Less is More – Maximizing Employee Learning

24 02 2011

The economy has made great strides in the past year – things are certainly looking up – yet, for the most part, businesses still haven’t recovered.  Budgets are still being cut, and in an effort to save money the phrase do more with less has gained an unsettling amount of attention. Many regard this phrase as encouragement to work harder, to achieve even when resources might be limited; few get past this phrase (it’s almost an oxymoron), but as it turns out doing more with less is very possible. Jeff Jarvis believes that today, regardless of what you hope to achieve, collaboration is the most fundamental aspect of success.  He points to Google as an example, they’re a revolutionary business practice, disregarding more traditional economic models in favor of a Free Economy and Gift Economy. Ten years ago no one would believe that one of the most profitable companies over the past decade would achieve such a high level of success by giving away products and services entirely for free. But here we are, or rather here they are, a testament to just how much the world is changing.

I used this example because Google operates outside of traditional business conceptions, which is what needs to happen if corporations hope to effectively train those entering the workforce on a tight budget.  According to a 2009 IDC report between 2008 and 2009 training budgets decreased by nearly 20%; additionally, despite recent positive economic trends, budgets covering continued learning and employee training continue to decrease.  Bersin & Associates revealed similar results in their research, they found that the learning professional to employee ratio was 7/1000 in 2008 and dropped to 6.2/1000 in 2009.  To combat the lack of resources, corporate learning and development professionals are turning to new tools, specifically social media; this is not only very cost effective, the addition of social media to a training plan can allow for a much level higher of engagement – and in turn, more learning. This integration of social media applications into the corporate setting for learning purposes has translated into a new term – social learning.

Social learning is just as simple as it sounds, but it’s not only learning with others, the emphasis is on learning from others.  Social learning can’t entirely replace more traditional training programs – there is something to had in physical interaction – however, by combining social media initiatives with traditional training programs, it’s easier to encourage collaborative learning.  This blurs the line between teacher and student, fostering a more rewarding experience for everyone involved.  Since employees can access social media resources away from the classroom learning can continue at home (imagine a mobile Q&A for quick references), this should allow for less hours or classes spent in traditional instructor-led training.  Through collaboration on social media you not only encourage further development of discussed topics or concepts, you create a space for the collective development of new concepts.  This is invaluable because in many business realms knowledge isn’t always concrete, it exists and grows through experiences and insight people gain through real world contacts or events.

A study from the University of Reading in Greenland notes that subject matter specialists, or individuals with specialized positions, identified their own need for a place to share ideas and practices.  Despite being employed in diverse situations (the study spanned the US and UK in private, public, not-for-profit sectors), when trying to get more out of organizational learning they realized that it was almost impossible to create a publication or guidebook in the face of rapidly changing and complex organizational themes; it sounds like what they need, is a wiki.

Coldwell Banker, a international real estate company, recognized the importance of continued learning and is in the process of creating a video portal for employees – similar to youtube.  They believe such a tool is the perfect medium to allow for short, targeted updates to associates from the corporation.  The service will also allow associates themselves to upload best-practice videos, to share personal accounts of what’s working.  Similarly, inVentiv Health Inc. recognized employees were using tools like Facebook to organize and monitor several aspects of their lives, and inVentiv realized that by joining this space they could potentially connect with an increasing amount of their work force.  Since employees continue to spend time on Facebook after work, by reaching them there inVentiv believed key concepts and facts could be kept fresh in the minds of employees, keeping them engaged long after the training session had ended.

Starting your relationship with new employees through social media prepares them to be active and engaged – with you and with the customer.  Perhaps more importantly, by fostering learning through social media, you’re putting in place a mechanism to allow for learning to be transferred back into the company.




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