This fall, there will be several innovations that make Microsoft Teams the place for continuous learning. Break-out rooms, together mode and other enhancements allow for better web lessons than in Zoom. Several new apps make continuous learning possible with communities, curated knowledge, and project-based learning. Finally, Microsoft’s learning app, an LMS in Teams, will truly embed learning into work.

Let me start with some background. Digital learning has increased sharply over the past six months. According to LinkedIn, the use of virtual classrooms and video has increased at the expense of classroom training. In the run-up to the autumn, companies are budgeting to further increase the use of mainly virtual classrooms (+83%).

That’s great! We make training more accessible, make it easier for employees and lower costs.

At the same time, we do not address the need to increase the impact of training. A two-hour lesson held by typical a subject matter expert is unfortunately forgotten after a few days.

In previous articles I have described how to transfer learning to new behaviors at work by dividing learning into several spaced sessions, using self-study for knowledge comprehension, using instructor-led sessions for practice and discussion, adding tasks to be done at work, creating discussion and collaboration etc.

One platform that is naturally suitable for a blended setup as described above is Microsoft Teams. You may want to start by reading the article “How to digitize training with Microsoft 365/ Teams“. In the article, I described how you can:

  • Create blended soliutions – learning journeys.
  • Add self-study in the form of video, documents, links, and more.
  • Add interaction in the form of quizzes, white-boards, games, etc.
  • Extend teams-meetings with break-out rooms, questions, annotation and more.
  • Create assignments that are performed at work and discussed with other participants.

A subject matter expert can now easily develop blended learning that are performed in the platform employees work with and which are naturally social.

New opportunities this autumn

Microsoft has launched a “Global Skills Initiative” with the goal of helping 25 million people build new digital capabilities In connection with this, major efforts are being made to support and enable more learning in, among other things, Teams.

I describe below what is coming this fall and how it might be important for you as a learning professional.

Better meetings with, among others, break-out rooms

The meeting itself has not been an advantage in Teams. It has required a lot from both the instructor and participants to get to break-out rooms (using channels) and additional interactivity. This has limited usage to more comprehensive programs where participants have been able to spend time learning the features.

This fall comes news that greatly improves meetings.

Already in August, the meeting experience itself has become much better. Meetings now start in their own window. You can also open multiple windows/meetings at the same time. This has several implications:

  • The team’s channels are visible at the same time as we have the meeting. It will be easier to add interactivity such as polls, white-boards and games.
  • It will be easier to switch between the main meeting and the break-out rooms that we have set up in channels. In the picture below I am in the break-out room. The red arrow points to “resume” the main meeting. At the same time, I can show the results of a poll to which the participants responded.

In October, there will be built-in support for break-out rooms. It will remove today’s manual work with managing break-out rooms in Teams.

The entire interface is now simpler. We need, for example, no longer look for the controls. They are at the top (orange box in the picture). It is now possible to have an “gallery view” with up to 49 participants or a “focus view” that only shows the content we collaborate around.

Another release is “PowerPoint live presentations” that gives participants more opportunity to give feedback (emojis) directly on the slides. Chat and other feedback will soon appear as overlays on videos. All this makes it much easier to facilitate meetings. Today, as an instructor I have had to focus on my presentation, on the videos, on chat and on the participant list – all at the same time!

An interesting new feature is the “together mode”. Instead of multiple video boxes, we now all appear in one frame. We will be like in the picture, for example around a conference table. This is meant to give a more natural feeling of a meeting.

In my opinion, Zoom or other more powerful platforms have been needed to manage the meeting itself until now. With these improvements, it is no longer necessary.

More opportunity for interactions in training.

The division into a “teams window” and a “meeting window” enables us to add lots of interactions both in meetings and in self-study.

I’ve previously described how we can add interaction with Microsoft Forms, Kahoot, Quizlet, or any of the many apps available in Teams.

During meetings, we can now also use Microsoft Whitebord. The app was previously very limited within Teams-meetings, but has now text and “stickies” and will soon get functions for images and shapes.

The split into two windows also makes it possible to use the full Whiteboard app in parallel to the meeting. This allows us to create even more collaboration and activity during meetings. I am currently testing to use Whiteboard for the interactive workshops I am conducting this fall.

Social learning with Yammer in Teams

One of the advantages of Teams is the natural integration of discussions around content and activities. I often use tasks where participants try something and then discuss and share experiences in my program.

However, there are limitations in Teams. It is, among other things difficult to search, filter and organize the feed.

New Yammer offers full support for social learning and knowledge sharing in communities. The feed can be filtered and AI is used to curate and display just the content that is relevant to me. There is also more support for asking questions to the community with the opportunity to mark the “best answer” and give praise to other participants.

Other features include the ability to create polls in the feed, news and to plan events. In short, everything needed for a Community of Practice.

For me, Yammer is a place where participants discuss and exchange experiences after the program. Then Yammer supports joint discussions and experiences in applying what you have learned. Posts can then be any topic or issue.

I use teams as part of the program itself to discuss specific content and activities. Discussion then are directly related to the content.

As shown in the picture, Yammer can be added as a natural part of the learning journey in Teams.

Informal learning with the new list app

I myself learn most from reading articles, books, reports, etc. and then experimenting directly in my work. In my programs, documents and links to web pages play a big role. They can be examples, references and above all deepening to what we have been through in the lessons.

Being able to easily make relevant knowledge available (articles, reports, videos, web pages, eLearning, etc.) is very important for driving learning further after an initial training.

I was involved in establishing this type of learning portal at the telecom company Ericsson 10 years ago. Over 100 portals for different product and functional areas have been central to driving the rapid informal learning at Ericsson. The image below is an example of a Cloud Services portal.

Today, the portals are supplemented with curated flows in Degreed (a LXP).

In Teams, it has been difficult to make this type of information available in a transparent manner. In the “files” tab, you can upload documents and posts can have links.

Now comes the opportunity to curate and make available relevant knowledge with the “Lists” app. It’s a modern variant of the lists in SharePoint.

From a learning perspective, it provides the opportunity to curate and present resources for learning directly in Teams. “Resources” can be web pages, documents, videos, deep links to your LMS, to external course libraries, etc.

The picture below shows what it will look like, although this particular view is not about curated knowledge.

Tasks and Project-Based Learning with the “Tasks” app

In order for learning to transfer into capabilities we need to gradually apply the knowledge in the work. This means that we expand training with tasks or small projects that the participant performs, preferably at work and preferably with the support of a mentor.

In my article on re-skilling, I describe the model that has become increasingly best-practice.

The Tasks app coming this autumn is an expansion of Planner that already exists. Even now we have are able to create tasks with deadlines and follow up in a kanban view.

Tasks makes it easier for an instructor to publish assignments to individuals or groups of employees. It also makes it easier for an employee to see their specific tasks, which is not shown in Planner.

An instructor can add individual assignments or entire projects to a training course. Tasks can be described with text, image, video or web pages. They may also include a checklist of things to be performed.

The employee marks what is completed, uploads documents, comment on the work, or ask questions. Several participants can also discuss the task.

Teams or Outlook will receive reminders when the tasks are completed. An instructor can set up a series of tasks, content to repeat, or tests that are performed at regular intervals after the initial training. This becomes a way to improve learning transfer – i.e. that we apply what we have learned at work.

The picture shows the kanban view giving an overview of the different tasks we have to do. New in “Tasks” is a follow-up view where we can see how much is done of each task.

Microsoft Learning app

During Q4, Microsoft’s new Learning app will be available in Teams. It will include courses from LinkedIn Learning and Microsoft Learn. In addition, the organization can integrate its own LMS and the course libraries it uses.

The app allows employees to curate training courses relevant to their team and also add their own documents and links.

Content can also be linked to other parts of Teams, e.g. channels or sent as a message in the feed. The ease of searching for courses and getting courses recommended makes the learning app useful for micro-learning in your mobile.

Students can add comments and discussions to each training, just as they can to other content in Teams. If the training provides a certification, it can easily appear in the employee’s LinkedIn profile.

The managers have their own view where training is assigned to employees and then followed up.

I don’t know more than this right now, but it will be really exciting to see what the app can handle. It places high demands on LMS and LXP vendors.

The app is certainly simple and doesn’t have what a big LMS or LXP has today. The question, however, is how much functionality we need for everyday learning at work. What’s controlled by the employee.

The video below gives an insight into how the “Learning app” will work when it arrives in late autumn.

Some conclusions

Wow, there’s a lot going on and it gives a lot of new thoughts on how training can be designed.

The first idea is that we now have to stop training as isolated events. Especially those with subject matter experts who just “sends” the content. We KNOW it doesn’t work, whether in classroom or as web lessons.

Aready before these news, it was easy to create blended training in Teams with a mix of self-study, web lessons, assignments, and discussions.

Now we can take another step towards continuous learning by integrating social (Yammer), informal (Lists) and task-based learning (Tasks). This is an important step as we now need to meet the great need for re-skilling.

Many people I’ve talked to have had to supplement their digital environment with Zoom. As the updates to Teams arrive, that need disappears.

Another reflection is that these news increases the gravity around Teams even more. I’ve been talking about Teams becoming the learning interface for a long time. Now there are even more demands on other learning technology vendors to integrate with Teams.

Get started with Teams

It’s time for everyone who has Microsoft 365 in their organizations to master Teams to digitize training. An opportunity to do so is on my e-workout on September 16th. (In Swedish)

What do you think of Team’s role in future learning? Please comment below.

Posted by Johan Skoglöf

Johan är visionär och senior konsult med missionen att hjälpa företag att skapa framtidens lärande organisation. Med över 25 år i branschen och kunder som Ericsson, Volvo, Scania, SEB, Handelsbanken, HM och ICA har Johan en bred erfarenhet i hur lärande organisationer skapas.

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