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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert

From October to December 2021 we piloted a new learning format: we brought together 273 participants from 36(!) countries – SAP employees, as well as customers, partners & friends learn from and with small learning groups. The Learning Circle Experience was hosted by SAP Training and Adoption, the Future Learning Lab, and DSAG (the germanspeaking SAP UserGroup).

What is a Learning Circle Experience?

At the heart of a Learning Circle Experience are the learning circles, small groups of typically 4-5 learners jointly learning together in a self-organized way, following a learning guide (in our case based on the ). With the Learning Circle Experience we invited interested learners to join a learning circle and to embark on a 13 weeks learning journey.

How we organized the Learning Circle Experience

We defined the following three objectives for the Learning Circle Experience:

  • Increase personal productivity and self-learning skills

  • Support a culture of continuous learning and knowledge sharing

  • Connect learners in the SAP-ecosystem with engaging learning experiences

From the pool of lernOS guides, we pre-selected 3 topics that participants could choose from: Getting Things Done, Diversity & Inclusion, and Sketchnoting. You find this guides and other ones here:

Based on their preferences, we matched participants to circles and invited them to central sessions for the onboarding, pitstops, and a retrospective. In addition to those sessions, we used a closed LinkedIn group for support Q&A and communication and used Zoom for the central sessions.

For organizing Learning Circles you need to set up a suitable infrastructure – see here some tips. We recommend a combination of chat (fast exchange, asking questions, coordination, sending links), videoconference (conducting the weekly meetings) and documentation (keeping track of the schedule, documenting the results of the exercises).

You can listen to more details on the organization and background in this podcast on the Learning Circle Experience.

Retrospective: Results 🔢

Let’s start with some quantitative feedback:

  • 65% of registered participants chose the GettingThingsDone (GTD) Learning circle,

  • 23% for Sketchnoting,

  • 12% for Diversity & Inclusion

We estimate that ~40% of registered participants completed their learning sprint. Typical reasons for non-completion ☠ were:

  • Onboarding issues: some group members did not join the kick-off/week 0 meetings and never started

  • Stay on the ball: Drop-outs and regular difficulty to get every circle member for weekly calls

  • Workload: conflicting projects and changed priorities

  • Timing: as we went into the 4th quarter, some participants (e.g. from sales) experienced additional workload

😁 Satisfaction: 46 of 54 respondents in our final survey were very satisfied or satisfied with the Learning Circle Experience overall. Participants also rated their achievements regarding the program goals very positive, as illustrated below:


87% stated that they plan to continue learning this way and join other learning circles in the future!


Qualitative Feedback by the Learning Circles 👂

We received many positive quotes about the learning experience, here’s a selection:

  • “My learning moments: meet nice people, sharpen the saw, learn from others”

  • “It was my main motivation to do this learning exercise because of doing this together with others. 100% fulfilled, it was great doing this together and having learning new nice people."

  • "It’s a great experience, I started and establish a network, I feel so welcome and appreciated in my group and learnt a lot”

  • “I love how something I knew (SCRUM) can be applicable to not only product development but learning too.”

  • “Learning is an essential part of our existence. We should remind ourselves of this every now and then. Learning together helps to overcome our own barriers and to gain new perspectives.”

  • “Learning and sharing in the groups about the different situations and possible solutions was really an interesting and positive experience.”

  • "It helps to learn in a motivated group.” Its “Worth to try it out!!”

  • “It was a new way of learning GTD in groups, where we were able to discuss our doubts and share new ideas with each other.”

  • “It was great to get to know other people (not only colleagues from SAP) and to discuss things. We had a slightly different approach working with the materials, so we often just discussed what was interesting to us.”

  • “Jointly working on a shared goal (in our case "sketchnoting") across companies, see each other learn and grow along the way and even enjoying some extra challenges, was a great experience and truly fun. Thank you 😊

  • “Great experience for networking and for analyzing my own work culture and see what can be improved learning and growing by getting out of the comfort zone”

  • “My self-discipline is not the best, but learning in Learning Circles gives me the right "pressure" to keep learning”

  • “The learning circle experience shows that (most) humans need human interaction and work (or in this case learn) better when they are together and work towards a common goal. “

  • Sometimes, we took away different things from the same material, and by sharing our insights, we were able to multiply the learnings.”

  • “Such a nice experience I´m willing to participate in another Learning circle.”

  • “I would be pleased if this idea were to continue to be offered in the future. In addition to the learning effect of the learning circle, the participation of SAP employees together with employees from partner companies has also made the exchange of other topics possible and made working methods more transparent. Due to the different orientations of the Learning Circles, many different groups of people could be addressed.”

What could we do better the next time?

This was our first Learning Circle Experience. We learned a lot and identified a few things that could be improved:

  • When matching participants, it would be helpful to increase the group size a bit, as not all participants can attend every appointment, or some groups did not start all due as they lost some participants right at the beginning. 6-7 initial participants might be better, however more circle members would result in other issues like higher coordination efforts, or less time for each individual.

  • Timing – moving into Q4 and the festive season was difficult for some participants – however, with a 13 weeks timespan, there will always be holidays or vacation periods..

  • Timezone issue for central sessions – with a global audience, we would have to run every session (kick-oof, pitstops, retro) twice to cover all regions.

  • Some participants asked for more content and expert input in the beginning. We made AMA (ask me anything sessions) at the beginning e.g. on GTD. Probably we could have communicated this clearer.

  • Requirements and expectation setting: More guidance at the start was asked for by some participants. As we would like to drive self-organization, this might need to be pointed out clearer. There is no formal teacher in such a program.

  • Enhance & improve the set-up and start of the cross-company teams. As they do not have access to each other’s calendars this was a bit cumbersome. Especially the circle matching was quiet some effort, as done via email, Excel and the LinkedIn group. One possibility would be to use a circle matching tool like the Peer Finder.


My Summary: More than just learning a new competence 

Next to being part in the organizational team I also had the possibility to join a learning circle on GTD (Getting Things Done). I can echo the above positive quotes and the improvement points. The small weekly exercises helped me to learn and thus to practice new and better ways of organizing myself. One of the highlights was on the emotional level. Due to the pandemic I miss informal get-togethers and meeting people next to my current tasks and projects. The regular circle meet-ups were something I really liked. Thus networking is much more than an additional side-effect of a learning circle experience.

On a strategic point of view such Learning Circle Experience is very helpful to develop our ecosystem: it creates and fosters connections between SAP customers, partners and employees. I believe that ecosystems are an important successfactor for companies to thrive.

I can only encourage every reader to try out learning in learning circles!

We continue with this format and host another Learning Circle Experience for the SAP ecosystem – in September to December 2022 with other learning topics - see here the landing page.

With 2 other companies (Datev, Continental) and Simon (founder of LernOS) who all did learning circle experiences we recently did a panel discussion on our lessons learned - see her the recording as a Podcast (in german 🙂

Finally, kudos 🙌 to the fantastic team who made the Learning Circle Experience happen:

Gerd Stumm, Markus Meisl, Martina Quiterio and myself from SAP
Simon Dückert from the Cogneon Academy,
Sophie Hartmann & Angelina Mahl from DSAG (the german SAP Usergroup)