How To Replace Top-Down Training with Collaborative Learning


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Most people prefer to learn from experience or conversation. In this eBook, informal learning expert, Jay Cross outlines the two things necessary to focus on for a traditional company to embrace collaborative learning.

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How To Replace Top-Down Training with Collaborative Learning

  1. How To Replace Top-Down Training withCollaborative LearningBy Jay CrossCEO, Internet Time Alliance Sponsored by
  2. The Twenty-First Century Corporation Businesses around the world are transforming into extended enterprise networks but their training departments are stuck in the previous century.1 In the pursuit of trying to fix what’s broken, let’s imagine what ideal corporate learning would look like if we could start over from scratch. In the 1800s and 1900s, successful companies ran like well-oiled machines. Workers were mere cogs in those machines. The people were interchangeable parts. Companies paid them to follow instructions and do the same thing over and over again. Workers have since replaced machines as the primary means of creating value. Companies rely on them to solve problems, delight customers, and stay ahead of the game. They are what make a business go and grow. A company’s market value echoes the ingenuity, know-how and reputation of its people. Twenty-first century employees have to do complex, unpredictable work. They have to keep up with a torrent of new products and services, not just their own but also their competitors’. They have to stay sharp in a world that’s going ever faster. They have to grapple with a barrage of new information and demands on their time. Continuous learning is the only way they can keep up. Their work has become learning, and learning is the bulk of their work. And, on top of this, technology has connected the world, making it possible to connect with just about anyone, anytime, anywhere. The ease of sharing of information has led to a cultural phenomenon, which relates to our topic at hand; people are used to being able to get the answers to their questions – to learn – of their own accord through research and conversation. But this way of learning – autonomous searching and social collaboration – has not yet been reflected in corporate learning, demonstrating that corporate learning has fallen behind.1 See the previous white paper in this series, Why Corporate Training is Broken and How to Fix It that makes the case that corporate training is out of step with the times. 2
  3. To keep things simple in our following exploration of how corporate learning needs to change, let’s call the industrial-age(old school) companies Hierarchical and the network-era (2012) companies Collaborative. Control in Hierarchicalcompanies resides at the top. Orders and instructions are pushed down through the organization. Control in Collaborativecompanies is distributed throughout the organizations. Workers and supervisors have a large say in what they do andthey pull in the resources they need for themselves.So, imagine the training department just disappeared because our organization has shifted from Hierarchical toCollaborative, and learning has become everyone’s business.Where should we focus to improve learning? It’s a matter of people and infrastructure.PEOPLEWho’s going to be involved? Every Kind of Employee – Temps IncludedIn the Hierarchical organization, employees were the only people who received corporate training. Aside from compliancetraining and new product introductions, most training focused on novices – either new-hires who needed orientation orworkers mastering a new skill or subject.It’s not that seasoned and elder employees weren’t learning; we all learn all the time. Rather, they weren’t learning as wellas they might. HR and training departments overlooked experienced employees because they learn experientially, fromstretch assignments and mentors rather than from courses and workshops. Learning by experienced employees was leftto chance.Two out of three Chief Learning Officers neglect experienced employees, but these are the very people who make moneyfor the company. New hires and novices aren’t very productive. Raise their proficiency by 20 percent and next to nothinghits the bottom line. Raising the proficiency of top performers by 20 percent can double the bottom line. A wiseCollaborative organization focuses its efforts where they’ll have the most impact.
  4. Pre-employees and alumniTalent managers advocate pre-employment training and internships. As an example, they encourage college studentswith an interest in banking to participate in bank training and perhaps work at the bank during summer break to see if theyenjoy it. The bank gains a leg up in recruiting and knows more about job candidates before making an offer.On the other hand, many former employees remain loyal to their firms, and sometimes even provide leads for newbusiness. Andersen Consulting, IBM, and Goldman Sachs pay attention to so called “outboarding’ as well as onboarding.They have set up social networks for alumni and help them keep up with new developments. Many alumni are futurecustomers.The Extended EnterpriseWe need to start thinking of businesses as extended enterprises, especiallywhen it comes to learning, because really, each business includesdistributors, suppliers, temps, partners, contractors, and, importantly,customers as well, all in addition to employees.Michael Porter’s concept of the value chain taught us that the values andcosts generated by your suppliers and distributors are passed along to yourcustomers. Since learning improves performance, it’s in your interest to helpthese people learn to do better work. Figure 1 The Extended Enterprise 4
  5. Customers and prospects“An educated customer is the best customer,” said retailer Sy Sims. Co-learning with customers may be learning’s newfrontier.Google is teaching people to use more of its services in online courses. Google could have produced a slick, buttoned-down, tech-oriented training program, like they did for Google Wave, but this time around, Google chose a friendly,avuncular fellow to lead you through the on-demand session. He’s not a salesperson; he’s a research scientist, a true-blue Googler! He gives encouragement: you’re on the path to being a Power Searcher! He’s casual, very approachableand looks like he’s talking to you from his living room. He stumbles occasionally. He comes across as authentic, the typeof guy you’d enjoy talking to at a bar.By doing this, Google is building customer loyalty. Co-learning builds trust. As other companies realize the potential oflearning as a marketing tool, we’re going to see a lot more programs like this.Help your customers become better at serving their own needs. Beyond that, learning with one another forges bonds oftrust and goodwill. Co-learning – adapting to the future – with customers is an unexploited marketing strategy.Who should control learning?People are at their best when they’re doing things for themselves, when they “pull” what they need rather than have things“pushed” on them.Hierarchies work well when the future is predictable and things aren’t prone to change. The objective in a stable situationis to get better at what you’re currently doing. Organizations develop programs, training among them, that promoteconformity.Collaborative organizations outpace hierarchies when the future is unpredictable and change is rampant. The objective ina dynamic situation is to get better at whatever comes along. Wise organizations develop platforms with standardinterfaces to maintain flexibility and spark innovation. These organizations give workers a say in what they learn and howthey learn it. They provide a variety of means of for workers to get the information they need. Instead of rigid trainingsessions, the organization supplies a platform that nurtures self-directed learning.
  6. Companies accomplish the transition from Hierarchy to Collaborative by handing over more control to those that areclosest to the customer. This may seem radical, and change can be unsettling, but this is a key to becoming aCollaborative organization.How self-directed learners learnWhen given the choice, most workers prefer to learn from experience. Experiential learning takes place in the course oftrying to accomplish something, often by mimicking what other people do, by trial and error, and by asking colleagues andexperts; this means experiential learning is often informal learning, done outside of the classroom. Mentors and coachesgive assignments that provide new challenges and therefore require learning.Conversation is the most important learning technology ever invented. People love to talk with each other. Conversationshave magic to them. Look at a written transcript of a conversation and it sounds incoherent; true conversation is a mix ofempathy, emotion, body language, shared understanding, nuance, and cultural norms. Conversations are the stem cellsof learning. Improve the availability and quality of conversation, and you automatically improve the amount of learningtaking place.A survey last year asked managers how they learned their jobs. Informal chats with colleagues ranked #1, followed byInternet search, and trial and error. Workers value social learning (collaboration, networking, and conversations) andinformal learning (community membership, Internet search, blogs, curated content, and self-study). Both social andinformal are deemed more important by employees than company documents and training.2A Note about Generations in the WorkplaceDigital Natives are the generation that grew up glued to computer screens. For them, networks and technology aresecond nature. Stanford psychologist Phil Zimbardo says that by the time the average boy reaches the age of 21, he has2 The Learning Habits of Leaders and Managers, June 2012.Downloaded from 6
  7. spent at least 10,000 hours playing video games. This alternative reality rewires their brains. They’re accustomed to livingin a highly stimulating environment where they are in control. Their world is made up of decision making, researching andcollaborating all at the click of a button, anytime, anywhere, so they won’t put up with traditional training which says whatthey will learn and when. If Digital Natives aren’t allowed to act, they will refuse to play the game.Digital Immigrants are those who grew up before interactive computing took hold. Some are in denial, trying to get bywithout going digital; they will become fossils. Elders who do want to join the Network Era have an opportunity to barterwith the Digital Natives, something called reverse-mentoring. Immigrants swap their organizational savvy and deep smartsfor the Natives’ help in using technology.The learnscape, that overall platform on which learning takes place, must accommodate both Natives and Immigrants. Itmust be easy to access and understand. It must let people take control of their learning and participate actively. Jane Hart offers great advice on how to design a learning ecology to match the way contemporary workers learn. It’s no longer about delivering courses in training rooms.1 Here are some tips from Jane on this subject. • Think activities, not courses. • Think learning space/places, not training rooms. • Think lightweight design, not instructional design. • Think continuous flow of activities, not just respond to need. • Think social when looking for training technologies.
  8. INFRASTRUCTURETechnological infrastructure for social learningWork and learning are converging, and as this change happens, the infrastructure of the old corporate learning must go –things like traditional one-size-fits-all in-person training seminars. The old ways are being replaced by social and informallearning hubs like on-demand content, live online discussions, wikis and forums, and searchable content archives. Thegreat news is that a lot of times social and informal learning don’t require new systems because learning can take placeon the same “platform” as the existing social network, if a company already has one.The primary thing to bear in mind, says MIT’s Andy McAfee (McAfee), is INATT. That’s short for a phrase that keptcoming up in conversation when he was writing Enterprise 2.0. It’s short for “It’s Not About The Technology.” People comefirst.But you can’t do without the technology either. Social networks are the ideal platform for the new corporate learning, solet’s briefly examine how they support corporate learning.Social computingEarly personal computing was based on corporate computing. Conventions like ASCII, programming languages, Internetprotocol, and encryption were developed for corporate mainframe computers and only later adopted for personalcomputers. That situation has flip-flopped. Innovations in applications and user-interface design are born on the consumerside and migrate to the enterprise.Forbes named the world’s most innovative company. Where did that innovation come from? says cloud-based Customer Relationship Management application borrowed heavily from’s social network application was inspired by Facebook.’s Chatter began its life as in-house Twitter. As the web turns social, has changed its mission to “leading the shift to theSocial Enterprise,” and that’s where it’s proving its forward-thinking nature. 8
  9. So how do you find the right social platform to enhance your corporate training program? When an organization isimproving its workspace, looking at consumer applications is a good way to think about what’s required in the corporatespace. Ask net-savvy younger workers how they would like to learn new skills, and they bring up the features they enjoyoutside of work: • A personal profile so I can share information with my connections • A personalized experience and recommendations, like Amazon • Connections to friends and colleagues, like Facebook and LinkedIn • Activity streams, like Twitter, so I know what’s going on and what people are talking about • Face-to-face interaction and desktop sharing through video conferencing • Multiple access options, like a bank that offers access by ATM, the Web, phone, or human tellers • A diverse learning library, made up of videos, FAQs and links to relevant information • Single sign-on access, like using my LinkedIn profile to access other programs • Choosing and subscribing to streams of information I’m interested in • Provide a single, simple, all-in-one interface, like that provided by Google • Make it easy to share photos and video, as on Flickr and YouTube • Leverage “the wisdom of crowds,” by allowing me to pose a question to my connections • Enable users to rate content that they liked the most or found the most helpfulMinimum Viable WorkspaceWhat we’re talking about is a social work hub where every employee and external partner can come to collaborate, shareinformation, get information and provide updates and ask questions. When it comes time to build your new collaborativeand social learning center, some of those consumer applications are simple to replicate in-house. Others are not. Youprobably can’t afford and definitely don’t need to create your own Facebook or Google behind your firewall. There are lotsof applications you can implement at reasonable cost. Be skeptical if your collaborative infrastructure doesn’t includethese minimal functions:
  10. Profiles – so each employee can personally connect to the network. Profile should containphoto, position, location, email address, expertise (tagged so it’s searchable). Nice-to-havesinclude how to reach you (noting whether you’re online now), reporting chain (boss, boss’sboss, etc.), link to your blog and bookmarks, people in your network, links to documents youfrequently share, members of your network.Workspaces – to break up the organization’s activity into relevant, digestible feeds for eachindividual. Workspaces are networks within the organization that are created by employees togather a team or group in a specific area. For example, new hires that are brought on at thesame time may create a workspace where they can ask each other questions and shareinformation that they find out. This workspace is different from the team workspace the newhire will join to interact with their teammates.Activity stream - for monitoring the organization pulse in real time, sharing what you’re doing,being referred to useful information, asking for help, accelerating the flow of news andinformation, and keeping up with change. Activity streams should be available for the companyat large and also within workspaces.Wikis or notes - for writing collaboratively, eliminating multiple versions of documents, sharinginformation with a relevant group, eliminating unnecessary email, and sharing responsibility forupdates and error correction.Integrated virtual meetings - to make it easy to meet online, because there needs to be roomin your learning program for group discussion and application. Minimum feature set: sharedscreen, text chat, video conferencing streams.Mobile access - Half of America’s workforce works away from the office at least sometimes.Smart phones are surpassing PCs for connecting to networks for access and participation.People post more Tweets via phone than via computers. Google designs its apps for mobilebefore porting them to PCs. What does all of this mean? Your new social workspace needs tobe mobile so people can collaborate from anywhere. 10
  11. Putting a learning platform in placeWhen it’s time to put a learning platform in place, it’s a good idea to make a company wide commitment to your newphilosophy on learning. Here’s an example of a mission statement to keep in mind as you transform your trainingdepartment into a collaborative learning space. • We are open and transparent. • We narrate and share our work. • We offer live and on-demand training content as a part of continuous learning. • We value conversation as a learning vehicle. • We make our work accessible to others. • We are a vanguard of change within the company. • Our bottom line is business success. • We know learning is work; work is learning. • We are a learning organization. • We value time for self-development and reflection. • We recognize that reflection is a key to learning.Changing behavior requires continual reinforcement, so be ready to tackle the concern and resistance that some peoplemay have toward becoming a more collaborative organization.A great way to embrace your new collaborative nature while helping people adapt to it, is to host all-hands virtualmeetings to share your process toward becoming a collaborative organization. Make your employees a part of theevolution; keep them in the loop.
  12. Learning NetworksWorkers are members of multiple, interconnected networks. They interact, learn and problem solve in each network. Figure 2 Harold Jarches view on the social learning network 12
  13. Everyone has personal face-to-face networks: the friends, neighbors, colleagues, and acquaintances we talk with. Mostpeople have electronic personal networks, too: Facebook, discussions groups, and a variety of followers and followedcomrades. We rely on our networks to help us learn what’s going on in our worlds. The collaborative organization mayreplicate those personal connections through social work platforms with customizable workspaces. Each workspace is fora group of connected people – teams, departments, project contributors, and so on. Learning Network Primary Activity Conversations about... Personal Network Connecting Discovery, sharing, and personal Work Team Collaboration Projects, co-creation Communities of Cooperation Common interests, new developments Practice Company Social Coordination Company-wide activity feed, locator, Network knowledge-store The Internet Currency Diverse opinions, news, pointers, “the Commons” Extended Enterprise Coherence Co-learning keeps all on the same wavelength
  14. Communities are networks of people who share common interests and identify themselves as cohorts. A community maybe a group of professionals (e.g. chefs or chip designers) or people with shared passions (e.g. model railroaders andcyclists) or co-workers from different work teams (e.g. the United Way Committee or neighborhood watch). Communitiesshare knowledge (“Here’s a great recipe for crayfish with foie gras”), help one another (“There’s an opening for a sous-chef at the Fish Trap in Key West”), validate best practices (“Use coddled eggs in Caesar salad to avoid salmonella”), anddevelop apprentices into professionals (“My salad chef is ready to become a pastry chef”). Communities can existinternally (the United Way Committee) or externally (the chefs). Innovation in Silicon Valley is enhanced when competitorsshare trade secrets because allegiance to their professional community (“We’re chip designers”) is strong than to theiremployer (“I work for AMD.”)Many companies enable workers to establish a personal node in the company’s social platform. This is where yourindividual profile enables people to find you, know what your good at, and share things you may be interested in. Manyworkers narrate their work on individual blogs. Transparency builds trust.Project teams carry out most information work. When team members are unable to meet in the same physical space, theyrely on networks to collaborate on getting projects done. Teammembers who work together, learn together. In time, teammembers develop strong social ties, trust emerges, and they co-create new knowledge and innovation. Experience is thebest teacher and work teams are where it happens.Project teams have a job to do; communities come together to cooperate and share for the good of the group. Projectteams inevitably need to acquire knowledge from outside their small circle. Their individual members are often membersof several communities, which they tap for knowledge and guidance. A smart organization supports its internal teams andencourages its people to take part in external teams.Many progressive companies have set up social work platforms that connect all employees to an activity feed that listsactivities and pointers from all over the company. Social workspaces are the ultimate silo busters, enabling everyone to beon the same page, accelerating the organization’s cycle time, and letting “the company know what the company knows.”33 Former HP CEO Lew Platt, “If only HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more productive.” 14
  15. A Note About Internet AccessMany companies signal their lack of trust in their employees by denying them access to the greatest assembly ofknowledge in the history of humanity, the Internet. To be consistent, they should probably take away their telephones(They might make long distance calls to China!) and pencils (They might waste time playing tic-tac-toe). Bad apples aregoing to do bad things with or without the Internet, but by hoarding access to the web, you’re not only punishing your goodapples, but also hindering their ability to learn.For many people today, working without the Internet is equivalent to working blindfolded. When companies deny accessto the net, employees route around them with smartphones and tablets that bypass corporate IT. The price of criminalizingaccess to the net is lower morale, the message that it’s okay to break rules (wink, wink), and to give up on hiring the bestand the brightest (who will work somewhere they are trusted to act like responsible citizens). Companies shouldencourage workers to connect to the outside world, for that’s where the customers are.The Internet is an essential library of information for today’s workforce. David Weinberger points out that the web haschanged the nature of knowledge itself. Knowledge that was once limited to what you could print on a page is nowconnected to all manner of evidence, counter-claims, elaboration, and interpretations. The basic idea is that the properties of knowledge that weve taken for granted at least in the West for, oh, 2,500 years are not actually properties of knowledge. Theyre properties of knowledge when its medium is paper. And when you remove the paper and put things online, it takes on the properties of its new medium—of the Internet. Importantly, knowledge in a network includes differences and disagreements in a way that traditional knowledge is uncomfortable with. Everything is unsettled, everything is argued about, and very few things are ever totally resolved on the Net.4There’s a word for companies that deny workers access to the riches of the Internet. That word is stupid.4 What Is the Future of Knowledge in the Internet Age?A conversation with David Weinberger about facts, fiction and forecasts. Scientific American, November 29, 2011.
  16. BenefitsAssessing the cost/benefit of experiential learning is like asking for a cost/benefit of your telephone connections. You can’tlive without it. As one pundit put it, “The ROI of social networking is being in business a few years from now.”Among the potential benefits of providing a world-class learning function to workers and throughout the extendedenterprise are: • Better, more knowledgeable customer service • More effective supply chain • Faster response time • Bottom-up innovation • Higher morale • Collective intelligence • Reduced turnover • Build upon one another’s expertise • More flexibility • Recruit superior candidatesA CFO will point out that these are intangibles. She’s right. But most of the value of companies is intangible. In the twodecades of the 20th century, the value of the S&P 500 companies flipped from 80% tangibles to 80% intangibles. 1990 1999 Standard and Poor’s 500 Underlying Value of Equities 16
  17. Stock price reflects the value investors put on know-how, brand, track record, and the likelihood that the company willcontinue to create value in the future. All of these depend on the quality of the workforce and its relationships, and thosein turn depend on people’s ability to learn and grow.More than one thousand CEOs around the world told IBM these were the most important factors for success5:Those characteristics describe the ideal corporate learning infrastructure for a Collaborative Organization as well.5 Global CEO Study, IBM,
  18. SUMMARYSo what happens when your company shifts from Hierarchical to Collaborative? Learningbecomes everyone’s business. Your employees learn the way they want, the way that makesthe most sense to them, and therefore, your workforce remains competitive and agile.When you decide to implement a social, collaborative learning space, look for an easy-to-usesolution. Your workforce expects their work technology to be as simple and functional as thetechnologies they use at home. If they’re complicated, they simply won’t be used.Are you ready? To find out if your corporate training department needs a social makeover,answer our 9-question survey and see how your company weighs against others like yours.Take the survey. 18
  19. About Jay Cross Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. He is CEO and Chief Unlearning Officer of Internet Time Alliance, which helps corporations and governments use networks to accelerate performance. Jay has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix. A champion of informal learning and systems thinking, Jay’s calling is to create happier, more productive workplaces. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He literally wrote the book on Informal Learning.Jay works from the Internet Time Lab in Berkeley, high in the hills a dozen miles east of the Golden Gate Bridge and amile and a half from the University. People visit the Lab to spark innovation and think fresh thoughts.About Internet TIme Alliance The Internet Time Alliance advises organizations how to get their people learning, working, and innovating in Internet time. Social, collaborative learning enables corporations to draw strength from the competence, ingenuity, and autonomy of their people.The Internet Time Alliance helps its clients minimize time to performance, increase responsiveness to customers, andchallenge workers to be all they can be.
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