Blue Cross Puts Learning in BLOOM

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. With the swipe of a pen, the law triggered the forthcoming rollout of comprehensive health care reform, an initiative poised to fundamentally alter the economics of buying and selling health insurance in the United States.

For the leadership team at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, that moment would change its business. From a human resources perspective, the law meant the company would have to retrain its workforce on a plethora of new health care concepts — all of which would change the insurer’s processes and policies — in a short amount of time. Employees would also need to develop improved problem-solving skills to help customers understand the new regulations.

“We were facing unprecedented learning and development needs,” said Jeff Tyson, director of instructional systems at the insurance company.

It was instantly clear that the company’s existing learning and development infrastructure — based heavily on instructor-led training — would not be capable of providing for its new needs. Blue Cross’ corporate university consisted of 12-week courses with two instructors and only a handful of participants. “We were using resources in a way that wasn’t sustainable,” Tyson said.

Its solution: provide employees with easily consumable, bite-size learning experiences that didn’t require the time of traditional classroom-focused learning — just enough to consume the knowledge required to serve customers in the moment of need.

And as the BCBS learning team would find out in preparing for the law’s implementation, moments of need would be plentiful.

Working Out the Kinks
The team turned to two nonprofit organizations as models to solve its new learning problem — TED Talks, the group that invites innovative thinkers to give informed, thought-provoking presentations in 18 minutes or less, and Khan Academy, the free educational website that offers thousands of “micro lectures” on varying topics.

The appeal of both formats, according to Adri Maisonet-Morales, vice president and head of BCBS’ enterprise learning and development team, was that they offered compelling bits of knowledge that employees could access easily as they went about their day.

With those services in mind, Morales’ team came up with BLOOM — Blue Learning Opportunities On-demand Media — a virtual library filled with hundreds of video-based training modules broken into bite-size nuggets for employees to consume.

But BCBS didn’t have the technology or IT manpower to host such a system in-house. As a result, it partnered with Kaltura, an open-source video platform provider, to store, manage and run the videos.

The open-source video model was cost-effective. Tyler said the initial implementation of the BLOOM platform cost “less than six figures,” a key factor in winning the executive team’s approval. Other options, including enterprise learning management systems, cost several hundred thousand dollars, which the learning team didn’t have the budget for.

The Kaltura platform also provided metrics-gathering capabilities to track how often content was viewed and for how long — another critical element in being able to demonstrate the program’s progress.

Still, creating content posed a different type of challenge. The biggest hurdle: transforming the company’s vast collection of live training events into easily consumable videos. Tom Dorriety, the company’s instructional designer, said not every course could be broken into tiny, self-paced chunks.

Dorriety said they began by sorting content into two categories: foundational knowledge and referential knowledge.

Foundational knowledge is unique to the business and requires a more traditional training experience in a live or online classroom. These courses remained in the classroom, but were shortened through the creation of virtual pre-class work distributed through BLOOM.

“There hasn’t been a seismic shift away from the classroom for foundational learning, but rather a beneficial blend of classroom and online content,” Tyson said.

The biggest change related to delivery of referential knowledge — the just-in-time information that builds on existing knowledge. While it didn’t make sense to teach new hires how to do internal claims processing in a 10-minute video, they might use video to teach them about a new feature in the claims processing software.

Once the learning team understood what types of content would work in video format, it launched a pilot program, targeting a small group of users with video-based learning. The first trainees in the pilot program were the company’s information systems business architect, or IS, team, who design and support software applications for the company. They received training on enterprise service systems.

The learning team identified subject matter experts on the IS team who could talk learners through key features of the application while using a webcam recorder. “We realized that if we could show them the value of BLOOM in the pilot, they would become champions and help us get enterprise support,” Tyler said.

The soft pilot launched in February 2013. Tyler said the IS team loved it and immediately requested additional content.

The video courses proved financially beneficial. According to Tyson, it took roughly 60 percent less time to create the training videos with a subject matter expert than it would take to create the same content for a classroom course. The cost savings related to the resource time saved was estimated at $11,200 per course because the instructional designer didn’t have to spend additional time developing a traditional course.

“A short video requires one subject matter expert’s time, as compared to the hours and resources required to create e-learning or to conduct an instructor-led class,” Tyson said.

The team then began adding more content, creating videos from previous classroom courses and working with more subject experts. It also added new trainees to the pilot program from corporate communications, sales, marketing and operations.

BLOOM had its official launch in June 2013. By the end of the year, the team added 381 videos, which were played 26,000 times. In total, after one year 1,800 hours of video were viewed, with an average view of four minutes per user. “With a total workforce of 4,000 people, those numbers are very significant,” Tyson said. “It tells us that engagement with the workforce through video is the appropriate medium.”

Tyson said the company is still in the process of benchmarking the business impact of BLOOM, although early anecdotal evidence is promising. For example, short video training segments on a new enterprise application had already been viewed by hundreds of employees before the system rollout, Tyson said.

Finding Its Stride
The BLOOM videos cover a variety of training topics, from onboarding and software updates to executives and external experts discussing business topics that align with the company’s goals.

Among the most popular are the “10For” series, collections of instructional videos focusing on professional development topics such as presentation skills, leadership and confrontation.

Loosely based on top 10 lists, each series has 10 videos on a given subject delivered in three- to four-minute episodes. “The concept is very flexible, allowing us to feature recognized external or internal subject matter experts offering practical guidance,” Dorriety said.

The learning team also partnered with the company’s innovation group to create what it calls the Innovation Series, which showcases industry experts giving presentations in their fields. The presentations are broadcast live on the company’s Web portal and recorded so they can be shared through the BLOOM library.

To cover the many lessons related to health care reform, the learning team launched a dedicated health care reform channel, which includes a growing number of videos created by experts from across the organization. The corporate communications team uses the channel to roll out updates on the latest issues in health care, internal leaders give talks on critical topics that relate to the business, and members of the executive team record health care reform chats, where they discuss how new rules and regulations will affect the company.

The company’s learning leaders say these videos help demystify complex topics while building knowledge about health care reform. It also creates a sense of camaraderie and connection between the leadership team and front-line workers.

“People love hearing from our CEO. It makes them feel like he is in the trenches with them,” Morales said.

Having stakeholders from the across the organization invested in BLOOM remains a critical component of its success, which is why the learning team partnered with the communications group from the outset as a way to extend its value proposition.

The idea was that BLOOM didn’t have to be limited to training; it could also be used as a communication channel to broadcast information and updates to the entire organization. “While learning will drive implementation, communications is a vital piece of it as well,” Tyson said.

BLOOM’s video-based format was immediately appealing to the communications group, which had been looking for ways to give employees information in a faster and more engaging way. “They don’t have time to process a lot of information from us,” said Heather Lynn Bailiff, the company’s manager of communications. “They want it in quick chunks.”

The communications team owns the “Stay Informed” piece of the BLOOM business model, through which they use the video-on-demand platform to disseminate company news and updates. “Instead of sending out a long email that people don’t have time to read, we can get an executive on video talking through key messages,” Bailiff said.

Since BLOOM’s rollout, Bailiff’s team has deployed many popular video formats to convey company information, including a monthly video blog where the CEO responds to employee questions. The team also uses BLOOM to promote events and share employee success stories.

Like training content, communication videos are getting a lot of positive feedback. “It has become a great way for us to connect with our distributed workforce,” Bailiff said.

Furthermore, such a positive reaction is helping Bailiff to encourage some of the more media-shy leaders to make their own video content. “Now a lot of our leaders want to do their own monthly video blog. It has had a real snowball effect,” she said.

Moving Forward
The popularity has been so swift that the biggest challenge the department faces now is managing the program’s growth. The third phase of BLOOM, which kicked off at the end of 2013, is about getting the workforce to generate content.

But having the masses generate content comes with a tipping point, Dorriety said. The learning team wants to encourage users to generate content, but they also have to maintain the integrity and quality of the courses released.

Dorriety said employees come to him asking if he can record meetings to turn them into videos, leaving him to explain that not all content is transferable to bite-size video format. “It might be an hour-long session, but it only has 18 minutes of usable learning content,” he said.

In the beginning, BLOOM did include several longer pieces — some of which the learning department already had in-house and some that were created for the pilot program — but those courses weren’t as successful as the shorter ones. “We saw a huge drop off in views of videos that were more than 30 minutes,” Dorriety said.

Because the learning team monitored video usage from the outset, it figured out early on that it needed to be much more judicious about the quality and length of content. As a result, the team broke longer chunks of material into several shorter videos around a theme and added screen grabs and PowerPoint slides to succinctly communicate bits of information.

Still, the team doesn’t have the resources to do a fully moderated review of every piece of content. One solution, Morales said, has been to add a peer-review component.

The team created a governance committee with representatives from divisions across the organization. The representatives are receiving education on what makes video training effective and how to create content that will be useful and engaging. Morales said then they will work with their own internal teams to produce content and vet each piece before it gets submitted.

These “superusers,” as the company calls them, aim to add an extra layer of oversight to BLOOM, ensuring that only quality content will make it into the course library, Morales said.

Additionally, the learning team also plans to roll out new review features later this year that aim to let users rate training and post comments, which they then plan to use to further hone new and existing content.

And while it’s too early to determine how effective the governance process will be, the learning team is excited to see what kinds of content employees will generate.

“We want to give our workforce a place to share their own best practices, tips and tricks for doing their jobs,” Tyson said. “Because if we can enable learners to share what they know, we won’t have to be the end-all of content creation.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. She can be reached at