Social Learning at Sun

Via a tweet by @trishuhl I came upon a nice case study from Bersin & Associates on social learning at Sun Microsystems. It is a description of the “Sun Learning eXchange“. This is a sort of Youtube site which Sun employees can use to exchange content.

What I like about the project/ the case study is that it started from a real world business/ learning problem instead of just mere looking how to use popular webtools.

The first business problem lies within the cut back in budget for the Sun learning department (SLS). As a result of that they couldn’t provide the training hours needed to meet the training needs of the sales people.

Secondly, sales people needed to have access to the right tools and information needed to close their deals in the field.

Analysis found that 90% of the Sun sales people prefer to get their information through what they call TOI, transfer of information. It is described as a “technology-industry practice of informal product demonstrations and data sharing” (ie. informal learning??). The sales team wanted to be able to access this info right in the field, the solution had thus to work on mobile devices.

Social networking with the ability to exchange content was seen as a good solution for the sales people to learn. The report mentions a valuable lesson regarding the implementation of an online social networking service:

“While widespread adoption is best achieved through bottom-up viral marketing, corporate social networks cannot become embedded into the long-term
cultural fabric of the organization without visible executive participation and sponsorship.”

I must say that I find this one of the most difficult aspects of actually implementing informal learning like the use of social networking. By designing and implementing it for a reason, we are in a sense making it formal again. The bottom-up emergence of the use of social tools by early adopters has, at some point, got to get a more organizational approach. The active participation of the “hubs” in the network, influential people like managers, is of the most importance to its success to become widely used and to meet the intended business goals. I question myself, when do u do this (if necessary at all) and is perhaps regulation and procedures needed as well? Do we need, at some point, to make it mandatory to publish content to such a site?

10 Responses to “Social Learning at Sun”


  1. 1 Robin Yap

    This information is useful when selling the idea of social learning in the workplace. Thanks for the post Joost.

  2. 2 Daan Assen

    Thanks for sharing. Good to see and share real world experiences of the application of social learning technologies. The formal vs. informal discussion is irrelevant if you ask me (it gets formal from the start). It is important to have an active and qualitative early adopter base if you ask me. The comprehensiveness and quality of content will pull people toward the site.

  3. 3 Joost Robben

    @daan, thanx for your comment. I agree with you that “informal” learning, if designed by learning department gets formal from the start. Maybe the notion of formal/informal learning is a bit confusing in that respect. I guess what we like to point out is the movement or growing interest from pre-designed (e-learning) courses (formal learning) towards the less structured learning at the workplace that is often referred as informal learning. Learning professionals need to redefine their position in this. Its the questions underneath that are interesting:like how can learning professionals organize/ stimulate this type of learning? what are factors of succes? Much inspiration for this can be found, i believe, in Joseph Kessel’s corporate curriculum (i believe your familiar with that).

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