Spendesk Academy: how we built our collaborative learning space

Tom Morisse

Published on September 24, 2021


At Spendesk, we’re convinced that capitalizing on the collective knowledge and know-how of all teammates is what helps everyone grow more quickly. In the end, that’s the difference between a good company and a great company. And it’s also a promise we make to the talented people who join us.

That’s why we launched the Spendesk Academy, our collaborative learning management system (LMS) in March 2021. 6 months later, all Spendeskers have completed the core sessions, and the Academy is a key piece of both onboarding and continuous learning for our teams.

The rollout of a learning platform is a difficult act: as impactful as it may become on the future of your company, it’s not a tool that will be at the core of your colleagues’ everyday lives. You need to sell them the value of your learning experience to make it stick.

If your learning platform doesn’t gain momentum right away, it’s game over. The cost of turning things around is too heavy - many companies simply start from a blank slate and go looking for a new tool.

With this article, we want to share seven pieces of advice that helped make the launch of the Spendesk Academy a success.

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1. Vision first; tool second

Nobody really cares about new tools themselves; what everyone cares about is the value they bring. At Spendesk, we started by stating our learning vision - our ambition for learning and how it related to the company culture, the learning phases each Spendesker goes through, the skill areas we’ll cover, and the principles that should preside over the learning experience.

This vision is what we sold to Spendeskers when we presented our plan. The adoption of a learning management system (in our case, 360Learning) was only a consequence of it.

Internally, we don’t talk about the name of our provider, but about the Spendesk Academy. We made sure to customize our system as much as possible, including a custom domain name and gorgeous design assets by our Brand Designers.

[We do really love 360Learning, just to be clear. It’s a great tool and company, but even they would admit that it’s the learning vision that truly dictates success.]

2. Pick two complementary project drivers

Launching a learning platform is a complex endeavor. It requires multiple skills (soft management to convince various stakeholders, technical chops for configuration, content creation experience to coach authors, and more), and multiple streams of work (platform set-up, course production, onboarding, communication).

The two pilots of our Spendesk Academy launch were Lucy, one of our People Partners, and myself, Knowledge Manager and member of the Operations team. This duality was a key success factor of our project.

First, we could spread the workload depending on our respective experiences and fortes – e.g. Lucy was used to working with managers, while I was used to handling tooling issues. Secondly, we could use each other as a sounding board.

3. Clarify how your collaborative learning space fits into your stack

We love software tools in startupland. Which means we tend to add new ones faster than we retire others. Chances are your teammates experience some level of tool fatigue or lack a clear understanding of the purpose and audience each one serves.

As a consequence, if you want your LMS launch to be successful, it’s important to clearly lay out how it will integrate into the overall stack. How will it replace or complement existing tools? What will be the connections to and from other software?

In our case, I took great pains to explain the links between the Spendesk Academy and Notion, our knowledge base – which was often used as a repository of training content. Now the relationship is clear to everyone: the Spendesk Academy is the textbook – where you acquire or upgrade your skills – and Notion is the dictionary – even if you’re proficient, it still comes in handy to check a definition or spelling from time to time.

4. Take care of ALL your user personas

It’s all too easy to be obsessed with learners and forget the other user categories. Learners make up the biggest group, but they aren’t the only ones! Draw a list of all your user personas and think about the value you want your LMS to provide them, and craft the onboarding experience to ease their engagement.

In the case of the Spendesk Academy launch, we paid close attention to two additional user groups: authors and managers. Without the former there wouldn’t be any learning materials – hence no engagement from the learners. And the creation tools offered by an LMS can help them achieve their goals more easily and efficiently.

And it’s important to turn managers into promoters of the training content, and present how the content available on the platform will accelerate their reports’ growth and enable them to track their progress.

As a consequence, we designed tailor-made onboarding experiences for these two user personas:

  • For authors, I created a toolkit: a playbook with as many guidelines and pieces of advice as possible; a course to explain the content creation interface; 1:1 sessions when necessary to coach them.

  • For managers, we offered an early preview of the Spendesk Academy and a dedicated course to explain the specific features that they could leverage.

5. Find a beta use case

I want to emphasize once more that you won’t have a second chance when launching a learning management system. That’s why I recommend identifying beta users with a solid use case to mitigate launch risks.

Maybe the interface isn’t that easy to understand? They’ll make you double down on the onboarding experience. Your content standards (tone, length, formats) aren’t engaging enough? You’ll tweak your guidelines and coaching approach for authors.

So who might be a relevant test group? Target a team and/or a learning phase. In our case, we picked the latter and leveraged newcomers as beta users through our ramp-up program.

Newbies are great guinea pigs: they are eager to learn, cohorts are frequent so they invite you to iterate quickly, and you probably have some form of existing onboarding program you can build upon.

Bottom line: if newcomers aren’t engaged with the platform, this is a red flag and their feedback will help you adjust the experience for the grand company-wide rollout.

6. We all love a challenge

Launching an LMS for an entire company is a real challenge: which pieces of content can engage a maximum of teammates hailing from a variety of roles and teams? Tiffany, our Product Ops, found the answer: a competition!

Since product knowledge is a key area we want to develop, we included in the launch content a quiz about our product team and features. This added a lot of positive energy: Spendeskers challenged each other at the team and company levels, and we valued both participation rate and success rate (learners needed to get more than 80% of good answers to get certified).

7. A long-lasting routine, not a one-day splash

The day your learning platform opens, you want your teammates to find a broad set of content to generate engagement for everyone, whatever their role or team. But one of the biggest risks you’ll face is that at first the novelty of the platform is enough to attract users and then… nothing happens.

When preparing to release the Spendesk Academy, we worked both on courses that would be available on Day 1 and on content pieces that would be released regularly during the first 6 weeks.

Our assumption was that the launch would get potential authors excited, so future courses or programs would be identified in an organic fashion.

Try our collaborative learning space for yourself

Hopefully these lessons learned will serve as good tips for your own academy. You’ll need a clear plan, a great LMS, and plenty of enthusiasm to get up and running effectively.

Of course, if you really want to see the Spendesk Academy in action, you’ll need to join the team. We have lots of exciting career opportunities open, so please take a look:

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