As an organization, Tesco has a lot to be proud of with our online customer experience. remains one of the best-benchmarked retail supermarket online shopping experiences and this has now been replicated at Tesco Bank where online plays a key role in our customer service proposition with a new banking website and leading-edge mobile banking app. Feedback from customers is already positive.

Looking at how we deliver our customer proposition has got me thinking about how we can replicate that internally for our colleagues. In short my ambition as head of Tesco Bank’s organizational capability and development is to give our colleagues an experience as good as the one we give our customers. Digital is no longer a technology for organizations to implement, instead it’s very much become a mind set on how people operate and behave. We need to consider how we provide all of our colleague services in a modern and innovative manner that replicates the experiences they have every day in their normal lives.

The area we have invested the most effort in making things digital has been learning, and a big part of guaranteeing that great learner experience is choosing the right technology. For us, when it came to finding a social-learning platform (that could also do a whole lot more), this meant Brightwave’s total learning system tessello. Our initial target group was made up of graduates, and tessello was personalized for us as the Tesco Bank GradCloud.

xAPI technology

tessello is one of the first learning systems to be powered by the Experience API, or xAPI, and as a fan of new tech this was one of its biggest appeals to me. It solves a problem that learning and development (L&D) has had for years, namely finding a way of making informal learning work harder for the organization. We all know most learning happens informally, minute by minute, as it’s needed in the workflow. What makes Tesco Bank great is the degree to which our team learns and exchanges ideas with each other. But all the vital skills and knowledge acquired like this has historically been confined to the individual—transforming informal learning into organizational knowledge and general best practice has always been difficult. tessello’s xAPI integration suggests a way to make it easy.

If I see something interesting or useful I just click a button on my web browser and that informal learning is instantly saved in my personal learning record store. From there I can share it out with my team, my manager, or my colleagues anywhere in the world. Of course this still only works for learning at my desk, but our learners can connect with tessello anywhere through the mobile app—anything I see or hear while I’m going about my day, I can snap with the app and save as xAPI data. Suddenly, I can bring any learning resources or experiences I encounter inside the organization and share them instantly with the rest of my social-learning community, turning those informal learning insights into real value-added assets.

Social learning

We wanted a platform that would support the onboarding of new graduates into our business and allow them to learn and share their experiences with graduates and colleagues already joining in the business ahead of them. The social element was the primary driver for our initial selection of tessello, and this was key because we wanted members of our Academy to learn from each other and develop a learning culture—and a working culture—where innovation and collaboration are as natural as they are effective.

In tessello our learners are automatically assigned to a collective community when they register. The learners can then be reassigned to smaller sub-groups, based on their role, department, or current project. In these groups, members can share and discuss learning resources and new information, and through that discussion, validate them. If something is useful and provokes a discussion it’s impossible to miss in the community discussion chain, so the learner’s social fear-of-missing-out means they’ll check it out for themselves, and key new data and insights filter through the organization quickly.

Community interactions in tessello take the form of nested chains where individual learners share learning resources with the group for discussion. Other members of the community can re-share, like, and comment on their fellow learners’ experiences in a way that is immediately familiar to them from the social media they use outside the workplace.

In tessello these interactions are more than just social window dressing—it’s a gamified system of rewards and incentives which has a real benefit in driving learner engagement. Learners are awarded points for the resources they share, driving their competitive edge, and giving them a shared space to connect and belong to a community aligned with shared goals and values. For a community of learners such as new grads, tapping into their ambitions to stand out and be seen as an expert is a huge motivator and undoubtedly encourages smarter learning and knowledge exchange. For us, tessello’s leaderboard has become a regular offline discussion point, generating micro-rivalries to see who can find the coolest informal resource or job aid!

We use our GradCloud tessello for onboarding and induction of new graduate talent. Those accepted on the program are given access to the platform before they even take up their roles. One of our learners, solely through the relationships made on the GradCloud, actually found a new home through a fellow learner as they relocated to take up their new position! For me, that kind of real-world impact really puts the social into social learning.

Collaborative learning

In addition to the general community space, tessello is also configured to allow learners to join sub-groups on a dedicated challenge or skill. These are where the real nitty-gritty happens: it lets learners really get into a particular project and share ideas to find new solutions to old problems. This can happen at any time, and from anywhere, and empowers learners to simultaneously develop as individuals and as effective teams.

Structured Learning Pathways

There is an obvious danger with learner-led development that the learning they’re bringing in to the organization can stray from the core mission—or that colleagues who aren’t predisposed to learning socially or informally can be left behind. I think this is one place where tessello gets the balance right. Within all the bright and funky social networking features there are solid measures of organizational oversight ensuring the learning is aligned to both long- and short-term goals and delivers value to the whole enterprise.

First of all there’s the useful Curator role, where the organization’s subject matter experts (SMEs) are assigned from within the community to validate, refresh, and promote the information and learning resources that are most essential to our core objectives, and remove irrelevant or outdated material. Secondly there’s the Structured Learning Pathway (SLP)—this lets managers or trainers design bespoke learning programs at the group or individual level, using a mix of formal and informal resources, experiential learning, face-to-face training, and practical project-based assessments. SLPs can also be enhanced by the Coach function, where a manager or trainer can use the platform for tracking progress and giving real-time one-to-one feedback and mentoring.

User experience

Obviously tessello has a great-looking user interface that people are comfortable using, but currently it wouldn’t be right to call it the perfect platform. As was widely discussed at DevLearn this year (I didn’t go, sadly, but kept a close eye on the backchannel—maybe next year!), questions around analytics and Big Data are intrinsically linked to the opportunities afforded by the xAPI. A logical next step is the need to output and analyze a greater variety of statistical reports and gain insight into learner behaviors from informal learning statements. For a social platform, it lacks certain features such as a learner-to-learner direct-messaging function, and it should offer better integration with other software platforms we use throughout the organization. We are expanding with further tessello instances shortly, so this is a particular challenge that we will soon have to meet.

After over 20 years in the corporate learning space, and seeing many new ideas that would revolutionize and change the way we learn all fall flat on their faces, I do believe that now, more than any other time before, we are on the edge of a change.

The days of learning and development departments churning out the “same old, same old” have to stop and the bigger question for me is, “What does the future for learning and development indeed hold?”

For what it’s worth, my opinion suggests that it will all come down to providing the best possible colleague experience, learning from the consumer and external customer world. Colleagues don’t care about learning and development, they care about getting on and having a career. The quicker L&D functions learn that, and focus on what the colleague needs rather than their own internal objectives, the better the chance we can achieve sustainable change.

Am I doing what I can in my role to make my colleagues’ L&D exciting and productive? Are we engaging our learners, helping them collaborate and innovate, and turning them into brand advocates who give 100 percent to our mission? I can’t say I’m there yet, but I know that a lot of the successes I’ve had to date are down to using the right mix of learning and HR technologies, and I’m satisfied tessello is one with a lot more to offer my colleagues yet.