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A view from Sam Crumley, VP of Employee Experience at Panopto

In a recent presentation I gave at the Learning Technologies event held in the UK, I discussed the idea of “open-source learning” and the possibilities it offers those working to enhance staff engagement at their organization.

Just to set the scene, some brief context on what I mean by “open-source.” Open-source is a term widely used in the software development industry to refer to software for which the source code is publicly available and which can be redistributed and modified. It is also often used to describe the collaborative approaches to development that this mode of software licensing encourages. Examples of open-source software products with which you’re likely familiar are Mozilla Firefox, Linux, and Android. Open-source software development also played a critical role in the creation of the World Wide Web as we know it, so no matter what type of organization you work for, you’ll have been impacted by open-source development in some way.

“Open-Source” for Learning & Development

As an employee experience leader at a software company, I’ve become increasingly interested in the inspiration Learning and Development professionals can take from this software development methodology, with its focus on collaboration, innovation, and community creation.

In this case, I’ve found it isn’t a far leap to make the connection. In fact, you can easily think about some of our now-familiar L&D activities through an open-source lens — concepts like:

  • Social learning
  • User-generated content
  • Crowd-sourcing
  • Just-in-time learning

All of these ideas center on employee communities coming together to solve learning challenges in an agile, iterative way that is somewhat similar to the way in which open-source developers might build on a code base. This is what I mean when I use the term “open-source learning.” These new approaches to learning have been driven by the changing nature of work expectations, with employees valuing modes of working that prioritize immediacy, transparency, and effective teamwork.

L&D teams have, of course, been doing a lot of this already by encouraging employees to look for sources like LinkedIn Learning, Wikipedia, MOOCs, shared documents and even old-fashioned Googling to solve problems, along with relying on more traditional formal resources.

Expanding on this idea, there are many points in the employee lifecycle where these approaches could be added into the mix to improve learning for staff. These included:

  • Onboarding, when new hires can complement formal training with knowledge gathered from a network of peers through a range of informal sources.
  • Learning on the job for both technical and non-technical skills, when existing staff can upskill on-the-go using the support of colleagues and relevant resources they can access along the way.
  • Adapting to a change in process, technology or overall strategy, where there is a need for a high level of agile knowledge-sharing as staff ramp up.
  • Looking for information from experts to upgrade overall knowledge or soft skills.
  • Avoiding “reinventing the wheel” by using peer-generated content to solve a problem.
  • Changing teams or getting a promotion, where there is a requirement to accelerate learning.

All of these areas center on organizational knowledge sharing challenges, no matter at which part of the employee lifecycle you are looking.

Open-Source Learning — A solution to an organization’s knowledge sharing challenges

We know from research we conducted with over 1000 employees working at US companies that 60% of employees have difficulty getting the information they need to do their job. Their difficulties can be broadly categorized in five different ways:

  • Trust – are the knowledge assets to which I have access valid and accurate?
  • Organization – the growth of our organizational assets outpaces our ability to collate and manage them.
  • Search – I am unable to find a knowledge asset by searching for the title, internal content or concepts.
  • Obsolescence – the assets I have are too old and irrelevant.
  • Quality – where do I go to source specific, unique knowledge?

So those are knowledge sharing challenges from the learner’s perspective. However, from an organizational perspective, there is an even wider challenge to address. This centers around the tension between the aims of the seeker of knowledge and the owner of that knowledge. This can be summed up as the learner’s immediate need for knowledge access vs the organizational, departmental or individual’s desire to protect that knowledge.

Organizational behaviors and systems are often set up to guard information and restrict access so as to increase an employee’s focus on formal methods of learning and training delivered in a top-down manner. As we know, of course, in reality, there is more than a little natural chaos to learning and for most employees learning at work is a non-hierarchical discovery process.

Thinking about employee learning with an open-source mindset can help bridge this gap between seekers and holders of knowledge and allow companies to start to break down knowledge silos that may have formed. Why does closing this gap matter so much? Well, because quite simply, poor knowledge sharing practices don’t just frustrate employees seeking information — they are almost certainly costing your business a lot of money.

The Impact of Poor Knowledge Sharing

In our study of workplace knowledge sharing and productivity, we identified a number of problem areas:

  • Efficiency issues: 8 hours per week are spent searching for knowledge or going about tasks through trial and error.
  • Lost opportunities to engage with staff: 63% of employees prefer to work for organizations where employees share unique knowledge.
  • Knowledge retention problems: 81% of employees believe personal and work experience is the hardest to replace.
  • Productivity drains: 70% of employees duplicate efforts because they don’t have access to others’ knowledge.
  • The time cost of onboarding: 50 hours are spent in an employees’ first month asking coworkers for help.

Will we ever be able to make all of this perfect? Of course not. But could Learning & Development teams influence improvements through a shift to open-source learning? I think the answer is yes.

Why do I say that? Because open-source learning intersects with ideas like social learning and just-in-time learning by prioritizing informal, peer-generated forms of learning that put openness, collaboration and sharing at the heart of the employee learning experience.

How Can You Get Started with an Open-Source Learning Approach?

Open-source learning concepts, once established, are self-reinforcing. That said, you will have to lay the groundwork to ensure success.

First, individuals need to be aware that peer-generated or informal knowledge assets exist – this can be done organically or through internal campaigns (or both). Second, people have to be able to find what they are looking for — without necessarily being given access to everything, as data security and privacy requirements demand. Third, they need to be able to apply their new knowledge in their roles. Finally, with social features or feedback mechanisms, it helps if people are also able to participate – for instance, by adding a star rating, or “liking” something, or posing questions in discussion threads.

Once the foundation is in place, there are four other areas that I think need to be addressed to reduce the barriers to knowledge-sharing.

Culture

A culture of open-source knowledge sharing won’t happen overnight. You will need to create an expectation that staff should share their expertise, and establish ways to recognize those that share most. One way we set the stage for future knowledge-sharing within our own organization is to require new hires to introduce themselves to the team via a video recording. This starts the idea of sharing and dialogue right from the beginning of someone’s employment at the company.

Watch an intro video from one of Panopto’s own:

 

 

Tools

Various tools exist that can facilitate an open-source learning approach and for the most part, they are not expensive. At Panopto, much of our learning logically takes place using our own video platform, but a good amount of open-source learning also takes place within our CRM and intranet site. Other organizations may find an LMS or a knowledge repository works as well. Really, the question of which tools you use should be answered not only by how you want to use them, but what employees are likely to adopt.

One thing to bear in mind is that open-source learning hinges on the immediacy of access and availability. This means you’ll need to plan to support some level of flexibility based on your people’s requirements, both in the tools you select and the learning approaches you support.

Capability

You’ll also need to establish what “good” looks like in the new paradigm. When someone calls on the phone or drops by your office to seek knowledge, there aren’t a lot of skills involved. When you are creating a more permanent resource, there will be a need for at least some simple training on how to structure and share information. By no means does this require everyone on staff to become trained instructors or instructional designers, but it’s a good idea to have some tips, templates, and advice ready on how to create a valuable, reliable knowledge asset.

Governance

Without some form of governance, people can start to lose trust in a platform or new methodology. What happens then? They start creating offline solutions or go back to the old, inefficient ways. So while you absolutely still need to build in some oversight, in an open-source learning paradigm you need to tread lightly and leverage analytics to ensure the content that’s shared is relevant.

Analytics will help you highlight what’s being used, how often it is revisited and what users are commenting on. In our case with video, we can see what people are watching, what they are re-watching, when they are taking notes and more. This allows us to identify high-value content or trouble spots based on viewing patterns, rather than implementing employee knowledge tests or similar heavyweight approaches.

The Role of L&D Professionals in an Open-Source Culture

So, what happens to the L&D specialist if you’ve moved to an open-source learning approach at your organization? Well, it’s true to say that the more we put content creation and access in the hands of employees, the more our role changes.

Here’s where I think our new focus lies in an open-source learning environment:

  • Providing unique expertise: L&D staff will become a resource for instructional design methods.
  • Offering coaching on learning resource development: We will offer on-demand and planned support for content creation.
  • Advocates for improvements in knowledge sharing approaches: We will promote and reinforce programs.
  • Providing oversight: We will provide process measurement and analytics.

Far from replacing L&D, open-source learning offers a fantastic opportunity to better align organizational learning and knowledge sharing to the strategic aims of businesses.

 

If you’re interested in how Panopto’s video platform can support open-source learning in your organization, you can request a free trial from our team.

Published: April 10, 2019