the virtual classroom

“TODAY I DISSECTED A FROG’S EYE,” said my daughter as we sat down to dinner. “We studied a video first, read a short section in Wikipedia and then had the lab.” When I was in high school, we dissected frogs’ legs with a textbook in front of us, and many hadn’t the stomach for that. It was the time of Woodstock and rock ’n’ roll. Now we live in the time of Chinese hip-hop, modern reggae mashups and all shapes of music. Learning has evolved as choices proliferate; the world is just a click away and the access we have to learning has expanded greatly. Just this month I downloaded Mandarin classes to my iPod to brush up on the language before a trip to China; I can take a lesson in small increments anytime I wish.

the evolution of learning

Pay special attention to the way kids learn, because it helps inform what we do with adult learning and education. Adults learn more by doing than by listening to a lecture. All of our training and development programs and offerings are designed to have folks dig in, get dirty with concepts and put them to work right away.

In training sessions at Ogilvy, we have people from almost four generations – they have grown up with different technology, different cultures and different ways of sharing (from the strict rote memorization to the widely experiential). Our challenge is to bridge the generation gaps and ensure that we equip all with the knowledge they need to perform strongly in today’s chaotic world.

truffles - the virtual classroom

lyon trufflesBest-performing companies spend about 2.76% of payroll on training and development. Ogilvy is committed to being in that top tier and has kept that focus by being a “teaching hospital.” We expect to learn every day and to be exposed to the learning of others regularly. This translates to better thought-out and conceived work for our clients, delivered better.

From day one, anywhere we operate, employees have the crown jewels of our collective knowledge at their fingertips. Truffles is the Ogilvy-wide intranet that holds knowledge from all disciplines and all offices. It has the best-practice work from around the world and enables connections with experts behind the scenes to further expand upon our knowledge in a sector, a marketing challenge or perhaps a new media. Today we have democratized sharing. Updates to a presentation can be made in minutes or less. Employees from over 400 offices know that they have a way to take the worldwide pulse. (They don’t have to waste time on Google searching endlessly – rather, they just drill down to a smart approach we have already documented.)

a catalyst for development

The real power of our network, though, lies in what we have learned in the everyday world about bringing powerful ideas to clients’ brands. Over a decade ago, we launched leadership development practica. These are the Ogilvy MasterClasses that take a group of peers from around the globe and have them relate important client work.

Each MasterClass begins with storytelling. Our folks need to distill what they have learned from working with a particular challenge down to a short – generally ten-minute – story that captures the essence of the learning. It focuses on the outcomes that others may want to achieve in their businesses, not simply “what” but “so what.” The OgilvyInstitute brings the seniors together, who then take these stories back to their own current situations and apply what is most relevant. This model is derived from tribal fireside chats – passing myths and family history down by exchanging stories. We mixed it up with twenty-first-century ingredients – technology and interactivity.

The Leadership MasterClass was modeled on the best of professional service firms’ offerings and then given a virtual twist. Since 1997, the classes have been held all over the globe – from Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia to El Escorial in Spain. The concept is completely universal and is updated every time a session is held. The participants know that they will walk away with practical learning that “works.” We know that we will uncover some new “gem” – a local insight that will travel and help others. As over 80% of learning takes place outside of a classroom, we needed to design an experience that tapped into the real world and then closed the loop after training.

Instituters also have work in between sessions delivered via e-learning. We have a range of offerings, from our very own Ogilvy Essentials, which relates the key proprietary thought leadership tools, to Harvard Business School Publishing’s ManageMentor, which provides short bite sized coaching in Finance Essentials or Preparing a Business Plan, to the Institute of Direct Marketing’s comprehensive Marketing Guide – the bible of how-to’s in direct, data and digital marketing. This type of complementary work from recognized educational leaders provides a proven path for our best to follow and gain immediate insights from. We constantly seek out linkages that enable our learners to get a broader view.

lyon essentials

success at a glance

A quick glance at our success reveals:

  • Everything is “real-work” based – we do not waste our time on manufactured scenarios.
  • Peer-to-peer learning is the most powerful and most truthful.
  • Episodic learning boosts retention – we don’t stuff in everything but break learning down into mini-meals for better digestion.
  • E-learning is a necessary support.
  • Learning online requires storytelling too.
  • Because moments of discovery are different for everybody, learning works best when it is modular and repurposed in new forms.

what's ahead?

“Classroom lessons from MIT go global,” announced the International Herald Tribune in early April 2007. MIT conceived its OpenCourseWare project over seven years ago. Now, virtually all the university’s course materials are available to the world. Almost 1,800 courses are online and available at As of this writing, the site receives over one million visitors a month, almost half of whom are self-learners.

We take the “open” and transparent approach to heart. We publish what we have learned in the marketplace and from training programs in offl ine and digital publications. David Ogilvy taught us that it was smart to share; he began the “open-source” tradition in 1962 with the publication of Confessions of an Advertising Man. Later, in the 2002 update of the story behind the book, this was reiterated: “Many of our clients employ us in several countries. It is important to know that they can expect the same standards of behavior in all of our offices.” Today, by a focus on continuous learning, our guarantee continues.

Author: Patty Lyon
Date: April 29, 2009
Office: OgilvyOne Worldwide