Corporate learning is in the throes of a disruptive evolution thanks to collaborative technology. First-generation online methods that mimic traditional classroom learning and coursework are increasingly challenged by learner expectations around pace and frequency thanks to consumer learning experiences on Google, LinkedIn or Twitter. Those experiences have changed how people receive information, process it and learn from it.
Essentially, when a next-door neighbor considers Facebook to be as influential a content curator as The New York Times, something is happening. People don’t wait for their local weather forecast anymore — alerts are broadcast on their mobile phones. Further, people don’t take the time to read documents when they can watch videos instead. Information is instantaneous, and learning opportunities can be instantaneous, too.
Collaborate for Productivity
Social and collaboration tools make it possible to learn more and faster, but the risk is that people understand less, trusting data as presented without correctly interpreting it. Learners have unprecedented access to knowledge but must consume information at a pace that risks being as overwhelming as it is informative.
Learning Insights From Digital Body Language
For years, the standard form of learning measurement has been the Kirkpatrick-type post-learning event evaluation. While valuable, the data often come too late to be effective.
By examining data already available but often overlooked, learning professionals can uncover valuable insights to reach the core of learner needs.
Digital marketing has been a pioneer in using data analytics. In his book “Digital Body Language,” Steve Woods explains that as customers moved more online, face-to-face meetings decreased. By tracking online behavior, marketers now digitally “read” their customers’ body language and gain insights to better respond to consumer preferences.
Learning professionals are encountering this same shift. As technology-based learning is quickly outpacing in-person classroom events, there is less learner contact. Unlike marketers, the learning industry does not consider what learners are saying with their digital body language, and they miss chances to increase engagement.
To gain insights from online behavior, marketers rely on sophisticated software with algorithms and formulas. While this type of technology does not currently exist in the average learning management system, there is still a lot of data learning professionals can use.
Learning management systems often track much more than standard reporting for completions. Metrics such as time spent within a module or how content is accessed — laptop vs. mobile — are available. With some basic analysis, rich insights such as optimal module length, preferred learning channel, and high value content, can influence how future content is designed.
IT departments can often pull data from intranet usage to determine trends such as times when employees are most likely to be online, or most frequent search terms. In both scenarios, data can help learning leaders make more informed decisions about design and development.
Today’s learners are savvy consumers of online content. If learning professionals want their content to have high engagement, it’s no longer enough to build learning based on theory and intuition. In this online era, it’s time for data-driven learning and measurement models. Learners tell much about what they want and need through their online activities, and it is critical for the learning function to listen and respond.
— By Lori Niles-Hofmann and Adrian Celentano
Nicholas Carr wrote in “The Shallows” that the Internet has “laid before us” a feast “one course after another, each juicier than the last, with hardly a moment to catch our breath between bites.”
People have only begun to learn how to learn in this context. Harnessing collaborative learning means serving this digital feast in a way that avoids institutional indigestion.
Structured learning through a learning management system remains important, especially in compliance environments where formal curriculum is tied closely to tracking completion of required courses for audit purposes.
But formal, structured knowledge — what people have to know — doesn’t begin to tell the whole story of what people actually need to know to be productive. Beginning with the onboarding process where effectively shared knowledge helps to drive productivity later in a person’s career, access to the right information at the right time makes a real business difference.
Collaborative learning — sometimes referred to as informal learning — complements structured e-learning by granting access to an entire community’s expertise, creating an expanded culture of knowledge-sharing. This may sound Utopian, but it’s exactly how people share information through social media in their everyday lives.
Those organizations that successfully adopt collaborative learning methods will establish a true competitive advantage for their businesses. This includes breaking down knowledge silos that inhibit or prevent knowledge-sharing.
Traditional, course-based learning is giving way to the multidimensional, collaborative approaches that can make this a reality.
It’s All About the Network
Somewhere within an organization’s cumulative brainpower is a person who has the immediate answer to a question an employee in another office would otherwise require weeks to answer.
But too many information-sharing efforts are confined to specific classes in an LMS or, worse, isolated in email. Further, the pace of creating and staging formal learning exercises risks the content being out of date shortly after or even as soon as its published.
Collaborative learning networks open up a path to community knowledge that breaks down these types of knowledge silos. To do so:
• Get to know team members through their social profiles. Everyone is the top expert at something. Encourage employees to share visibility interests, expertise and accomplishments. That way they can learn from each member of the team.
• Start a conversation using microblogging.The community benefits from a virtual bulletin board. Host a “live” discussion with the learning community to share information of interest.
• Curate through tagging. People will share what they’re most interested in. Organize learning content and discussions by tagging information in ways that make sense to other members of the community using hashtags, “@” mentions and links to related content.
• Engage the audience to react and respond. Two-way dialogue drives interest and adoption. Permit people to share their point of view through comments, likes and voting/ideation features.
• Connect through collaborative group workspaces. Sharing is more effective than burying content in emails and documents. Create affinity workspaces where like-minded professionals can share ideas on a focused topic.
• Conduct collaborative exercises. Team-based collaboration is powerful. Create virtual interactive exercises that encourage learners to solve problems online.
Leadership development programs offer a specific example of how collaborative learning networks work. There are three connected relationships to consider:
1. Leaders and instructors: Collaborative learning permits a central space for leaders and instructors to share information, conduct learning exercises and stay connected outside of on-site training.
2. Peers who form a leadership network: Connect leaders as a peer network during the program, then sustain those connections for support after program completion.
3. Leaders and assigned mentors: Similarly, collaborative learning networks are valuable to connect mentors during learning exercises and to sustain support and information sharing afterward. In many cases, this relationship proves to be reciprocal for mentors, especially those connected to younger workers. They report benefits from being exposed to new ideas, technologies and ways of thinking.
The key thing is connection because sustainable learning doesn’t stop after the 50 or so clicks someone takes to finish a Sharable Content Object Reference Model course; it comes when people form a community where sustainable learning and knowledge-sharing happens multiple times a day.
The delivery system is also important to the learning network. According to YouTube’s website, in early 2015 its service had a billion users who watch hundreds of millions of videos each day. Monthly viewing is increasing 50 percent year over year.
With numbers like these, video rivals text as the preferred way to share information, particularly as people become more familiar with the medium and production costs go down. Benefits of video as part of a collaborative learning approach include:
• Highly engaging content: Video content is easy to understand and learners often retain more by watching a video than by reading a document.
• Low cost of content creation: Use widely available video tools and platforms that produce high-quality video at a low cost to capture expert knowledge.
• More expert contributions: Make it easy for experts who might struggle composing a document or creating formal course content to communicate thoughts and key concepts the way they would in person.
• Updated, fresh content: Record content updates regularly to ensure timely information sharing of fresh content to retain audience interest.
• Global reach: Localize video content in different languages to avoid expensive parallel translations of learning content and documents.
• Integration with talent transcripts: Include tracking for videos that count toward employees’ learning and development. Record content viewing as part of an integrated talent transcript or profile.
• Comments and feedback: Understand learners’ reactions and questions by including commenting and feedback features.
Jeff Fissel, co-founder of video content management company KZO Innovations, said in addition to creating more engaging learning content, video can teach organizations a lot about people and corporate culture.
“The videos people choose to watch, where they pause during playback, when they choose to make a comment or ask a question: All of these actions give us incredible insights about how people consume video content and how they feel about it.”
Fissel said unlike text documents, video exposes things about an audience’s preferences, cultural sentiment and how people communicate and learn from each other.
Data Doesn’t Lie
Collaborative learning analytics reveal far more than who registered or completed a course. They tell the story of learning’s effect on the business. Here are measurements to consider using to justify collaborative learning investments:
• Adoption and participation: Counts of participants in the network, number of followers, group participation, frequency of posts and contributions and other usage metrics reveal active participation, including where the network is thriving and where it needs more promotion to drive adoption.
• Sentiment to gauge content engagement: Analyze the content shared and people’s reactions to it, including people’s contributions to the microblog stream to learn valuable and unfiltered insight into sentiment. That includes identifying discussion threads that unmask where corporate learning and communication gaps exist.
• Network analysis demonstrates the power of connection: In addition to the words people use to measure sentiment, a network graph visualizes patterns of network connection including who’s connected and how often, illustrating a different type of organizational chart constructed through the flow of actual work vs. organizational hierarchy.
Network analysis is particularly important because it reveals those contributors whose influence connects people across teams.
Those connectors and their efforts are essential in an organizations collaborative learning evolution as they affect the business and corporate culture.