Create One-to-One Learning, with IBM's Jon Iwata

The single best way for businesses to remain vital is to cultivate the people that power them.

Jon Iwata: IBM is in the business of innovation, which means we’re in the business of knowledge. It used to be limited to technology, but as technology has moved over time to change not just back-office functions and automating manual processes like payroll and inventory to today, because of big data, changing health care and how cities are now managed and the power grid — then the knowledge that we need in our employees, which we call IBMers, has to be constantly replenished. We are an intellectual capital-intensive company. Arguably, every company is an increasingly intellectual capital-intensive company. The value they create, the assets they own is more about what they know. We have always been huge investors in the skill development and learning of our people and we’re always trying to modernize how we do that.

Now we happen to be going through an unusual time in the technology industry where now and then there’s this kind of inflection point. It’s being driven by big data, by mobile devices, by cloud computing, by social networks all at the same time. It’s transforming professions and industries at the same time. So you have to take a workforce — in our case 430,000 people — we hire, you know, tens of thousands every year. We’re constantly trying to create this knowledge, you know, replenish the knowledge.  

One of the things that our CEO, Ginni Rometty, asked us to do last year was to be inspired by, you know, MOOCs and online universities and to build that inside of IBM for our own people. We call it Think Academy — it’s accessible through any device. And Ginni said we’re going to introduce this platform, but we’re also going to introduce a new ritual. And the ritual is that every first Friday of the month we will have a Think Friday and on that Friday we will put into Think Academy a new course. And I, Ginni, will lead the teaching of that course every Think Friday. We have been on a regiment of learning. And it’s big data; it’s analytics; it’s cloud; it’s transformation of hardware and semiconductors; it’s security; it’s mobile devices. And we will keep adding courses, new knowledge, if you will, to this platform. 

And that is more than symbology because the workforce realizes how serious this is for them and for the company. And the other thing here relating it back to big data is it’s instrumented. And so as employees engage with Think Academy, we know what they like because they’re going there. We know what they don’t care for because no one’s going there. We know how they like to learn. And so because we know what their job role is — we know who are sales people; we know who are engineers; we know who are marketing people; we know where they are in the world; we know that they like a certain kind of device at a certain time of day, a certain day of the week; we know that some people like to learn by watching videos and other people like to learn by reading text; other people like to learn by consuming infographics. 

Frankly, all of the technology and techniques that we’re using for one-to-one marketing, those same engines and methods we’re using in Think Academy to do one-to-one learning. In the same way that next-best action, next-best offer is pretty standard in the world of commerce, you take that same capability and say, well, if you like to learn that way, you’ll really like the next three videos. If you like to learn by interviews with clients, well, here are two more that might be of interest to you. Ultimately this isn’t about education; this is about effectiveness on the job and performance. 


The single best way for businesses to remain vital is to cultivate the people that power them. And the best way to do that is through a carefully crafted internal learning program, tailored to the company's specific needs, accessible across devices, and deeply responsive to employee feedback. Jon Iwata, IBM's Senior VP of Marketing and Communications, explains how IBM built Think Academy to train its employees on emerging concepts and technologies like cloud computing and Big Data, and how essential Think Academy quickly became to IBM's continuing role as an industry leader.

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