Published On: June 12, 2024By
How to Grow a Customer Learning Community - Podcast 77 - Talented Learning

EPISODE 77: Growing a Customer Learning Community

Kris-Ann Nansen Growing a Customer Learning Community at Oracle

Kris-Ann Nansen, Sr. Principal Product Manager at Oracle

I’m hearing lots of buzz about communities lately, especially in customer education. There are many ways to educate customers but never enough resources to do it all. So, when does it make sense to build a customer learning community? And how do you know if it’s adding value to your customer education efforts?

That’s what we’re discussing today on The Talented Learning Show with guest, Kris-Ann Nansen, Sr. Principal Product Manager, at Oracle.

Kris is a trailblazer. In a remarkably short timeframe, she and her team at Oracle University have built a massive customer learning community. And if you think her story applies only to enterprise-class companies, think again. There’s useful guidance here for organizations of all sizes. For details, read on…


Growing a Customer Learning Community – KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The pandemic led many companies to discover that online communities are an incredibly powerful way to deliver customer education at scale. For example, in only two years, Oracle University’s tiny project team has grown its customer learning community from 8,000 beta users to a staggering 1 million members.
  • Regardless of your company’s size, the secret to growing a successful customer learning community begins by leveraging available resources in creative and strategic ways. Think about how to tap into expertise from across internal functions. Also, bring customer experts into the mix by rewarding them for participating and promoting your community.
  • Flexibility is another key to success. Oracle’s community efforts began during the pandemic, when in-person training became unavailable and customers felt isolated. They started small and are building over time by proactively seeking ideas, responding to feedback, and embracing continuous improvement.


Growing a Customer Learning Community – Q&A HIGHLIGHTS

Welcome, Kris-Ann. Could you tell us a bit about Oracle University?

Sure, John. Oracle is an enormous global organization, focused on bringing the best technology to our customers. In part, that means we need to be sure our customers are prepared to use that technology.

Oracle University is part of the Customer Success Division at Oracle, where we prepare system integrators — Oracle consulting employees as well as third-party employees — to implement the system flawlessly, so their customers are ready to run the system from Day One.

Essentially, Oracle University was founded to help people move to the cloud. It was a small organization, lean and mean. All of our training was self-paced education in the cloud.

And then, without warning, the pandemic arrived?

Right. We grew exponentially during that time, because most companies had to move away from on-premise or instructor-led courses. So, as horrible as the pandemic was for the world, we were able to service our customers and help their businesses continue to run.


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How did the pandemic inspire you to kickstart your customer learning community?

During that time, people didn’t have opportunities to meet in-person with an instructor, or have “water cooler moments” where they could discuss use cases and other issues with their peers.

Let’s say someone in India is struggling with an implementation problem, that someone else in Romania has already faced. In situations like these, people were starving for interaction. So we wondered about the best way to help them connect and share their knowledge.

We have an LMS. They can get training there. But people want the ability to interact just-in-time, in the flow of work.

So, we looked at existing resources. Oracle already had several online communities, as many large organizations do. And we found a node that wasn’t being used. So several of us decided to build a customer learning community, focused strictly on helping people through the process of learning how to use our systems and applications.


It was a total greenfield project. None of us had built a community before. So we reached out to several experts. And we launched the community at Oracle Cloud World in October, 2022.

How do you get a customer learning community off the ground?

Well, it sounds simple. But it was a lot of work. And we got great buy-in from everyone within Oracle University. None of this would be possible without them. And many others were involved, as well:

We surveyed our partners to identify areas of greatest interest to them. Then we asked our in-house subject matter experts to create relevant content. They publish blogs and host live events that are exclusive to the community. Also, we created discussion forums for people interested in applications, infrastructure, or database. And we just created a new forum on AI and machine learning.

Plus, we share community-specific announcements that foreshadow things to come. For example, last year we offered all sorts of Cloud World incentives before that event. Also, last year, we ran a huge “race to certification” promotion that increased participation in our certification programs.

Makes sense…


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In addition, we’ve cross-pollinated our community with our MyLearn LMS. So, when someone subscribes to the LMS, they are automatically provisioned and counted in the community. They run side-by-side.

So, if you wish, you can learn in a structured way with a self-paced class, hands-on labs and skills assessments. But also, you can join people who are talking about those classes or discussing related real-life situations. Also, within the LMS you can ask your course instructor a question, and you’ll find the instructor’s answer within the community interface.

We did that intentionally, so people are driven to the community and they can see its value first-hand.

Nice. So do you think your community members typically need both formal and informal learning, side-by-side?

Yes. The LMS delivers a formal, structured path that also leads to badges and certifications. For many people, certification is their learning goal. But the community offers them a support system. If they have a specific question, they can easily ask their peers.

Several community members have become organic evangelists who are happy to respond. That’s what a community is about, right? You want to hear from a person who’s not trying to sell you a product. You want to hear from someone who really uses the product day-to-day.

So, we are happy to provide a blend of both. Oracle SMEs are answering questions and talking to people, hosting events, and writing blogs. But we also have customer peers from all over the world who are available to answer questions anytime.

And all of this is searchable. This gives members instant access to the full repository of information in our customer learning community.


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Cool. I know you started with 8,000 beta users. But how has your community grown over time?

Here are several key metrics:

  • DISCUSSIONS — In May 2023, at the end of our first fiscal year, the community had just over 2,000 discussions. Now, we’re at almost 7,000 discussions. So that’s phenomenal growth year-over-year.
  • QUESTIONS — Looking at that “ask-your-instructor” LMS function I mentioned, we’ve gone from about 1,100 questions to nearly 4,000.
  • COMMENTS — These have increased from 3,500 to over 15,000 this year. Really strong growth.
  • BADGES — We awarded about 95,000 in the first year and almost 250,000 this year.
  • MEMBERS — We’ve seen tremendous growth in membership. You mentioned we started with 8,000 in beta. And now, in less than 2 years, we’ve just cleared the one million mark.

Wow. That’s fantastic. Congratulations!

Yes. And you’re the first outside of Oracle to get that information.

Alright! Well, much of this community’s success seems to come from customers who answer peer questions. How do you incentivize these people to share their time and expertise?

That’s a great question…


…For complete answers to this and more questions about how to build a successful customer learning community, listen to the full 30-minute podcast on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Amazon Podcasts, or right here on our site.


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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
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