From perhaps the very dawn of cooperative human work, people have traded insights and shared wisdom with each other as a means to educate individuals and improve as a collective team. Today, productivity researchers have underscored the importance of this “social learning” in the 70:20:10 model, which suggests that for any position in any company, an employee will learn 10% of what they need to know via formal training, and pick up the other 90% via personal experience and the shared expertise of colleagues.
For decades, organizational learning and development teams have sought to tap into the potential of that 90% — to capture, curate, and share the deep knowledge distributed across the minds of every employee in their organization. Toward this effort, one-to-many communication tools, like enterprise social networks, have begun to allow simple exchanges of information between team members, while “brown bag” employee presentations and Wiki knowledge bases have attempted to document complex knowledge.
Though each represented real improvements, none of these solutions have offered the silver bullet to make social learning a reality. None appears to be a working alternative to walking down the hall and asking the expert for an answer in plain terms.
Yet while text and events have come up short, another solution may already be close at hand — so close, in fact, many employee development teams already put it to work every day.
Increasingly, L&D professionals have recognized video to be a flexible, engaging medium that supports and scales classroom and conference materials, helping to extend training initiatives to more team members while reducing the cost per employee of traditional training activities. While in the past video was a complicated affair requiring specialized hardware and dedicated AV experts, today the medium has evolved to make it easy to capture information both simple and complex. Whether trading newly discovered best practices, or documenting a career’s worth of institutional knowledge, and with the ability to capture everything from a narrated screen capture or a complex multi-camera demonstration, recorded video is the one-to-many, on-demand social learning solution that bears the fidelity and bandwidth of personalized instruction.
The buzz around organizational social learning has never been more enthusiastic. Curating, preserving, and sharing the institutional knowledge of your employees offers the opportunity to radically reshape how your employees approach their jobs. With a library close at hand filled with all the little details that make your business work, employees can be more efficient in their daily work, better informed in their planning, and more strategic in their attempts to innovate.
In research out of Indiana University, a team of cognitive scientists discovered something unexpected. In experiments designed to assess the most efficient means of solving problems, it was those people who observed and imitated others, not those who were tasked to individually innovate, who got better results. The study’s co-author, Thomas Wisdom, explained that “imitators often make their own improvements to the original solution, and these can, in turn, be adopted and improved upon by the originator and others.”
That is to say, those waiting for a “eureka” moment were passed by time and again by those who were given a means to observe and improve.
At most organizations, people are finding new ways to be more productive every day. A front-line employee finds a way to expedite a service or offer an upsell. An analyst creates a short macro to speed up work in Excel. A member of the sales team stumbles on a new pitch that really clicks with buyers. These aren’t acts of pure creative epiphany so much as they are subtle iterations, natural responses to everyday observations that, much like evolution itself, may provide a point of competitive differentiation (big or small) that can help move the business forward.
The key to turning these small-scale improvements into organizational best practices — the kind that become competitive advantages — is how effectively your people can help their colleagues understand those new ideas, methods, processes, and systems.
Knowledge management and social learning are two sides of the same coin — both are concerned with enabling employees to share information critical to their work, and enabling organizations to preserve those ideas as an internal resource. It’s how the two practices go about enabling the exchange of those insights that sets them apart.
In the modern learning environment, “social learning” refers to the decentralized, “grassroots” exchange of tips, ideas, and best practices between colleagues. This informal, “bottom-up” practice of social learning has existed for as long as people have worked side-by-side, trading pointers to help everyone succeed.
Until recently, however, that knowledge was an impossible resource to tap on-demand. If the expert wasn’t available — stuck in a meeting, gone for the day, or no longer with the company — their co-workers were forced to either find another resource or simply do without.
What has transformed enterprise social learning into a full-fledged business practice today isn’t any new change in training strategy or estimated value, it’s improved technology. At first with message boards, blogs, and wikis. Now, with flexible video platforms and enterprise social networks, companies can enable their employees to document and share their knowledge at any time and from anywhere. Not only do these tools make it easier for experts to share, they make it simple for their employers to save — preserving institutional knowledge, even after the expert has left.
Whereas the practice of social learning has evolved as a managed form of informal learning, the practice of knowledge management started in the other direction, as a top-down technique dedicated to seeking out and preserving high-priority institutional knowledge.
Knowledge management was born with an executive mandate to learning and development teams: figure out what’s essential for employees to know and then make sure it’s documented. Behind this charge, a host of supporting tools and dedicated specialists sprung up, all ready to capture those details that, collectively, make up an organization’s competitive edge.
The emergence of social learning owes a credit to many factors, but perhaps none quite so much as the rising recognition of the value of crowdsourcing. Coined by Wired Magazine in the early 2000s, crowdsourcing was a recognition that the collective intelligence of a large community is almost always better than even the best insights of a single expert.
For organizations, the potential of crowdsourcing has found an invaluable role as social learning. Whereas knowledge management required a small and dedicated team to ascertain which knowledge might be essential to preserve, social learning throws open the doors to any employee to decide what expertise they feel is important to share. The result is the potential to create a researchable reference of institutional knowledge that’s both wider and deeper than was ever possible with traditional knowledge management. And because more ideas are shared there, more employees will be inclined to utilize the resource — creating a virtuous cycle that aids in adoption.
In an era where almost every employee is a subject matter expert in something, the practice of social learning is enabling organizations to preserve all that knowledge, help others in the organization learn more and faster, and in turn, speed up the ongoing evolution driving their business forward.
Through video, recorded from an employee’s desk or workstation, and shared within the organization through an enterprise video platform, social learning programs can produce far more knowledge for a company’s workforce in a way that is inexpensive to deliver, easy to create, and available on-demand for employees to watch as many times as necessary.
In our newest white paper, How to Build a Social Learning Program with Video, you’ll learn how your organization can embrace social learning, you’ll discover 6 ideas for getting started, and you’ll gain an understanding of how an enterprise video platform can provide the technology foundation to your social learning program.