Digital Competences (VII). Gerard Vélez and Laura Rosillo: La Caixa, from e-Learning to collective intelligence

Notes from the course Competencias digitales: conocimientos, habilidades y actitudes para la Sociedad Red (Digital competences: Knowledge, skills and attitudes for the Network Society), organized by the CUIMPB, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on July 16th and 17h, 2009. More notes on this event: competencias_digitales_cuimpb_2009.

La Caixa: from e-learning to collective intelligence
Gerard Vélez and Laura Rosillo

The Virtaula project was born in 1999 at La Caixa [one of the largest banks in Spain] as an e-learning platform to train the employees. But the framework has deeply changed: the Internet has moved form the Internet of enterprises to the Internet of people, becoming more social. The Internet becomes multichannel, user-generated, social networks based, etc.

The institution has also evolved and been restructured, from a hierarchic institution to a matrix-based management.

The new Virtaula implies savings in the field of collaborative work: meetings, work groups, professional development, training, etc.

Virtaula was born as an e-learning platform to reach 25,000 employees, all over Spain, without no boundaries of time or space, giving a quick response, in few time. It was intended also to transmit corporate values (especially to new employees) and to transmit corporate procedures. Training paths were followed by each and everyone, and these paths were generic and non-transversal.

The new focus is to give answers and solve problems that the needs of the business, of every day work, require. The idea now is to reinvent e-learning based on internal bi-directional communication. The new training design it not generic but segmented, needs-focused, applied, practical.

There’s been a shift from 100% employees following formal training courses to 40% employees following formal training courses. But employees keep on logging onto Virtaula looking for informal learning and knowledge sharing among peers. These open spaces are built on demand: besides formal training, the rest of the platform and the rest of training initiatives work on demand and to answer the needs and requirements stated by the employees.

Of course, a minimum of commitment is asked for: behind any demand made to Virtaula some requisites need to be matched: fora responsibles, online mentors, etc. that usually come from the same group of people that asked for a new virtual space.

The organization of virtual groups replicates the natural organization of groups within the firm, as it has been proved that it is also the natural unit of knowledge sharing. These units work as a top-down channel for information diffusion, and also as a bottom-up and peer-to-peer platform for knowledge sharing. In these units, the blog has been acknowledged to be the king tool.

Virtaula is full of “solutions” uploaded by the employees to give answer to the situations they find in their daily work, and everyone benefits from contributing to the knowledge platform, being trust in their peers the main value.

What has changed is not (only) the platform, but what people do in it. In Virtaula 1.0 people enrolled in a course, followed training paths, took part in fora by formal (organization- and hierarchy-based collectives), accessed materials and asked a tutor. In Virtaula 2.0, everyone manages their own training, generates content, write blogs and upload videos, lead and mentor virtual spaces, gather around interests (not organization charts), manage information and build their own networks.

Main changes from Virtaula 1.0 to Virtaula 2.0

  • Spectators became the starring characters. Knowledge shifted from being shared to being built;
  • And learning moves from autonomous learning to collaborative learning;
  • From consumers to prosumers;
  • Expanded authority: it’s better a shared collaborative document, than copies from the original; we have to compete outside, not inside (the firm)

In Virtaula 1.0 trainers were “real” trainers and were asked to answer the students back, mark them and lead a specific group. The new paradigm is that everyone can be a trainer provided they’re willing to lead a topic. People are now agitators, ambassadors, producers, turn tacit into explicit knowledge, share and collaborate, etc. And they are all volunteering to do it.

Main digital skills worked with the employees

  • Know how to search (e.g. Google)
  • Know how to read (e.g. Google Reader)
  • Know how to store (e.g. Delicious)
  • That should lead the employees to be able to publish whatever on Virtaula

Q&A

Mercè Guillén: why is it that the Virtaula platform has so little corporate imaging? Laura Rosillo: It’s made on purpose. The idea was that Virtaula were not an intranet but the Internet. On the other hand, the purpose was that it should not be a corporate space, but a place for the employees, for the people. La Caixa already has an intranet, and Virtaula should be detached form it.

Q: Have you thought about using already existing social networking sites for other purposes? Gerard Vélez: yes, and the work done in Virtaula should empower the employees to “colonize” other parts of the Internet.

Q: What’s the participation level? Is people aware that this way of working will have any impact on profits? Gerard Vélez: out of 25,000 employees, 15,000 have accessed the platform, 6,000 are in work groups and 1,000 are highly active users. And people do it because it has a positive impact on their daily work.

More information

Course on Digital Competences (2009)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2009) “Digital Competences (VII). Gerard Vélez and Laura Rosillo: La Caixa, from e-Learning to collective intelligence” In ICTlogy, #70, July 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=2543

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