Top 10 Hall of Fame Outstanding Training Initiatives (Sept/Oct 2017)

Each year Training magazine requires all Training Top 10 Hall of Famers to submit an Outstanding Training Initiative that is shared with our readers in a print issue. Here are the details of IBM’s Watson Academy and KLA-Tencor’s Hackathon@KT.


As IBM incorporates cognitive technology into all its offerings and services, it must retrain and reeducate even its most sophisticated sellers so they can identify, communicate, and close deals with clients around the most transformative value propositions.

The company created Watson Academy to meet this challenge and train 6,000 sellers around the world. Although aimed at a targeted audience within the company, Watson Academy is part of the overall ecosystem within IBM’s learning platform.

Program Details

Watson Academy content begins with audience and organizational needs analyses, which are followed by the creation of performance objectives and practical delivery assessment. Content is developed using one of four modalities, depending on projected course content and audience size and geographic distribution:

  1. Rapid Enablement Development for Online Learning follows a process created by IBM Learning. First, subject matter experts (SMEs) are recorded, on video or audio, in every aspect of the subject to be learned or skill to be developed. Then the team creates a mosaic of activities built on the words of these SMEs, in effect positioning experts as online facilitators. IBM’s software modular interface delivers topics that cycle through:
  • A lead question with a surprising answer to prime learning (“What do you think?”) using a method shown by cognitive research to speed movement of facts and relationships from short- to long-term memory.
  • A one-paragraph executive summary (“What’s the point?”) to help learners mentally organize the material that follows.
  • A learning mosaic of short activities (videos, podcasts, white papers, multiple-step cases, etc.) that learners can explore in any order.
  • Review questions that allow repeated answer attempts and then reward correct answers with nuggets of additional information not available elsewhere.
  • A social question featuring learners’ personal responses to the material, compiled and displayed so other learners can up-vote their favorite entries.
  1. Rapid Enablement Development for Face-to-Face Learning also turns SMEs into facilitators in order to stay current with complex and rapidly changing technology. However, rather than the online learning mosaic, the team helps experts write a series of discussion questions designed to engage learners in their own active exploration of the topic, positioning the experts as guides rather than lecturers.

  2. Product Capability Learning is developed from frequently updated videos of top research experts. When appropriate, these videos include not just product demonstrations but also explanations of the thinking that led to these capabilities. A continuing series of live, one-hour online coffee talks are provided on emerging products, services, and technologies. The best of these are transcribed and converted into informal, easy-to-search white papers for self-directed learning.

  3. All courses include elements of IBM’s Adaptive Learner best practices, in which learning activities are designed according to psychological principles that promote five skills that underlie innovative thinking: social connectivity, exploration, drive, flexibility, and associational thinking.

Participation in Watson Academy is recorded to each individual’s learning credits; IBM requires that all employees invest at least 40 hours a year in personal development activities.

The project was executed in two phases. The first, lasting a year, involved launching with a kickoff event called “Watson Ambassador” that was simulcast live across the company’s global sales force, followed by development, programming, and piloting face-to-face and online systems into which IBM could pour materials created through Rapid Enablement Development.

During the second year, Watson Academy was implemented as a full-blown learning portal with roadmaps for various audiences and in-depth training that focused on seller enablement. Kirkpatrick Level 3 and 4 analyses have determined that IBM should continue to build out the Academy and extend its successful impact on company performance.


Watson Academy’s objective was to achieve the business outcome of increased sales of services that feature cognitive technology. To evaluate the business impact, IBM data scientists access anonymized confidential HR and sales records for test subjects and control groups (i.e., sellers who do or do not participate in Watson Academy offerings) across multiple business units.

At the conclusion of the implementation year, the percentage of sales targets achieved was 10 percent greater for sellers who participated in Watson Academy learning offerings, and the proportion of Watson Sellers exceeding their sales target was 14 percent greater than those sellers who did not participate in Watson Academy learning offerings, all statistically validated at a 95 percent confidence level.


In fall 2015, a KLA-Tencor employee started a grass-roots effort to hold a Hackathon, an event where engineers gather for a fixed period of time to solve a technical challenge. The employee’s suggestion evolved over time into “Hackathon@ KT,” an event intended to increase innovation, collaboration, development, and engagement in the company.

Program Details

The Hackathon framework consists of a 48-hour challenge, where engineers gather, form teams, and attempt to solve difficult problems that are facing the company and its customers. The projects then are presented to a panel of senior leaders who choose the winners. Winners are rewarded with prizes and funding for further development of their projects.

The event is supported by KLA-Tencor’s Corporate Learning Center, which hosts the training, coaching, facilitation, and online infrastructure.

The curriculum was developed with assistance from the company’s best data scientists and most skilled users of data mining tools. Content was gathered from three sources:

  • Internal sources: Approximately one-third of the content was created and delivered by KLA-Tencor experts.
  • External instructors: Approximately one-third was purchased and delivered by external trainers.
  • Video content: The final one-third of content was sourced from video courses by, Coursera, and Udemy. A blended approach was leveraged for the two Hackathons that have been held. In addition to online training, instructorled training, and multimedia solutions, there was:
  • Live coaching and mentoring: A highlight of the Hackathon framework is the presence of 12 coaches who work with the teams throughout the two days. The coaches provide both technical and professional coaching, guiding the teams on their problem statements, assisting them with engineering challenges, providing presentation coaching, and sharing best practices.
  • Peer sharing: Another highlight of the Hackathon is the amount of peer sharing and learning that occurs. In one example, a Hackathon team needed Bluetooth skills to complete their project. Within hours, the team was able to receive coaching from a software engineer working on another team.
  • Social platforms: A SharePoint site was created to support the Hackathon events. Much of the training and documentation is supported from this site. Multiple levels of leadership have been involved in the design, development, and facilitation of the Hackathon events:
  • Executive Committee: Two executive vice presidents and several other senior leaders sit on the Executive Committee, which approves the theme, objectives, structure, content, and budget for each Hackathon.
  • Steering Committee: Three senior directors sit on the Steering Committee, which proposes the theme, objectives, structure, and content for each Hackathon.
  • Coaches and judges: During the Hackathon event, 12 coaches and six judges are present. The majority of these are VPs or senior directors from both the engineering and business sides of the company.
  • Speakers and guests: At each Hackathon, multiple members of the senior leadership team, including the CEO, give five-minute talks on the importance of innovation. Additionally, 80 percent of the senior leadership team makes multiple visits to the event. During these visits, the leaders spend time with individual teams, asking questions and learning about the participants and their projects.


Goal 1: Attract at least 50 engineers to KLA-Tencor's first Hackathon.

Result: More than 70 engineers attended the Hackathon, forming 23 teams.

Goal 2: Generate demand for a second Hackathon, as a result of a positive participant experience.

Result: The Hackathon and its results went viral quickly, creating demand for a second Hackathon that was tripled in size, with 200 participants on 39 teams.

Goal 3: Create a significant pool of engineers (more than 100 employees) with "big data" skills in machine learning, data visualization, and data mining, using common tools such as Python and TensorFlow.

Result: More than 200 engineers displayed big data skills through their projects.

Goal 4: Result in at least one project worth funding, post-Hackathon.

Result: Multiple senior executives commented that the majority of the projects were worth pursuing. Eleven out of 23 projects were funded from Hackathon I, and approximately half of the 39 projects from Hackathon II were set to receive funding at the time of submission.


Training Top 125

Applying for Training magazine’s 2020 Training Top 125 awards program can help you benchmark the excellence and effectiveness of your employee training and development.

Digital Issue

Click above for Training Magazine's
current digital issue

Training Live + Online Certificate Programs

Now You Can Have Live Online Access to Training magazine's Most Popular Certificate Programs! Click here for more information.

Emerging Training Leaders

Company Assets

People are an organization’s most valuable asset,” the saying goes.

Rising Stars

The 2016 Emerging Training Leaders are leading lights at their organizations, shining examples of how strategic-minded, results focused, and people-oriented Learning and Development (L&D) profe

Learning from the Future

Includes ISA Directory of
Learning Providers