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By 2020—less than six years from now—millennials will comprise nearly 50 percent of the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as the country’s 77 million baby boomers retire at an increasing pace. Companies that intend to thrive in the midst of this massive demographic shift must have a plan for how they’ll transfer knowledge from one generation of employees to the next.

Fortunately, technology has made it easier than ever for businesses to adapt to these and other rapid changes we’re seeing in the workplace. With the right tools, knowledge transfer—from boomer to millennial, CEO to trainee, or even vice versa—can happen whenever and wherever it’s needed, no matter the time zone or the time of day.

Social studies

In other words, everyone can be a learner in today’s workplace. And everyone can be a teacher.

Social learning is one example of how. Rather than classroom-based, instructor-led training—which can be time-consuming and expensive—employees can transfer knowledge through learning rooms, discussion boards, microblogs, podcasts, and social networking. Through these social tools, groups of people with a common goal interact, share information, solve problems, and learn.

Employees get the information they need from subject-matter experts, when and where they need it, at a relatively low cost. Innovation, contribution, and productivity increase, and the development of a workplace culture of collaboration is fostered. The return on investment has been well-documented. According to a recent study by the Aberdeen Group, companies using social learning improved revenue performance at twice the rate of those that didn’t.

Still, most companies lag in adoption of these social-learning tools. While 84 percent of consumers report using social networks at home, only half of employees do at work, according to McKinsey’s The Social Economy report. And while 81 percent of consumers use video sharing, just 38 percent of employees use it.

Why are so many of us ready to jump on YouTube when we need a quick lesson in how to boil an egg, for example, but not so much when we need a refresher course on invoice software? Many companies have yet to create the platforms through which employees can do this. Just as important, many consumers have yet to bring their social-savvy behaviors to work. As tech-native millennials continue to come of age, however, it’s inevitable that more employees will form the social-learning habit.

In other words, learning is evolving and learning is social, so social is just a matter of when, not if. And when it is used to its fullest advantage, we’ll be one giant step closer to a workplace where everyone’s a learner and everyone’s a teacher. Anytime, anywhere.

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