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Can Knowledge Sharing Transform Learning?

Create structure around expert-to-expert learning to take advantage of its potential. The world of knowledge sharing and user-authored content is not something to fear.

August 12, 2013
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As the corporate learning industry has evolved in the past few years, we now spend a lot of time talking about Gen X and millennials’ learning styles, user-authored content sharing, expertise directories and knowledge sharing. But how does all this fit into our overall learning strategy?

I believe it was Bill Gates or Bill Joy who once said, “If I only could take all the knowledge in this company and move it from where it exists to where it is needed, we’d be twice the size we are today.”

This is true in every major organization. While we in the learning organization may find ourselves asked to build programs and curricula to develop deep skills in various topics, we know there are already plenty of experts floating around with far more skills than we already have. Well, the beauty of all the talk about informal learning in the industry is that it’s now pretty clear there is an architecture that brings all these topics together.

What is your role in this new world of expert-to-expert learning? The following are a few points to consider in your organization’s strategy.

Structure and foundation: Novices need a structure in which to learn. Research shows that someone who is new to a topic needs a framework or structure to learn the basics. All major business and technical topics build upon each other, so if you don’t understand the basics, you can’t understand the advanced topics.

Once people have that common foundation, we can add all sorts of topics ad infinitum.

In leadership, for example, there are many common principles for motivation, feedback, coaching and development, which not everyone understands. Those of us in the learning industry know them well, but we find that new managers can’t necessarily jump into complex topics such as negotiation until they understand some of the basics. And in some cases this might mean you take some time to train experts to become better at teaching others.

Taxonomy: The second big thing we have to worry about as we free up all of our employees to share information is how we categorize and find it. We need some kind of taxonomy or language.

As I’ve had the opportunity to look at many companies’ learning systems, I’ve become a bigger and bigger fan of building a common language. This means creating standard words, phrases and definitions for the things you talk about in your business.

It may sound silly, but in the world of expert-based knowledge sharing, it is very important. When video game company Electronic Arts set about retraining its product and sales teams to understand the world of digitized money, learning leaders had to train people on the language as well as the concepts. What is the digital economy, and how does it work? How do people exchange money in today’s gaming environment versus the decade-old traditional gaming market? What are the media types, business models and economic models we should talk about? These concepts need standard phrases and terms that enable us to all talk about the same things.

Create authority: The third thing to consider as we free up the world of learning to social- and knowledge-sharing concepts is to help your organization create authority. How do we know if someone is saying something that is true, valuable or mature? The best way to evaluate this is to let people comment, rate and evaluate what is being said.

Just freeing up all the knowledge workers in your company to talk is a good start, but once they talk, how do you manage the conversations to find new knowledge? Simple tools such as rating and authority calculations make this happen.

The world of knowledge sharing and user-authored content is not something to fear — rather, it is one of our biggest opportunities in learning and development. Our job is to create structure, scaffolding, standards and authority to help companies take advantage of this new way of learning.

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