The Agile Learning Train is Leaving the Station

I’d planned to begin posting my thoughts about how this Unmanagement/Stoos business impacts the administration and operation of corporate training. My friend Dawn Paulos at Xyleme beat me to the punch.

Today, the expectations of learners are much different than they were only a few years ago. Much of what is currently rolled up monolithic, one-size-fits-all courses must give way to small but relevant content updated and delivered continuously to learners based on their individual profiles or needs. In other words, learning needs to go Agile.

What’s in it for us?

Agile Development is an approach where vendors deliver very fast, iterative product development through close collaboration with its user base (i.e. training organizations).

Dawn describes the basic Agile Development process and promises to come back with implications in a subsequent post.

Dawn references Josh Bersin’s insightful post last fall which goes beyond the training function to examine the benefits of agile in HR.

The Agile Model comes to Management, Learning, and Human Resources

Over the last five years the business of software development has been totally transformed by the concepts of agile development. So is the business of Management and Human Resources.

Josh lists the benefits of embracing agile:

  • Traditional annual performance appraisals use an older “waterfall” method – continuous feedback and recognition is an “agile” approach.
  • Traditional formal training and certification is a “waterfall” model – rapid e-learning and informal learning is an “agile” approach.
  • Top down cascading goals are a “waterfall” approach – rapidly updated “objectives and key results” (sometimes called OKR – widely used at Google) is an “agile” model.
  • Traditional annual rewards and bonuses are a “waterfall” model – continuous recognition and social recognition systems are an “agile” model.
  • The annual employee engagement survey is a “waterfall” model – continuous online idea factories and open blogs are an “agile” model for employee engagement.
  • The annual development planning process is a “waterfall” model – an ongoing coaching relationship is an “agile” model for leadership.
  • The traditional recruiting process is a “waterfall” model – this is being replaced by a continuous process of social recruiting and referral-based recruiting which can be rolled out in a few hours.

Social Business is becoming the new normal
2012 is the year of Social Business. My Internet Time Alliance colleague Jane Hart aptly describes the coming environment:

Predictions for an upcoming new year are inevitably based on the “flow” from the current year, so if you have taken a look at my Top 100 articles of 2011 (or even my complete 2011 Reading List), you will not be surprised to hear that many predict that 2012 will be the “Year of Social Business“.

Up to now, for many organisations, Social Business has been about social media marketing and engaging customers, but as IBM explains

“A Social Business isn’t just a company that has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. A Social Business is one that embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organization—both internally and externally.”

And as Amin points out in Thriving as an HR professional in a social business era,

“With a 10-year delay, the social media revolution is finally entering the workplace and its influence is going to be comparable to the consumer social media revolution.”

As many others explain, social business will change the way we do everything, as organisations move from being traditional hierarchical businesses to networked organisations.”Social” will not just be something that is bolted-on to traditional processes but will underpin a fundamental new approach to working – and learning.

Paul Adams summed this up nicely in Stop talking about “social”.

Social is not a feature. Social is not an application. Social is a deep human motivation that drives our behavior almost every second that we’re awake … The leading businesses are recognizing that the web is moving away from being centered around content, to being centered around people.That is the biggest social thunderstorm, and all of us are going to have to understand it to succeed. So stop talking about social as a distinct entity. Assume it in everything you do.

Leveraging Learning in Social Business
Installing social network software and encouraging people to exploit their connections is not enough. The fabric of a social business, its workscape, must incorporate structures and guidance to help people learn. After all, learning underpins continuous improvement and that’s what this is all about.

A sustainable workscape must provide the means and motivation for corporate citizens to learn what they need: the know-how, know-who, and know-what to get things done and get better at doing them. This takes more than access to social networking tools, blogs, and wikis. Self-organization helps but L&D professionals need to supplement social systems with scaffolding that focuses on learning. Without that, many organizations will descend into an aimless world of social noise and meaningless chit-chat.

I take Chief Learning Officers’ abysmal track record with informal learning to-date as a warning shot. In today’s fast-paced world, people who do not learn continuously, on the job, rapidly fall behind. Yet CLOs continue to focus on formal classes, as if they’re running schools instead of creating business value. Formal classes and workshops are necessary, but they constitute a tiny slice of the overall learning pie.

Several years ago, L&D professionals began to accept the fact that learning by experience and informally, with others, has many times the impact of traditional training.

What did CLOs do with the insight that informal learning matters? Next to nothing. They left informal learning to chance. Even now, with the cost-effectiveness and responsiveness of informal learning pushing it to the top of CLO’s priority lists, most are taking baby steps if any steps at all. This is extremely disappointing. We who understand how people learn need to be at the vanguard of establishing social networks, expertise location, online communities, information streams, agile instructional design, help desks, federated content management, continuing reinforcement, peer development, and so on.

CLOs who do not make it easier for social business people to learn are toast.
Making the transition from command-and-control training operations to vibrant social learning workscapes is where I think Internet Time Alliance is going to make a major contribution. I envision us providing hand-holding, models, and advice to help Chief Learning Officers and HR executives make the journey from pushing curriculum and instructor-led events to nurturing systems for co-creating knowledge and competence with workers. Time will tell.

It would be irresponsible for Chief Learning Officers and HR executives to leave learning to happenstance.

Working Smarter
Agile Development is but a piece of the practice of making social business work. The entire environment is morphing into something new and different. As I wrote in my reflections on the Stoos Gathering,

These days it’s more productive to think of organizations as organisms. Managers become stewards of the living. Their role is to energize people, empower teams, foster continuous improvement, develop competence, leverage collective knowledge, coach workers, encourage collaboration, remove barriers to progress, and get rid of obsolete practices.
Living systems thrive on values that go far beyond the machine era’s dogged pursuit of efficiency through control. Living systems are networks. Optimal networks run on such values as respect for people, trust, continuous learning, transparency, openness, engagement, integrity, and meaning.

When an enterprise commits to becoming an organic, value-creating network of diverse individuals, the training department has to join the fray.