Around 2005, a fellow doctoral student and head of public affairs for a U.S. state’s public health office network asked me to help him build an online training platform for all his employees. He turned to me because I was an expert (out of necessity) in building IT solutions rapidly and with no money. He wanted the platform to push training documents to his employees and have discussion boards to learn from each other.
I turned to a new open-source learning management system called Moodle. I built the platform in a week, and it was successfully used for a few years until replaced by SharePoint. I learned much about how to create a learning platform for an organization. I became interested in corporate universities in my Ph.D. program and read everything I could about building corporate universities.
The most influential book on my thinking was Leading a Learning Revolution: The Story Behind Defense Acquisition University’s Reinvention of Training (2008) by Frank Anderson, Christopher Hardy, and Jeffrey Leeson. The authors helped transform the Federal government’s Defense Acquisition University (DAU) into a cutting-edge corporate university. Since the transformation, the DAU has won 70 awards, including CLO Magazine’s 2018 Organization of the Year. I have followed DAU’s progress and use DAU to benchmark my efforts to improve my training organizations.
The DAU is reinventing itself after the lessons of COVID-19. The reason for the reinvention is because “instantaneous connections to knowledge, resources, and expertise power the global economy and drive our personal lives. To help our customers/students thrive in this environment, DAU is transforming from a schoolhouse to a highly-networked platform, using many different modes and methods to provide information, tools, and training from numerous sources.” The DAU is building a new platform with three essential characteristics:
- “Frictionless learning that provides easy access to training and resources at the moment of need.”
- “World-class content that is high quality, current, and relevant.”
- “Dynamic network that connects people who need information to people who information.”
The technology for building such a platform already exists. The 2005 Moodle site I made could easily fulfill the three essential characteristics. What is needed is putting policies and practices into place to operate the platform. The first practice is building a good information architecture to make searching for training and resources easy to find. The second practice is to create a robust content curation process to assure that your platform’s learning content has high quality and relevance. The third practice is to develop an excellent social learning program to help your learners teach each other.
Your training department may not have the resources and award-winning experience that the DAU has. However, you can use the same three platform characteristics to create an effective training platform for your employees. It’s not about the technology; it’s about how you use your experience and training while learning from your colleagues.
Dr. Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Louisville and the University of Maryland. He also works as a Federal training and development professional for the U.S. Navy’s Inspector General Office. He started his government career in Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy and moved on to the Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet in the 1990s. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers You can connect with him on LinkedIn.