Social Learning for Field Service Employees

Although learning might be a top priority for companies who rely on field service employees to sustain their operations, ensuring the ongoing training of these employees can be a challenge. Technology, standards, workflows, etc. that affect the performance of field technicians and agents change frequently; and consequently, companies need to ensure that accurate knowledge reaches their remote employees. Mobile workers cannot be easily tracked down to attend weekly meetings, never mind workshops or classes.

Social learning does not only mean learning from others. As social technology becomes an integral part of many online learning/e-learning solutions, it opens the possibility for remote students not only to be exposed to learning materials, but also to actively participate in the creation and updating of these materials, as well as to learn from others. The social learning model, therefore, may very well apply to field technicians’ training needs.

The underlying technology

Social learning takes advantage of social and e-learning technologies to ensure that content reaches remote learners who cannot attend actual classes, workshops, or briefings.

  • E-learning—E-learning technology ensures that content is delivered in accessible formats that do not constrain learners into fixed schedules. Audio files (in the form of, for example, podcasts) can include step-by-step instructions for tasks or descriptions of workflows. Video files (such as webcasts and screencasts) can tackle rendering learning material that includes visual components. For instance, 3D representations of equipment and how to manipulate it can be critical in learning how to avoid damage or errors. Text and image documents such as PDFs, PPTs, etc. typically provide complex depictions of a product or process.

  • Social—Social technology supports informal conversations around content that may not have been clearly or completely understood. Blogs are an essential building block for a vibrant learning community. They can host opinionated statements that challenge status quo rules and thus stimulate critical thinking. Messaging tools ensure instant communication between colleagues to report problems or share quick fixes. Social tools that include profiles, threads, intelligent search engines, etc. may facilitate communication with and between subject matter experts, as well the exposing the status of current tasks and the challenges encountered by their respective owners.

  • Usability—Social learning platforms should take into account the fact that field technicians often work around the clock. Furthermore, they must display precision, courtesy, and efficiency to each customer that they encounter. I think that this depicts a fairly stressful job. Social learning solutions that cater to field workers may want to consider introducing changes in technology at a slow and seamless pace so that system modifications—especially at the interface level—do not waste user time whenever they need to access learning materials. If major updates are required to address users’ needs, vendors may want to advertise them in advance so that technicians become accustomed to new features before using them.

  • Mobile—Software design that works across platforms without major glitches is key. Companies may not be able to afford to renew devices for all technicians or agents, in all locations, at the same time. Also, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend implies that software must adapt to multiple devices and operating systems. Moreover, considering that most employees will take their training sessions remotely, the content must be accessible (i.e., readable, watchable, etc.) on various screens sizes.

Content considerations

Designing content for field workers has to take into account the learner’s specific needs and feedback.

  • Personalization—From a learning perspective, field technicians cannot be approached as a uniform mass. For example, in telecommunications some customer-facing field technicians may face different challenges depending on the type of customer or sector they serve (B2B or B2C, for example). Training materials should reflect the type of activities and the particularities of the customers faced by each technician.

  • Incorporation of social wisdom—Being an important consequence of social technology, social wisdom often consists of work-arounds, temporary fixes, or improvements to best practices and workflows. All this information should be captured—when appropriate—by formal learning materials. Release notes, user guides, etc. should be, in part, based on the everyday discoveries of field workers, who ultimately are in charge of implementing and deploying technologies on-site.

Companies that employ field workers who perform most of their jobs on-site must acknowledge that these employees are an important interface between the organization and its customers. Consequently, offering these employees tools that support formal and informal learning—which they can use remotely—should be a priority. But, as with other cases, technology alone may not suffice. Understanding the needs of each learner and taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge that each individual contributes to a shared experience can constitute a great complement to social learning technology that caters to field service management organizations.
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