You may have seen the car commercial where four guys are driving to a level-five rapid, full of excitement about tackling the most difficult of whitewater challenges. They get out and take a look at the raging river, and their giddiness turns sober. In the next scene, they’re back in the car. “Hey, we’ll do a level two and a level three. That equals a level five, right?” If only. While harder to undertake, the potentially transformational rewards of having conquered level five are simply not available at lower levels, and the benefits at lower levels are not combinable.
The same is true for the field of workplace knowledge and learning. There are challenges and rewards associated with a level-five initiative that are an order of magnitude above anything achievable at lower levels. Simply adding a classroom experience to an online experience does not add up to a transformational model. Two plus three does not equal five.
At level five, all the rules change. It is an entirely different way of understanding and integrating electronic networks of collective information with human networks of collective intelligence. It starts not from learning objectives or competency models, but rather flows from corporate vision and strategic business plans.
The requirements for a level-five knowledge strategy focus on a new way to think about how technology is used to achieve objectives. The technology itself is already available—we just need to see it differently. Gutenberg’s press was in use for years before people realized that it could become scalable by engraving and printing the same pictures that had previously limited production to the rate that illustrators could draw them by hand. Once pictures were printed, production was no longer gated by traditional thinking. The innovation within the invention was released, and social transformation followed.
Today, familiar academic models (courses, libraries) are not sufficiently agile for corporations that must confront rapid change and global competition. Knowledge is an important and rapidly changing business resource. We need to learn how to align it and leverage it in service of corporate performance in real time.
Imagine a knowledge system that:
- Leverages collective intelligence: Provides the ability to identify, capture and transparently link employee knowledge with vetted external sources of knowledge; and the ability to deliver it in the right context to the right people in the right amount at the right time.
- Embeds carbon in the silicon: Provides the ability to combine potential human coaches and advisers (carbon-based entities) with granular, personalized learning objects within the same platform at the time they are needed.
- Offers real-time change management: Provides the ability to align corporate business data with information from the knowledge management system and learning resources from the learning management system; and the ability to use the combined data in a dashboard that increases operational agility and helps top management drive the enterprise.
It is a challenge to change traditional thinking, but it is more difficult still not to do it. I recently spoke with a CLO who got rid of more than two-dozen separate LMSs in his global organization and replaced them with a single infrastructure. He is now faced with a bunch of angry users in business units who lost their unique functionality and didn’t see compensatory value.
It is not about technology. It is about corporate agility and competitiveness. Upgrading technology without upgrading the guiding strategy can be an empty investment. A new infrastructure becomes meaningful when the thinking behind such a move begins with corporate strategy and its design delivers higher end-user value, transforming knowledge workers into knowledge warriors.
At the highest level of most organizations, strategy and vision await a more effective plan to drive learning technologies toward enterprise-wide transformation. As innovative value propositions driven by new players with higher-level capabilities begin to replace content libraries and freestanding technologies, more holistic solutions become available. Achieving level five will not be easy. But whatever the obstacles, the rewards are irresistible.
Jonathon Levy is senior learning strategist at Monitor Group and former vice president for online learning solutions at Harvard Business School Publishing. Jonathon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Filed under: Technology