Being digitally social isn't a practice that's relegated to staying in touch with friends and family, it can extend to other areas, including education and skills training. That's where Cisco comes in. 

Everything Can be Social

Since its inception, people have been using the internet to communicate. While many people use sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as social communication tools, social and collaborative learning has also been making an impact within the social community.

According to a report from Ambient Research, the social learning side of the industry is becoming a profitable investment with an expected $US 5.5 billion investment by 2015. In addition, 35 percent of organizations are promoting the idea of social learning within their workplaces.

One of the social and collaborative learning leaders is Cisco, with their Cisco Learning Network. Jeanne Beliveau Dunn, Vice President and General Manager of Learning at Cisco spoke with CMSWire about their product and the educational side of social networking.

The Idea Behind Social Learning

Cisco looked at technological trends prior to the Learning Network’s launch in 2008. They found that while many people used the internet and related technology, a lot of these people didn't know much, if anything, about the tools and services they were using.Subsequently, many industry professionals were looking to improve their existing skills.

With this is mind, Cisco launched their educational environment: the Cisco Learning Network. Beliveau Dunn says the company didn't want to simply offer tutorials or webinars on various technical trends or products, but they wanted to combine these learning tools with the community module that social media sites have:

We think of it as a university for customers and partners who want to be in the networking business and learn about networking,” she says. “Our aim and our charter are to remove the barriers our customers have in their businesses through the use of next generation internet technology.”

When starting this project, Cisco originally brought in individuals to act as mentors and had an HR desk where people could look up education services and jobs. But it soon expanded the scope by reaching out to companies, sending information about the network to high schools and adding interactive features like message boards.

“When you’re building a community, it’s about the content," says Beliveau Dunn.  "People don’t just want technology tools, they want ways to connect and information.”

Learning Opportunities

The Cisco Learning “University”

There are a variety of different tools, both paid and free, that Cisco offers its customers. Some of these include:

  • Certification Programs: Once a user signs up for a Cisco account they are assigned a certain skill level, which can range from Entry to Specialist. As their skills grow, their certification changes. Also, each certification has a variety of different areas that users can choose to concentrate on. For example, in the Expert level, some of the choices include: CCIE Security, CCIE Voice, and CCIE Routing and Switching.
  • Self-Study/Best Practices: This section of the website provides users with the manuals and other tools they can use away from the site, such as self-study survival tips.
  • Discussion Boards: Users can either join a community or start their own topic to discuss a certain topic with other learning network members.
  • Skill Evaluations: If a user feels they are ready to move up in the certification program or are ready for another challenge, they can give themselves a self-evaluation test to see how well they are actually doing.
  • Mobile Apps: To ensure users remain connected -- even on the go, the site offers learning and productivity apps, such as the Cisco WebEx and Cisco Binary Game for mobile Devices. These apps are compatible with Apple, Android, Blackberry and Nokia devices.

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An example of a message board.

The Results

Over the past few years, Cisco has found that this learning network idea was a good investment; they currently have half a million members in over 200 countries with between 150 to 200 thousandnew users joining each year. The website itself is constantly being updated with new tools, information and educational services.

The essence is to start with a goal and a mission and use social to bring together the communities, the information, the message of sharing this and allowing the community to talk to teach other and leverage with each other,” says Beliveau Dunn.

Overall, the Cisco Learning Network has moved beyond an education tool; it’s also become a way to expand the technology industry. By offering the network to everyone, no matter their skill level, the network allows users to better understand the world around them.

The more people are interested in a subject, the more questions are asked and the more they and others learn. In turn, having a place like the learning network also allows companies to expand their own knowledge base and become a more collaborative organization.

It can help change culture,” says Beliveau Dunn “If you embrace social as a way to get things done you embrace a transparency… you get to know more about what your employees are thinking [and] what your customers are thinking."