The Art & Science of Content Curation at Cisco
Over the past several years, Cisco has been making the switch to content curation over creation. We saw several reasons to take this approach. First, we know that the half-life of skills is shrinking. In five years’ time, employees’ skill sets will be about half as valuable as they are today. Second, we realized that there is so much good content out there that it no longer made sense for us to heavily deploy our human, budget, and time-based resources to create our own content. And third, we realized that the learning experience in our 75,000+ person company was fragmented and inconsistent. By focusing on curation, we could create a more consistent, skills-based approach to learning for all employees.
In this blog, we summarize our recent webinar, hosted by Udemy for Business and Degreed, where we shared our approach to content curation at Cisco. If you’d like to watch the entire webinar recording, click here.
We saw that a platform like Degreed could speed up our time to market. It was robust enough to integrate with a variety of other content provider platforms — both internally and externally — and it offered a light touch learner experience.
There’s the Degreed platform itself, which offers an automated service of individual content curation, there’s curation based on learner preferences and enrollments in social network activity, and there’s a feature called Pathways, which enables the human curation of content items into organized topics.
We knew that we wanted to leverage expertise all over Cisco in a self-guided learning model, which we break down roughly into two categories.
- Harness the knowledge of subject matter experts (SMEs). These individuals come from across the organization and are not part of L&D. Our goal is to leverage their expertise through grassroots efforts like team knowledge sharing or various pop-up communities.
- Capture the learning expertise of our L&D professionals. Cisco has a strong professional learning culture going back 20 years and our colleagues have come to expect a standard of excellence in their own learning experiences.
We made the decision to start our journey by unifying our L&D approach and delivering high-quality, learner-centric pathways right from the platform’s rollout.
We took a two-tiered approach to implementation. First, through a unified, centralized effort and then as learner adoption of the Degreed platform picked up, we were able to harness local curation efforts by SMEs.
The context provided by the expert curator is in service of creating an experience that’s personally relevant for learners.
At Cisco today we have two pathway use cases for aggregating content:
- Playlists are collections of content where learners can cherry-pick what they’re interested in, for example, hot technical trends or all the courses we offer on machine learning.
- Learning or instructional pathways have specific learning objectives and it’s recommended that the learner goes through the pathway from start to finish. These might be around a topic like storytelling or introduction to data science.
We use several different sources for content. We pull from internal content all over Cisco, serving up almost 7,000 courses and over 10,000 pieces of individual content. We introduce source content from Udemy for Business and others. We’ve maintained some of our legacy offerings, such as Harvard Business publishing. And we offer free content from respected providers like TED talks and Khan Academy, as well as other recognized online sources that we vet.
Cisco has evolved over the last couple of years to offer “curation as a service.” This could be in the form of an advising-only capacity for example, as in how Degreed could be used to meet the stakeholders’ objectives. It could be consolidating dispersed content into a pathway format or plan, or we could lead the initiative end to end.
The background of our L&D curators is varied. This group includes instructional designers, learning program managers, and curators from technical backgrounds who have moved into L&D.
There are a few main skills and knowledge areas required for content curators:
- Consulting: including good communication skills, problem-solving, creativity, and decision-making
- Curation process
- Learning process: understanding desired learning outcomes and how to make learning stick
- Degreed platform/technical environment
At Cisco, we launched a curation training program at the end of 2018. We made the learning self-guided and provided clearly defined deliverables. It takes about two to three months for each group to complete their tasks. We now have a community of over 100 Cisco and L&D colleagues who have successfully completed our program. And now in their specific functions and organizations, these curators are doing various Degreed initiatives.
With the learner in mind and with our Degreed core team, we identified the rules and best practices that would enable a fluid but consistent learner experience. For example, we didn’t want to be too strict with overbearing rules, so we kept it to just the critical system functionality. We also focused on microlearning, trying to keep our pathways relatively short.
Instructional pathway highlights
We curate content from our featured providers through the Degreed platform using the Degreed search tool. With Udemy for Business course offerings, for example, to view a piece of content or course we would navigate to the Cisco instance of the Udemy for Business platform for Degreed. Then from Degreed, to include that piece of content into the Degreed pathway as the curator, we would return to the Degreed platform to complete that operation. This slide illustrates a particular pathway on storytelling.
We start out by quickly framing up what experiences the learner will have in the pathway. We scope out the relevance of the pathway, what’s in it for the learner, along with clear learning objectives. And because this is microlearning, we clearly state how long it will take to complete as well as any actions the learner will need to take. In this case, it will take a couple of hours for the learner to get through the pathway and the expectation is that the learner can complete this on their own since it’s not tied to any particular event.
For the body of the pathway, our model for each lesson is learn, recall, apply. We like to keep the pathways light touch. In this case, we’ve added one knowledge piece, which is an article.
We include a knowledge check frequently to promote learning retention and then we also include some sort of applied learning based on the knowledge piece in order to make the learning actionable and relevant. Because we keep our pathways short, we include longer and related content items and an additional learning section. And in this case, we have an internally created curated video alongside a Udemy course for a deeper dive into the topic. Whenever we include anything longer or where the learner has to physically leave the pathway environment, we put it into the additional learning section.
We have been able to onboard over 78,000 employees, of which 65% are active users in the platform. We have about 1,000 pathways published in total. If we zoom into our Udemy offerings, we can see there are 235 courses that have been leveraged at Cisco so far. Over half of those have been for technical learning, with top Udemy courses focusing on programming languages like Google’s Go. Cisco also has internal courses on Udemy such as the certification preparation networking courses like CCNA or CCNP.
When we analyze what type of courses learners are seeking on Udemy, we can also appreciate that there’s a widespread interest in application learning like Microsoft Power Business Intelligence. And it’s no surprise in the current times that there’s a demand for courses like best practices in working remotely.
What will we be focusing on next?
In the curation space, we’re seeing our role become a more consultative one. As leaders get familiar with Degreed, they want to see how they can use it to advance their functions and their teams. Within our wider L&D initiatives, we see an emphasis on learning through skills, not roles. Employees now need to learn new skills much quicker and the evolution of the skills market is changing at such an incredible pace.
Today there are skill plans for each job role in Cisco, which highlight required skills in particular roles. There’s a lot more to come in this space and how to map job opportunities for expertise that you already have or you’re currently learning.
We also see expectations changing around the amount of time employees spend learning. And, of course, platforms like Udemy for Business and Degreed allow employees to learn whenever and wherever it’s most convenient for them.
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