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How Big Brothers Big Sisters adapted seamlessly to online training

Since 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America has been helping America’s youth realize their potential through meaningful relationships with volunteer adult mentors.

At Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), training is at the heart of its operations. Program staff and adult volunteers must learn how to build strong, safe connections with diverse young people. And the nonprofit’s federated model — with a national office and more than 240 affiliate agencies across the U.S. — required an agile platform.

Previously, each independent agency had to go through the national office for training, a major bottleneck, leading many agencies to give up on pursuing expanded learning opportunities.

With Cornerstone’s LMS, the organization empowered individual agencies (and administrators) to directly manage their employees’ learning experience, participate in national learning opportunities, and develop, upload, and share local content.

The global pandemic that changed everything

BBBS desperately needed a learning management system that could scale up to help educate program staff, volunteers, and parents at agencies all around the country — but not everyone realized that at first.

Pre-match volunteer training — one of the most important steps in the pairing process — had typically taken place either entirely or partially in person. But then COVID-19 hit and eliminated the possibility of face-to-face interactions, agencies needed an immediate alternative.

Luckily, Director of Training J. Christie Wilson had implemented Cornerstone’s Learning Experience Platform (referred to internally as the Learning Exchange) in April 2018. That meant they already had the infrastructure to support digital training in place. It was just a matter of getting everyone up to speed.

Within the first week of the pandemic, the national office hosted a webinar — with record attendance — to explain how agencies could access the relevant training, add their own content, and better support volunteers through the transition. More weekly webinars followed, ultimately leading to a 103 percent increase in total portal logins, a 75 percent increase in online learning registration, and a 44 percent increase in monthly active users between February and March 2020.

“The COVID situation really opened people’s eyes to what we’ve been saying all along... [which] is how robust the system is and how it can make their life a lot easier,” says Wilson.

Compliance made easy

Beyond providing an alternative to in-person training sessions, the new LMS was able to more effectively track compliance training (like certifications for new staffers and an annual youth protection course) at both a national and local affiliate level.

“Being able to run reports and pull transcript reports directly in Cornerstone has increased productivity exponentially,” Wilson says.

Now, the national office is easily able to conduct monthly training audits of agencies across the network, an especially important task given the naturally higher turnover of younger staff members.

Building a digital learning culture

But the training transformation didn’t stop there. Certain BBBS agencies have since taken learning and development into their own hands and added courses specific to the needs of their staff and the communities they serve.

“I really want [program staff] to start seeing it as a way to develop professionally, not just to check a box,” Wilson says. “Now they can sign up for trauma-informed care or LGBTQ(IA+) training or other sessions geared toward special populations,” she explains.

BBBS’s larger agencies are also beginning to experiment with how Cornerstone can support cutting-edge opportunities — like e-mentoring — that would be especially impactful in a more socially distanced world. “They’re starting to see that Cornerstone can help them in a way that they hadn’t thought of before,” Wilson says.

Ultimately, Wilson aims to develop a broader culture of learning, with the Learning Exchange front and center as a collaborative hub for the entire network — a place where training sessions can be shared and expanded upon regardless of where they first originated.

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