is moderated to help manage numbers and so on.

Then it is just a case of using the functionality that Yammer offers in the groups to deliver the learning. These include:

  • Updates -  the core Yammer function will be used to post content and encourage conversation
  • Files -  we can upload files, including case studies, presentations and reports for learners to access
  • Notes -  are used for course documentation and for collaborative work among learners

The first course I am running, which starts this week, is for members of the digital team who want to improve their blogging.

The format is that it is a four week course, with each week being a ‘lesson’. The lessons are made up of bits of content, including stuff to read, videos to watch, and guidance to download. Discussions will be prompted inside the group to help talk through issues and embed learning, and there will also be a simple assignment each week.

The weekly format will mean that not everyone has to be online and interacting at the same time, whilst still getting the benefit of conversations with fellow learners.

I’ll be doing some simple evaluation of this method of delivering learning in the Department, and if it proves to be something people find helpful, I’ll be doing more of it.

Hopefully it’s also a model that others will be able to follow, and I look forward to reading about how that works out.