Open learning and knowledge sharing in a remote working world – Chief Learning Officer

Remote working strategies were embraced eagerly and enthusiastically during the pandemic, and it’s clear that they are here to stay. However, now that the novelty has worn off, many questions are coming to the fore. Learning and development departments are facing a new rise in challenges with learning initiatives and employee upskilling. Though these challenges are addressed using different methods, technology takes center stage in all of them.

Informal hallway discussions and water cooler exchanges are now archaic and have been replaced by social learning methods. In remote work, work-life balance often gets tossed out the window, which can leave an individual confused, tired, demotivated and frustrated. This problem does not appear so much in a synchronous working scenario, where it is possible to cut to the chase and focus only on the relevant and concise information. However, it is a no-brainer to see that in multinational companies, the asynchronous exchange is significantly more common than synchronous collaboration.

Synchronous or asynchronous collaboration — both within and between teams — has replaced the 70:20:10 rule with 50:50, confirming our assumptions that most learning occurs through social or self-learning interventions. This means that employees no longer depend on the L&D department to learn the skills required to do their jobs in the same way.

As office walls disappear in today’s workplace scenarios, L&D’s role also needs to evolve. From being responsible for creating and delivering all learning to becoming a facilitator, L&D can enable employees to share knowledge through employee-driven learning models such as employee-generated learning. In this approach, employees are encouraged to share their tactical knowledge by creating content with the right tools.

Barriers and challenges

In conversations with L&D and organizational development managers, we discovered that collaborating and knowledge-sharing in today’s remote world comes with the constructs below:

  • Knowledge-sharing is slowly becoming the preferred method to traditional L&D interventions. The conventional training needs analysis is becoming increasingly redundant as the employees know what they need to learn. Today, employees get to train at their own pace and in their own space, often paving the way for knowledge-sharing in multiple formats.
  • The overall theme of knowledge-sharing has amplified several folds as employees are going all out to support each other in these unpredictable times. On the downside, overburdening of knowledge in knowledge-sharing is increasingly becoming a concern for creating quality output efficiently. The lines are getting blurred with the amount of information that employees are bombarded with digitally.
  • In an asynchronous work scenario, employees can be easily overwhelmed if information is shared piece by piece in separate PDFs, PowerPoint files, Word documents or in videos. It becomes difficult to sift through the noise just to find the exact content they need. To help learners prioritize the information they get, there needs to be a distinction between “need to know” and “nice to know” knowledge.
  • Another subtle (but important) problem is the huge impediments of hoarding and hiding knowledge. While our increasingly digital world has made an excess of information available, employees aren’t always finding what they need to accomplish work. Often, subject matter experts knowingly hoard critical knowledge for various reasons, including not being recognized, lack of motivation, fear of being redundant, losing out on promotions and fear of losing credit to someone else.

The role of L&D

In light of all the concerns mentioned above, what should the role of L&D be in today’s realm of open learning? How can they ensure that, while knowledge sharing is encouraged, overburdening of knowledge and hoarding won’t drive a spoke into the wheel?

Here are our thoughts:

  • L&D managers have to walk the talk of creating a learning culture in their organizations. It is imminent to become a facilitator and promote knowledge sharing in a meaningful way rather than to continue conventionally creating and delivering discrete learning programs.
  • L&D managers must anticipate and address the fears that promote knowledge hoarding. When employees are recognized, appreciated or incentivized for creating and sharing critical domain knowledge, the trend of knowledge hoarding and working in silos will wane.
  • Embracing employee-generated learning and making knowledge sharing an essential part of the organization’s appraisal system are keys to evangelizing.
  • It’s equally important to address management policies, attitudes and fixed hierarchical controls. This will help bring change in the knowledge sharing fabric of the organizations.
  • A change in the work culture aimed at driving behavioral changes and creating awareness through strong communication will be significantly effective to change the mindset. This could be even more important than adopting the latest technology in bringing in the change in the digital working environment of today.

The role of technology

In light of the changes happening across the learning landscape — along with the evolving role of L&D — let’s look at the role of technology in shaping the knowledge-sharing phenomenon.

Leveraging technology is a critical component in building and promoting an efficient open learning environment. While technology has given us new, unlimited access to creating and sharing information, it has come at a high cost: the stress and energy of searching for the relevant information, and processing it to the desired level. But things are changing quickly.

Artificial intelligence is being increasingly used in knowledge management systems. For example, all the clicks while navigating or creating content are automatically captured and converted into a step-by-step guide without omitting any critical steps. In a similar vein, a troubleshooting method can also be captured. AI can also be leveraged to nudge employees to contribute to the knowledge pool of their domain effectively.

There are many software and platforms available to make knowledge sharing simple, including tools for easy-to-use authoring and co-authoring, creating video, hosting and recording webinars and meeting virtually. While creating processes or procedures, there can also be AI nudges to make the content more precise, or add examples, like multimedia. AI can also help by fine-tuning search results or by recommending alternatives. Additionally, it can prevent similar content from being created again. The possibilities are immense.

Conclusion

The era of open learning upon us has ushered in the creator economy and a new availability of creator platforms for corporate learning, which underlie our own belief around employee-generated learning. This is a pressing need of companies as more than 70 percent of learning today actually comes from the legacy of subject matter experts and not instructional designers. Unlocking their rich and relevant experience by leveraging employee-generated learning must be the primary focus of L&D managers in your organization by promoting knowledge sharing across the board.

Easy-to-use authoring tools with zero learning curve are intuitive and, therefore, don’t require additional training. This approach is especially relevant in today’s new age of remote work where centralized content creation no longer makes sense. This strategy is not only cost-effective but also directly impacts the business growth positively. Recognizing employees’ contribution, giving it wide publicity, and aligning it with promotions and appraisals all encourage the sharing mindset. Half the battle is won when behavior changes occur and employees feel confident in sharing their expertise.

We are living in a time of uncontrolled application proliferation, knowledge avalanches, data fog and messaging obsession. Our digital workplace wealth comes at a price of limited attention. It impinges on the finite cognitive resources of employees. Once these bottlenecks are bettered by the synchronous changes to both technology and organizational policies, only then can a truly open learning culture for the remote, digital native ensue. It is possible to reclaim the advantages of the pre-remote-work world along with the flexibility of digital workspace.

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