Training is broken. Here’s how to fix it.

Today we have a guest post from Jay Cross. Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. The Internet Time Alliance, which he chairs, 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. He is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School. Jay and his wife Uta live with their miniature longhaired dachshund in the hills of Berkeley, California.

The world of corporate training has changed. What worked 20 years ago doesn’t work well in the social, always-on, networked world of business we now inhabit.

These days, traditional training departments cannot build courses fast enough to keep up with the speed of change, and the Internet is our greatest source of information.

The Industrial Age is giving way to the Network Era. In the Industrial Age, workers were cogs in a machine. They were rewarded for efficiency and for meshing smoothly with their fellow cogs. In the Network Era, workers replace the machine; workers create the value. They are rewarded for delighting customers in innovative and non-routine ways.

Collaborative organizations thrive in the Network Era. Trust that your employees will succeed when given the autonomy and freedom to work the way they want to is fundamental to becoming a collaborative organization. You don’t collaborate with people you don’t trust. Managers in collaborative organizations trust workers to be guided by corporate values and mission. Trust drives out micro-management.

When management has high expectations of workers, they generally live up to them. When expectations are low, workers live down to them. Collaborative motivation dispenses with the concept that managers control workers. Instead, managers should inspire workers, set expectations and get out of the way.

Collaborative infrastructure is the circuitry that connects workers with what they need to work and learn: co-workers, information, customers, news, models, plans, directives, gossip and more. Our paper calls these the “knows.” The knows define the infrastructure required to support them:

The “Know”
Supporting Infrastructure
Know who
Profiles, expertise locators
Know how
Conversations, network
Know why
Purpose, aspiration, motivation
Know what
Content management systems, wikis, blogs, curation
Know now
Feeds, tweets, streams
Know where
Search, tags, indexes, rankings
Know when
Project management, shared calendar


Collaborative learning is learning without borders, and it’s what the Network Era demands of companies that want to develop and retain their talent. Organizations improve learning by removing obstacles, seeding communities, increasing bandwidth, encouraging conversation and growing networks. It’s a natural way to learn and grow.

Learning is now a critical daily activity; learning on the job is more effective than learning outside of the job. Learning must be embedded in work. As a result, work and learning are becoming indistinguishable.

Experiment with bringing work and learning together by:

  • Focusing on helping high performers work smarter; novices aren’t the only people who need to learn.
  • No longer punishing people for failed experiments; if you never fail, you’re not innovating.
  • Applying the 80/20 rule to critical functions and seeding communities of practice around them.
  • Encouraging people to narrate their work, documenting what they do to share with others.
  • Rooting out information hoarding; make sharing the norm. Some companies fire hoarders.

For more on this topic, download the white paper: Why Corporate Training Is Broken and How to Fix It.

Photo credit: nesster