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Suncorp transforms its learning culture with Cognita

Suncorp is on a mission to transform from a classroom learning environment to a continuous learning culture.

As a leading financial services organisation, Suncorp is well aware of the rich benefits of transforming into a genuine continuous learning organisation.

People who actively seek out information, upgrade their skills and share their insights with peers prime themselves to deal with changes in the workplace, recognise new opportunities and add value.

People also appreciate Suncorp’s efforts to help build their skills, keeping them current and in demand.

A new social learning platform, called Cognita, designed by education technology provider Janison, to encourage flexible self-guided learning has proved a winner with people, achieving an extraordinary 95 per cent voluntary adoption level in less than six months.

Instead of relying on extended face-to-face courses and lengthy programs of work, the platform encourages people to self-serve, while in-built machine learning provides guidance about what users might find interesting or useful.

The transformative power of the learning platform has been particularly meaningful for one Suncorp employee diagnosed with a degenerative condition. She has used the platform to retrain for a different role in Suncorp that means she will have the skills needed to take on a different job when her condition demands a change. Meanwhile, subject matter experts have been able to share their insights using the platform, streamlining the process of knowledge sharing.

Suncorp has a conventional learning management system which is still in use, but now integrates with Cognita.

Charmian Fry, Head of Learning, wanted a platform capable of “creating an environment where people want to learn anywhere, anytime, on any device, on any topic, and socially collaborate on it.

“We’ve taken a very bold move by opening up learning for any employee to be able to share what they think is valuable to 14,000 other learners. Building the capability of our people is not only good for our people but a great way to support our customers.”

There’s a genuine human impact from the new approach to learning says Fry.

“I had an employee reach out to thank me for implementing Cognita, and the difference it’s made to their life. This is a person who wants to continue working, but has recently been diagnosed with a degenerative illness, which means in two or three years’ time it’s going to be very difficult for her to continue in her current role. She has started using some of our learning pathways on Cognita, in her own time, to retrain and develop the capability for other roles, which will keep her career resilient and employable, but also enable her to continue working as her health declines.

“She had never imagined a career outside of her current role, and now she can see a pathway forward and have absolute personal control over her learning journey that way.”

The social learning platform also allows people to contribute to the body of knowledge available to Suncorp. One data expert, for example, has been able to use Cognita Add & Share tools to create learning modules accessible to everyone.

That sort of one-to-many insight is transformative says Fry because: “I used to sit next to you and train you, just one person, with my expertise, and that’s all I could train. Maybe two or three people who sat side by side with me. Now I can create that content digitally and share it with 14,000 people who might want or need to learn it.”

We’ve taken a very bold move by opening up learning for any employee to be able to share what they think is valuable to 14,000 other learners. Building the capability of our people is not only good for our people but a great way to support our customers. – Charmian Fry, Head of Learning, Suncorp

Innovative approach

Launching Cognita started with a pre-architect session with Microsoft partner, Janison, which came down to canvassing the opinions of about 160 users who dialled into a lunchtime session to watch a quick demo of what a new learning system might look like. That human centred design approach delivered the feedback that shaped the first sprint with Microsoft Azure as the foundation technology and secure Azure single sign-on to handle access.

The approach continued through the development cycle and about 500 people were encouraged to regularly kick the tyres on Cognita as it developed over three months.

Taking that feedback into account and working closely with Suncorp’s change manager to ensure a smooth roll out, Janison finessed Cognita before going live in July 2018.

It’s transformed learning according to Jennifer Blackmore, Learning Technology Stream Lead at Suncorp.

Unlike the learning management system, which can only be accessed from within the Suncorp network, Cognita can be accessed where and when it makes best sense for the user – anywhere, anytime and on any device.

“We were really focused on the platform being as self-service as possible, it had to have gamification elements incorporated to keep the learning interesting and interactive. We also knew that it had to be simple and intuitive for users to continue to engage with the platform.

“Within the first three months of Cognita going live, we had a 74 per cent uptake which is just phenomenal – people are using it, recognising the benefits and coming back for more.”

The Add & Share features of Cognita have also been a hit, allowing expert insights to be shared across the group. Blackmore says that the majority of content in Cognita today has been user-generated.

The accessibility of the learning platform is also empowering Suncorp employees who once faced learning barriers. Blackmore says she met with one employee who is visually impaired who has had his learning experience transformed by Cognita.

“Traditionally we would’ve had to put a facilitator in place to talk him through online learning either because the platform didn’t support WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines) compliance or the content wasn’t built that way.

“I spent time with him and for the first time he felt that he was able to self-serve and complete learning in his own time. There’s still work to do to enable accessibility of all content but for him to say, ‘I’ve been able to interact with that platform, I can do it myself, I don’t need to wait for someone to come and sit with me’, I think that’s fantastic.”

And there’s much more in the wings.

Essentially, we’re utilising Azure Machine Learning Technology to create a recommendations engine that we serve via a chatbot. When someone completes a learning module the chatbot pops up and asks for a rating. The system then interprets the data around the ratings that you give to content and creates a profile for each user. You’ve rated all these things highly, and these other people have also rated these things highly, so it’s then breaking down and giving you some recommendations. – Tom Richardson, CEO, Janison

Artificial intelligence guides learning

Cognita has been developed to help employees take control of their professional development and encourage Suncorp personnel to cross skill one another so that they’re better equipped to work across teams.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is also playing an important role, creating a “recommendations engine” to steer people to learning they might want or need.

Tom Richardson, Chief Executive Officer at Janison: “Essentially, we’re utilising Microsoft machine learning technology to create a recommendations engine that we serve via a chatbot.

“When someone completes a learning module the chatbot pops up and asks for a rating. The system then interprets the data around the ratings that you give to content and creates a profile for each user. You’ve rated all these things highly, and these other people have also rated these things highly, so it’s then breaking down and giving you some recommendations.”

The machine learning associated with the process ensures that the recommendation engine improves over time.

It’s not just full-time employees who are benefitting – more than 50 per cent of Suncorp’s contingent workforce have also accessed learning modules – including content that has been brought into Cognita from the learning management system.

Richardson adds: “Since the content went into this platform, it’s had higher completion rates than ever. Some of it’s the same content, it’s just presented in a different way, on a platform that’s got that buy-in.”

Besides making use of AI and machine learning, Janison is exploring how to use the full functionality of Azure Search to support users looking for learning content. Data from search could also be fed back into the recommendation engine to hone results.

The chatbot can also play more of a concierge role in the future – alerting people to new or required learning and helping them to schedule time for professional development.