Stop learning the hard way

Monday - 11/1/2010, 1:41pm EDT

Collaboration tools have changed the way we learn. Social networks are the "perfect, perpetual classrooms" compared with traditional classroom learning, writes Andrew Krzmarzick in the GovLoop blog.

More people are turning to online searches and forums, and this applies to workplace learning as well. Krzmarzick said he is reading "The New Social Learning" by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner -- the Federal News Radio Book Club selection -- about how collaboration tools can help us deal with the rapid changes around us.

Krzmarzick quotes the authors, "People need to learn fast, as part of the ebb and flow of their jobs, not just on the rare occasion that they are in a class."

A McKinsey survey supports the idea that effective learning is moving away from the traditional classroom. According to the survey, only one-quarter of the respondents said training programs for employees measurably improved performance. However, most companies didn't even measure performance post-training.

The McKinsey Quarterly reports that creating skilled workers will rely less on the content of training and more on "rethinking the mindsets that employees and their leaders bring to training, as well as the environment they come back to afterward."

A big mistake organizations are making is to outsource community creations, Quy Huy and Andrew Shipilov, professors with business school INSEAD, wrote in the Harvard Business Review blog.

When community development is outsourced, the organization doesn't learn, Huy and Shipilov wrote. Social media may speed up communications and flatten hierarchies, but people in the organization are still communicating as they always have, the researchers pointed out.

"As a result, the company is often very different from the face it portrays online, which almost always gets discovered," according to the blog.

One solution is to bring in new leaders who understand social media. Organizations can also assign social media responsibilities to middle managers who understand the organization's issues.

However, use of collaboration tools does not always translate into a competitive advantage, the researchers found in their study. Huy and Shipilov are now studying why that's the case and how organizations can use social media to their advantage.

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