A Picture of Corporate Learning inside the 21st Century Organization

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.

Businesses around the world are transforming into modern enterprise networks, but their training departments are stuck in the previous century. In the pursuit of fixing what’s broken, let’s imagine what ideal corporate learning would look like if we could start over from scratch.

To keep things simple, let’s call the industrial-age companies Hierarchical and the network-era companies Collaborative. Control in Hierarchical companies resides at the top. Orders and instructions are pushed down through the organization. Alternatively, control in Collaborative companies is distributed throughout the organization. Workers and supervisors have a large say in what they do, and they pull in the resources they need for themselves.

Where should we focus to improve learning? It’s a matter of People and Infrastructure.


Who should be involved?

  • Experienced workers in addition to new hires and novices
  • Part-timers, partners, contractors and distributors
  • Recruits and former employees
  • Customers

Whether on your payroll or not, people who learn with you bond with you, and performance and profits improve. 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.

Collaborative organizations outpace Hierarchies when the future is unpredictable and change is rampant. These modern organizations provide a variety of means for workers to get the information they need. Instead of rigid training sessions, the organization supplies a platform that nurtures self-directed learning.

Companies successfully transition from Hierarchical to Collaboration by handing more control over to those that are closest to the customer. This may seem radical and unsettling, but it’s a key to becoming a Collaborative organization.


What do we need?

  • Technology to support collaborative learning
  • Internet functions worth replicating in-house
  • Learning platforms and networks

Together, the above form workscapes – the infrastructure for working smarter. But bear this in mind: it’s not about the technology. People come first. But you can’t do without the technology either.

To improve your workscape, look at consumer applications to get a good idea of what’s required in a collaborative learning environment. Some of those consumer applications are simple to replicate in-house. Others are not. You can’t afford to create your own Facebook or Google behind your firewall. That said, there are lots of applications you can implement at reasonable cost. Podio is just one of many examples.

Be skeptical if your collaborative infrastructure doesn’t include these minimal functions: profiles, activity streams, wikis, virtual meetings, blogs, bookmarks, mobile access and social network.

Is your business ready for collaborative learning? Answer the 9 questions posed by our survey to find out. After, download the white paper to learn how to make the transition.

Photo credit: erpcenter