Collaborating with Universities to Achieve a Continuous
Partner and Chief Learning Officer of Grant Thornton
Vice President of Practice for the Teaching and Curriculum Section of AAA
Online classes. Live webcasting. Downloading course materials. Online
registration. Anytime, anywhere access. These are all innovations at Grant
Thornton LLP to improve the learning process. We hear about equivalent things
happening on campuses. Job candidates and new hires tell us about virtual class
teams, connected classrooms, archived lectures, and innovations in broadband
and wireless access.
It sometimes seems as if we're living parallel universes. Who's leading the
way? My guess is that we both are. And there is a great opportunity for more
collaboration between professional firms and universities. With the right
collaboration, we could help one another determine what works and what doesn't
from the wide choice of technology-enabled learning approaches now available.
I believe our mutual goal is a continuous learning culture. Universities
have always established learning values and set the standards for how people
learn. When a person leaves campus, they expect learning in the workplace to be
like the best of what they've experienced in school. In fact, recent graduates
probably expect more from companies when it comes to advanced ways to learn
what they need, when they need it. At Grant Thornton, we are moving to a
continuous learning culture by focusing on the power of merging work and
learning. People are able to learn for two hours or even 30 minutes, apply
their learning, and share it with colleagues working on other client projects.
Through the use of multiple-delivery channels and the integration of live
and on-demand learning, we are able to deliver broader learning opportunities.
For example, we've created Grant Thornton University (GTU) as a way to create a
continuous learning environment. Through Grant Thornton University, employees
find online courses, archived and live webcasts, and quick bits of knowledge to
help them do their jobs better.
Many people are not aware of the quantity of online learning resources that
have been created in the last two to three years. We know more than fifty
percent of U.S. universities and colleges are now using online learning as a
component of their curriculum and courses. On the industry side, there has been
an explosion of online learning content. We have a library of over a thousand
hours of self-paced web-based learning at Grant Thornton that includes
accounting, auditing, and tax technical knowledge. It also includes technology
skills such as Microsoft® Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word, plus
non-technical skills aligned with our competency model.
Live webcasting has been one of the most attention-grabbing learning
channels in the shift of our learning paradigm. Several classroom courses and
conferences that have traditionally been held in the firm were re-thought and
moved onto the webcast platform. We actually are able to deliver courses in a
more timely way. We can develop and deliver webcasts very rapidly. We can
archive the programs and reuse them in other learning formats. Last year
programs included courses on the new Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, a Federal
Solutions Update for the Tax practice, a Negotiation skills program, and our
"Welcome to Grant Thornton" orientation program. Webcasting and
virtual classrooms are central learning channels for Grant Thornton right now
and their importance will continue to grow.
These new technology-driven learning resources and channels are actually
leveraging two phases of what I see as the evolution of the computer in
business: the connecting phase and the compelling phase. Grant
Thornton invested in technology in a significant way in the late '90s to
connect people and places throughout the firm. It's now second nature for
professionals to use email and other devices to connect and communicate
regularly and transfer data. We're now moving into the compelling phase where
content will be more engaging, visually memorable, and as multi-media based as
possible. Only compelling content can power up our learning resources and
delivery channels to their full potential.
A Strategic Imperative
Strategically, learning must be continuous-not event driven-because the pace
of change in business is fast and firms need to respond to clients quickly.
Because our employees are able to respond knowledgeably to client needs the
moment they emerge, client-service goals can be achieved. Through strategic,
continuous learning, we gain a competitive advantage and build distinction in
the marketplace. If our people successfully keep up with the pace of change in
business, then our middle market clients know to look to us as a source of
knowledge and services.
One big benefit we see emerging is more excitement in the firm around
learning in general. Our people see how much we value them because we care
about their learning. They become empowered to take responsibility for their
own learning, and they see both professional and person value in the learning
Here's a Collaboration Idea
We know that while we've been innovating, so have the best universities.
We'd like to start an ongoing dialogue to share best practices. I would be
interested in "hosting" a live collaboration session on the internet,
using one of our GTU tools. I would like to hear from you about your interest
in participating-if you have comments or questions for me, please send me an
email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bob Dean is a partner and the chief learning officer at Grant Thornton LLP,
a global accounting, tax, and business advisory firm founded in 1924. Grant
Thornton serves public and private middle-market clients through 50 offices in
the United States, and in more than 650 offices in 109 countries through Grant
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