Peter Cappelli wrote a thought-provoking blog for Human Resource Executive about the employee training conundrum. He laments the lack of training occurring today and points to some startling statistics to show how employee training has actually decreased since the start of the new millennium.
He ends his post with a fairly broad, open-ended question, "OK folks, what do we do now?" Organizations are offering less training to their employees at a time when people actually need it more, due in large part to the fact that people's roles and responsibilities are shifting with more regularity than in the past.
While the specific root causes surely vary somewhat from organization to organization (from costs of classroom training, to lackluster ROI for training results connected to productivity on the job, to generalized budget cuts), in aggregate, the above, along with a slew of other root causes, are probably contributing to the decrease in the formal training being provided. However, if we want employees to continue to produce in their roles, we need to help our people develop their skills. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
So what do we do?
Well, it's time to shift our thinking. We should not be looking to just bring back more of what we did in the past, such as classroom training; we should look to do it differently. Organizations have been attempting "different" over the last several years, most notably via the explosion of social learning practices and solutions.
While social learning can take on different shapes and sizes, the general idea behind it is getting employees to more organically develop one another. Organizations started bringing in systems that facilitated social learning and that in general required a smaller monetary investment compared to traditional classroom training. Employees were subsequently encouraged to use social learning to share things that they found interesting in the hopes that others would also find them interesting and learn something from said sharing.
While there is no one way to do social learning, I have seen enough over the years to reach the conclusion that in the majority of instances, the pendulum has swung too far in the unstructured direction. The open, organic approach has within it a number of core, faulty assumptions. Here are a few.
Faulty Assumption #1: Most learners will be able to process new ideas presented via content that someone shares, and then proactively change their behavior/approach to work. The reality is that only about 10% of North Americans are active learners who can achieve this type of behavior change, according to a 2009 presentation from leadership development firm Lominger. Most people need more contextualized guidance as they learn something new.
Faulty Assumption #2: Those doing the sharing have the skills to put the proper context around what they are sharing. The majority of people out there are not instructional designers, nor do they otherwise have the skills to suggest the proper type of learning activities that could accompany the shared content in a way that will help drive home the learning that could be achieved. They're simply sharing what they found interesting. End of story.
Faulty Assumption #3: People will prioritize sharing those things that are most closely aligned to organizational strategy. Even if the organization does a good job of communicating its strategic imperatives to its employees, many people will prioritize and share those things they find most interesting, which may not necessarily be what is most important to the strategy of the organization.
The above behaviors result in a lot of noise throughout the social learning landscape, but unfortunately not a lot of transformative learning. What I propose is a normalizing of the pendulum, getting it into the center more and away from the extremes of too formal or too informal. You can achieve this through something we call directed social learning.
In directed social learning, organizations use a platform such as River to encourage collaboration among participants, leveraging the knowledge of internal subject matter experts and thought leaders. The difference, however, is that these actions come about in a more directed manner, as its name suggests. Due to this, directed social learning can take on different forms, including mentoring relationships, small-to-medium-sized cohort learning groups, and even larger learning communities.
The organization plays a certain role in guiding the learning that takes place during directed social learning, creating a blended approach that fits in the middle between highly formal classroom training and completely informal social learning. That guidance shifts the roles and responsibilities of learning and development experts away from activities like training development and delivery. Instead, their focus moves to more widely impactful activities, such as educating subject matter experts and thought leaders on how to most effectively share their knowledge, and how to create micro-learning activities that can be leveraged and re-used in collaborative learning relationships.
Xerox is one of our clients that has begun to see great results with this more directed approach. Read about their experiences in this cover story published in Training Journal.
There are many more details around how to accomplish directed social learning—too many for a blog entry. We would love to discuss them with you, though! Please reach out and scheduled some time to do so.