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Democratization of Learning at Accenture: Learning Boards

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Accenture has grown to become the world’s largest comprehensive professional services firm, with 375,000 employees around the globe. Accenture’s learning and talent development function has responded to this global growth by executing an equally dramatic revolution in learning. At Accenture, talent development uses cutting edge technology to support human interaction. 

Accenture now has six regional learning centers—in North America, Ireland, Spain, England, India, and Malaysia—dozens of high-tech connected classrooms, and mobile learning in the pocket of every Accenture employee. At every level, and in every location, the latest advances in telecommunications and electronics are embraced, but always to serve human interaction, not to strangle it. 

Tech and touch are the yin and yang of the company’s learning and talent development strategy. “We bring technology in purposefully, and then we take it out. Because technology enhances for all of the reasons we know, but we want to have this connectedness,” explains Rahul Varma, the visionary chief learning officer at Accenture. “We are on a path to be the most uniquely human organization in the world.” 

Even as Accenture has expanded classroom opportunities, the range of learning products that the company offers for self-study on devices has exploded. Most surprisingly, the majority of new learning content is generated and distributed without any direct involvement of the learning organization. It is crowdsourced talent development—of the people, by the people, and for the people. 

Learning boards are the premier outlet for Accenture’s social network of learning. Typically a learning board is a collection of up to 15 activities (such as YouTube videos, whitepapers, TED talks, articles, and self-assessment quizzes) organized around a learning theme, usually a skill. Anyone who wants to develop expertise in an area can work through the learning board. “Learning boards look like Pinterest a bit, but when you click on it, it’s more like a YouTube playlist,” says Jeff Vinkler, the operations manager in charge of learning technology. “It’s like everything on steroids.” 


Anyone can create content or suggest external content within a learning board, or even start a new learning board. Those involving core skills are assigned to subject matter experts at Accenture or sometimes outside the company. Daniel Jackson, a professor at MIT, curates the Internet of Things learning boards. Accenture’s learning boards cover hundreds of categories, from ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) to Zuora (a cloud software company). 

From the list of categories on the learning boards site, if you click on the category Design Thinking, for example, brief descriptions of three learning boards pop up:


  • Design Thinking 101 (2 learning activities)
  • Design Thinking in Practice (6 activities)
  • Design Changes Everything (12 activities).

Below each board’s description, you can see how many activities you have completed. At the bottom of the screen, you can gauge the popularity by the number of colleagues who have endorsed, completed, or are following that board. More than a thousand employees have completed each of the Design Thinking boards. Within a learning board, you can also read comments and questions posted by learners on The Stream, Accenture’s Facebook-like social app. 

“Learning boards are probably the best example of democratization of learning, which has been at the heart of our learning delivery strategy,” says Varma. “I was in Silicon Valley two weeks ago and met up with all these cool companies, and all of them wanted to see it, and none of them had seen something like that. In 18 months, we’ve gone from a handful of learning boards to a thousand learning boards, from a handful of users to 140,000 active users, without any corporate push. I haven’t in my entire life seen such scaling of a learning vehicle.” 

Want to learn more? Check out Accenture: Delivering High Touch Learning With High Tech Tools, a new ATD Research report that features interviews with top talent development leaders, photographs, and an in-depth look at how Accenture’s worldwide learning centers and programs reflect the philosophy of “technology, with people first.”

About the Author

ATD Research tracks trends, informs decisions, and connects research to performance. By providing comprehensive data and insightful analysis, ATD Research Reports help business leaders and workplace learning and performance professionals understand and more effectively respond to today's fast-paced workplace learning and development industry. Our research reports offer an empirical foundation for today's data-driven decision-makers, containing both quantitative and qualitative analysis about organizational learning, human capital management, training, and performance.

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