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Nov/02/2015 - 03:15:57

New app links social media and job training

Fort Hill's President Kathy Granger, Director of Client Services Ian Kelly and Founder Cal Wick pose for a portrait with devices displaying their 70-20 system at the company's Montchanin office.(Photo: KYLE GRANTHAM/THE NEWS JOURNAL)Buy Photo

Almost every company depends on a well-trained workforce to remain competitive.

Thats why businesses around the globe collectively spend billions of dollars a year to enhance workers skills through on-the-job training.

Workforce development that once occurred in classrooms is now often delivered through online courses.

But the dirty little secret, according to job-training Workforce Management Software researcher Calhoun Wick, is that direct instruction alone rarely produces effective results no matter how its provided.

The truth is, less than 20 percent of workers apply what they learn in those programs in a way that actually improves their job performance, he said.

Thats because instruction-based training does a poor job of making a direct connection between the lesson at hand and a workers day-to-day responsibilities, Wick said.

Employers, meanwhile, typically do little follow through to ensure lessons are actually being applied.

For years, Wick has been working to help corporations overcome that dissonance through various tools and methodology developed by Fort Hill Company, a Montchanin-based learning-technology firm he founded in 1999.

Now the company is setting its sights on meeting new job-training challenges posed by millennials a generation of workers Fort Hill says is wired to learn in a completely different way.

Younger workers carry technology with them wherever they go and are used to learning in the moment, company president Kathy Granger said. So what we wanted to do is capture that much more informal, in-the-moment kind of learning.

After a year of development, Fort Hill this week will launch 70-20, a web-based application that promises to more effectively deliver job training results by combining the power of social learning with the positive reinforcement of what Wick calls good peer pressure.

Usable on both desktop and mobile devices, 70-20 includes features common to social media apps, such as status updates, like buttons and commenting.

The tool allows managers and workers to create challenges based on a new skill or concept thats been taught through direct instruction.

Workers then complete the challenges by uploading photos, videos or text that demonstrate how they are incorporating that lesson in their work.

Co-workers can then see what people are posting and are able to actively learn from each other through the feed, Granger said.

The name 70-20 is derived from a model of learning and development first described in the 1996 book, The Career Architect Development Planner.

Developed by the Center for Creative Leadership, the theory holds that 70 percent of knowledge is derived from doing, 20 percent comes from learning through relationships and only 10 percent is produced by direct instruction.

Corporate training environments spend the vast majority of their budget in this little 10 percent, Granger said. But this focuses on that other 90 percent of learning that occurs in those informal environments.

70-20 is only the latest in a line of successful job-training products developed by Fort Hill Company.

Founded by Wick, also an Episcopal minister who earned a masters degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the companys first product was Friday5s, later renamed ResultsEngine, a web-based learning and development tool that has been used by more than 300,000 workers in 50 countries.

That led to a series of books on job training co-authored by Wick, Roy Pollack and Andrew Jefferson, starting with The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning first published in 2006. Those books later resulted in the spin-out of a Wilmington-based consulting business called 6Ds Company.

A second spin-out followed last year when a workforce crowdsourcing tool developed by Fort Hill drew considerable interest from investors. Named Waggl, after the dance honeybees do to communicate information with the colony, the new company raised more than $1 million in seed financing in 2014.

Weve actually been a mini-incubator but no one knows it, Granger said.

However, the success of Waggl led to new challenges for Fort Hill.

While the privatelyheld company does not release sales or revenue data, Granger said about half of Fort Hills remote workforce left to join Waggl, leaving the remaining 10 staffers to figure out where to take the company next.

Our decision was, do we reinvest in ResultsEngine and remake that product or do we start with a clean sheet of paper, she said. We ultimately decided to start the company all over again.

While its too soon to say whether 70-20 will become the fourth major-selling product for Fort Hill, the app is already turning heads at some major corporations.

I think they definitely have something here, said Linda Cassady, a principal learning and development manager for the Roche subsidiary Genentech in San Francisco.

A self-described proponent of The Six Disciplines book series, Cassady jumped at the chance to test drive a beta version of 70-20 with a team of product developers at Roche.

The company has since purchased the software, which retails for about $140 per license for 1 year of unlimited use.

Most training programs dont have realistic scenarios or many opportunities to ask questions, so 70-20 really seems to address that black hole where most people struggle, she said. But what really engaged us the most was it helped our staff inspire each other and when it comes to training, thats invaluable.

Contact business reporter Scott Goss at (302) 324-2281, [email protected] or on Twitter @ScottGossDel.

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