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“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  It’s a remark often cited in corporate circles, and there is more than a grain of truth to it. No matter how far reaching the vision or strategy, little can be achieved if it’s not supported by the culture. To promote and foster a culture of learning within organizations, learning and development professionals need to offer up a veritable workplace buffet laden with possibilities to foster e-learning, social learning, and critical thinking.

Digging in

The air outside had that “Autumn is coming snap.”  The sun was bright, and the sky an opaque blue.  What a perfect way to start my day as I bustled through downtown Boston to the CLO Breakfast Club. Sponsored by Chief Learning Officer (CLO) magazine, the Breakfast Club event series features panels of industry experts who lead discussions in cities across the United States about the changing role of the learning organization in today’s dynamic organizational environment. The idea is for participants to share insights into the tools, processes and strategies which can boost employee learning

Once inside and settled, the panelists were introduced. Their CVs were chock-full of degrees and amazing work experience. I knew it was worth the trip from Philadelphia to meet these outstanding speakers:

·         Larry Israelite, Ph.D., VP and Manager, Human Resource Development, Liberty Mutual (panel moderator)

·         Greg Long, VP, Organizational Effectiveness, GP Strategies

·         Ann Stott, VP, Learning, Xerox

·         Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti, VP and Managing Director, Apollo Research Institute

The theme of the event was “High-Powered Learning: Development for a Changing Workplace”. From the outset, we were challenged to consider some of the most critical questions facing learning and development professionals today:

  1. How can we train our learners to be critical thinkers? 
  2. Can a learning model that combines traditional classroom training, e-learning, and collaboration enable us to foster greater retention? 
  3. How do we unleash the power of social learning – the YouTubes, Twitters, and Facebooks of the world – while at the same time retaining some level of control over the information conveyed?

We wasted no time digging into the table discussion.  What are the greatest challenges and opportunities facing learning and development today?  Some answers were fairly predictable:  limited resources, globalization, building the right learning solutions.  What I found a bit unexpected was the notion that now the learning leader is getting a seat at the “proverbial” table, but has to figure out what to do with it.

Explore before deploying:  A lesson from our e-learning experience

To kick off the group discussion, Larry Israelite challenged us to “explore before we deploy” learning solutions, citing how the training industry rushed to deploy e-learning without really considering the need and value of team learning.

In responding to customer demand over the past five to seven years, SAP has developed an extensive library of e-learning courses.  Today, SAP Education is considering combining the e-learning experience with the team experience – either in a classroom setting or within a virtual collaboration room.  The idea is to extend the learning experience.  Learners would start with an introductory e-learning course and then attend a class.  To reinforce what they learned in the classroom, we would make the e-learning equivalent of the class available for several months.  Additionally, learners would be invited to participate in a collaboration site where they can share what they’ve learned with others who are following a similar learning path.

So the question becomes, will a bundled approach that combines e-learning, classroom learning, and collaboration improve retention?  After all, as noted by Greg Long, adults retain only 10-30% of what they learn in a stand-alone learning event.

The changing workplace

Armed with incredible research and statistics, Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti walked us through the changing face of the workplace, where people now have careers that span more than 50 years compared with 20-30 years in the past.  Because people are working longer, we now have a workforce holding five generations of workers simultaneously – something that will increase skill requirements five-fold.

Dr. Tracey also emphasized the importance of workers having solid critical thinking skills along with technology-enabled approaches.  In her recent book, Society 3.0: How Technology is Reshaping Education, Work, and Society, she notes that 45% of employers struggle to find workers with problem-solving skills.  Greg Long suggested that, rather than asking our children “What did you learn today in school?” we instead ask, “What good questions did you ask today in school?”  This paradigm shift may just foster the critical thinking skills in the next generation that our organizations so desperately need.

Since 2010, ApolloResearch Institute has conducted more than 50 studies on the convergence of education, skills, and work from national and local perspectives.  Dr. Tracey shared with the CLO Breakfast Club audience the Careers 3.0: Boston whitepaper that offered this national snapshot:

National Snapshot graphic.jpg

http://apolloresearchinstitute.com/sites/default/files/boston_careers_3_0_web.pdf

Social learning

The conversation would not have been complete if we did not tackle the growing trend of social learning.  Ann Stott led the way, explaining Xerox’s YouTube-like “extreme video” program, whereby anyone can post a quick video on a best practice.  Xerox kick-started the program by populating its video library with purchased content such as MS-Office and inspirational videos, and rolling out the program gradually with early adopters such as Sales.  It is now in full bloom and becoming very popular.

The question which came up next seemed a natural follow-on.  “But how do you curate self-published content to ensure compliance and eliminate risk?”  After a lively discussion, the group seemed to land with the acceptance that, much like Wikipedia – which is known to offer very accurate content – peer groups have a way of self-moderating.  While organizations in highly regulated environments need to show more care when deploying concepts like extreme video, it seems that the risk could be less than we envision.  Perhaps it is time for us all to dive into the social learning pool!

If you want to spend a morning being inspired and provoked to think more critically about the nature, shape, and future of learning and development, I suggest you get to a CLO Breakfast Club in your area.

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