Your learning function can't programmatically meet all of your employees' needs anymore. The knowledge worker now traverses a sea of complexity every day: from data overload to sensitive customer interactions to performing against sometimes volatile and quickly changing goals and directives. Instead, we in the learning organization need to start thinking about how we can empower more learner self-direction, help learners find information at or before their time of need, and we should focus less on training them to store it in their heads. The question to ask yourself is: how can you help put data and knowledge in their hands when they need it, wherever they are?
To establish an effective learning strategy for the self-directed learner, consider three "informal" content components: on-demand, social, and embedded.
- On-demand: Stop developing "new" content. Instead, curate existing content. Curators will scour data and information and reach out to domain experts to bring together the most relevant and meaningful content based on the subject at hand. The curator's job is gives the source of truth back to the true experts, and provides constructive interaction and critical thinking components around truthful content. Just sing this mantra: No New Content, Better Content Experiences.
- Social: Enable the development of networks based on specialities or business goals. Don't implement a new social platform — instead find a way to integrate learning opportunities into the audience's existing workstream. This may mean you have to work with more than one platform — so don't get too caught up in thinking one platform will solve all your audience's social needs. Instead focus on placing meaningful, critical content in context to a specific audience, where that audience is. If it's sales, leverage the CRM they use (SalesForce, etc.). If it's technical, discover the wiki, blogs or Sharepoint sites they use the most, if it's text-based, go there. If it's email, be OK with it. Your audiences are now mobile, multi-platform, and multi-screen users.
- Embedded: The true promise of support systems: performance tools that are smart enough to know context and adapt on the fly. With mobile, you have more opportunities to get this right in a more authentic "wrapper". It's a complete shift in thinking when it comes to appropriate design, though. You cannot "design once, run everywhere". It just doesn't work. Optimization for the device is critical: screen size and device functionality matters. If you pander to your audience by cramming the same design onto different screen sizes, they'll rebel. But this doesn't mean you have to design specifically for each device you support. You just need to retrofit your content strategy to afford the variances and differences that come with each device you want to support. Having an appropriate support mechanism at every moment of need is your charter. Stop asking your learner to come to you. You need to be where they are to enable their self-direction. That's the nut to crack.
A key component to your self-direction strategy should also include more tools and technologies for learners to use. I'm skeptical about "user-generated content" mainly because I worry about credbile content. However, you have a lot of knowledge sitting in the heads of your workforice. To get them to contribute, you must grow, cultivate, and sustain a culture of learning across the organization. That's a function you in training need to lead. You must do this before you can get a good social learning construct going. And, please, don't think they're going to contribute via your LMS. The LMS is not where most of the organization's learning occurs. It's quickly becoming irrelevent: probably not much more than a class registration mechanism. For frictionless contribution, you need to be aware of all the social utilities the workforce will and can use to add content — and then you can effectively curate.
Your self-direction strategy will help audiences reach mastery faster with:
- Job aids
- Performance support tools
- Self assessment instruments
- Communities of Practice
- Career-focused curriculum
- A "novice to expert" continuum
- Expertise matching
Your job is really about creating pathways for people to make viable, productive connections to each other. Your self-directed strategy is additive to your overall training strategy: it doesn't replace your formal learning programs — instead, it's about you being responsive to how your audiences learn now. Follow these best practices when establishing a self-directed learning strategy:
- Start simple
- Have a clear purpose
- Inventory your organization to discover where collaboration and social learning already occurs
- Ask yourself why you need to do this now
- Document what you are trying to accomplish
- Study your audience very well
You will need to architect participation: it doesn't happen on its own. You need what I call active agents — this is a new skill set – Learning Community Managers (LCMs). You also need Learning Curators (LCs) – content managers with domain expertise. Your LCMS and LCs will manage the essence of the strategy: the conversations, content, connections, and collaboration.
It's all about being nimble, lean and focused. If you're like almost any training function in today's business world: you're resource-constrained, you have limited funds, and your internal skill-sets are narrow. Leverage a self-direction strategy to reduce your need to create new content, and instead use your internal expertise to focus more on competency evaluation, and measurement and ROI so you can report back to the business what they need to know about their workforce's capabilities.