If you search the term “knowledge worker” on the Internet, you will receive more than 900,000 references. This term elevates the common, everyday worker to an individual who has a greater responsibility in owning, processing and even maintaining the vast array of knowledge and information they face every day.
In an ongoing longitudinal study at Carnegie Mellon University, Robert Kelley analyzes how much information the average knowledge worker can retain when doing his or her job. He found the amount has decreased from 75 percent in 1986 to between 8 percent and 10 percent in 2006.
This research strongly challenges a learning program that bases a vast amount of its efforts on knowledge transfer. Taking a look at most formal learning programs, many learning departments might find that even with the best of intentions, they might not meet their audience’s needs. With that in mind, let’s look at some important areas that should be considered to better enable our learners.
1. Intended Outcomes of Formal Learning. If the knowledge and supporting process needed to do a job change frequently, learning organizations need to look at how they use formal instruction to support that change. For example, is the majority of time spent in instructor-led training memorizing steps and processes that will be out of date before the learner gets to use them, or is it spent learning techniques to find the most recent information when needed? In many learning programs, the sheer amount of information has grown to a level most learners never could internalize or apply. When do we pull back on volume and supplement with strategies and tools to navigate the content when needed?
2. Access to Relevant Knowledge. If formal instruction isn’t going to be enough, then an organization needs to make the most current and relevant knowledge accessible outside of that domain. Role-based and contextual information is critical, and it needs to be introduced through overall workflows and processes, not just by giving learners access to steps and tasks.
Many organizations I’ve worked with spend a lot of time and money making a vast array of information available without the appropriate framework for context and accessibility. Simply putting information out there isn’t enough. Steps without context can be dangerous, but likewise, offering a vast amount of background information without ease of access will be too burdensome — learners need a balance of both.
3. Maintenance of Knowledge. With knowledge and processes changing so rapidly, someone needs to oversee the maintenance of that knowledge. Knowledge management has been debated in many organizations for years, and all too often, it has lived outside the learning department.
Learning owns an amazing amount of content but often outside of the business context. That’s not to say this content has been built in a vacuum — many learning organizations perform rigorous needs analyses with the business units they support before designing their training. The only problem with this approach is that many of these same processes struggle to efficiently and cost-effectively keep that information current.
For instance, knowledge workers might need to be involved more directly with sharing their best practices through tools and forums such as blogs or wikis. Learning departments play a key role in creating, hosting and facilitating these types of environments and initiatives.
We’ve all heard the story in which Einstein was asked what his phone number was and then proceeded to look it up in a phone book. When asked why he needed to do that, he responded, “Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it?”
With 8 percent to 10 percent of knowledge being learned in today’s work environment, how well-equipped is the knowledge worker in your organization to find the other 90 percent when needed?
Bob Mosher is global chief learning and strategy evangelist for LearningGuide Solutions and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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