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Cisco Converges On Cloud-Based Collaborative Learning Environment

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

With one leg firmly in large-scale network infrastructure, another planted in the cloud, and a third standing atop unified communications and collaboration, Cisco takes a giant leap into collaborative learning. Breathless buzzwords notwithstanding, the company's "Collaborative Knowledge" environment may help remake education, training, mentoring, and yes, even certification as we currently know it into a more virtual, more omnipresent, more accessible online presence.

I spent a mind-boggling hour on the phone with Cisco earlier this week, as they briefed me on the company's newly-announced Cisco Collaborative Knowledge offering. I spoke with Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, VP and GM, Tejas Vashi, Director of Product Strategy & Marketing for Cisco Services, Kathy Bries, Senior Director and GM for Learning@Cisco, and Ryan Rose, Business Operations Manager for Learning@Cisco.

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The topic under discussion was how modern organizations can combine cloud-based connectivity and services, unified communications, online collaboration, organizational knowledge and wisdom, and more to create a system that supports employee training, development and "upskilling" or "reskilling," along with mentoring and expert input, guidance and advice, all inside a seamless online environment.

Yes, it's a lot to take in, and even more to really get your head around and understand with some degree of depth. The homescreen/dashboard for users helps put some meat around these already impressive bones, as it shows the elements available in this learning environment.

Take a look to the menu tabs at the top left for the major areas of capability.

The company positions its Cisco Collaborative Knowledge environment, as a software as a service (SaaS) solution intended to "help our customers transform their organizations and empower any employer with the digital tools and technologies they need to access experts, learning, and knowledge in real time."

Users see the system in terms of connections to content, people, and knowledge resources, with organizational information and categories. I asked Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, VP and GM at Cisco, if the company was "eating its own dog food" in putting the Collaborative Knowledge environment to work in-house, and she indicated that Cisco has been developing the system over the past few years, and has had it in full use for more than a year to help onboard new employees, help current employees pursue and master new subjects and disciplines, and to provide opportunities for reskilling and career enhancement for employees whose current positions are slated for obsolescence at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Here is some additional information that explains the left-hand menu elements, straight from Cisco itself:

Mobile Knowledge makes knowledge portable and shareable.

  • Capture, share, and manage content with laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
  • Access data that is synchronized and stored in Cisco Collaborative Knowledge.
  • View information online or offline.

Expert Discovery provides just-in-time access to experts.

  • Take advantage of integration with Cisco WebEx and Jabber Instant Messaging (IM) communication and collaboration technologies.
  • Connect safely inside the firewall with experts, peers, and customers.
  • Share ideas, exchange knowledge, or solve business challenges in real-time.

Knowledge Center captures, stores, and preserves, in a central location, all of the institutional knowledge that has been shared across an organization.

  • Upload, store, organize and share personal library assets.
  • Search, tag, rate, and share PDF and e-pub assets with peers, work groups and communities.
  • Continue to access shared documents and best practices when an employee leaves.

Social Communities provide an open environment for informal learning and knowledge-sharing among individuals, work teams, study groups, and others.

  • Learn, solve problems, and innovate in real-time using community discussion forums, blogs, and crowdsourcing.
  • Create, upload, share, and comment on content in communities, discussion forums, blogs, and wikis.
  • Rate, recommend, like, and follow individuals.

Learning Management System centralizes and standardizes formal and informal learning and development across your organization in one location.

  • Prescribe learning plans for a team, department or enterprise.
  • Locate and register for a course through the training catalog.
  • Create personalized learning plans to support development and career goals.
  • Choose from instructor-led, e-learning, and Cisco WebEx course options.

At present, I'm informed that 10 major corporations and organizations have opted into early adopter status for Cisco Collaborative Knowledge, including a mix of Fortune 500 companies, global training providers, colleges and universities, and governments. I have no trouble understanding how any or all of them would be keenly interested in what this offering brings to their people and organizations.

One vital question that must be asked is: "What are the limits to this kind of technology?" Clearly, there's a huge ramp-up effort involved to obtain, input, categorize and organize the information involved, which encompasses learning and training materials, company staffing and job roles (and a very interesting form of peer ratings and reviews that helps to identify experts both by acclaim and by consensus and community recognition), and all kinds of commercial publications and information assets.

Interestingly, Pearson IT Certification (which operates Cisco Press for the company) is already in the process of making its excellent library of books, videos, practice tests, and other materials available to Cisco Collaborative Knowledge, and I have to believe that other publishers and content providers will be inclined to do likewise, depending on the customer involved in a particular implementation. Beliveau-Dunn informed us that, as a SaaS offering, Cisco Collaborative Knowledge is priced on something of an annual subscription model basis, including the number of seats in front of the system that a particular organization might need. She also indicated that $150K is a kind of "minimum ante" that organizations must be willing to part with (annually) to partake of what it has to offer.

This might sound like it prices the vast majority of small businesses out, as well as those organizations on the lower end of the medium sized business category (which encompasses companies or organizations with 10 to 500 employees), but that need not be the case. I'm having to guess that big training companies such as Global Knowledge, New Horizons, and so forth, will buy heavily into Cisco Collaborative Knowledge or similar offerings and provide seats to customers as part of their overall service offerings, along with classroom training, test center access, and whatever other kinds of value adds they can come up with to draw in willing subscribers (aka "training customers").

This is a really interesting and powerful offering, and I hope it can live up to the promise and potential it so clearly possesses in great abundance. The devil is in grinding out the details, and in making sure the value delivered exceeds the costs of its delivery. Looks good so far, but it will be necessary to see how things play out to determine if this is just another grandiose and great looking idea, or the real deal that helps to remake education and learning as we know them today.

For all our sakes -- especially a younger generation of students facing a bewildering battery of standardized tests whose relevance to real world skills and knowledge remains an open question -- I hope this turns out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread.