21st-Century Learning Systems

A fundamental convergence among learning, collaboration and work characterizes high-performance 21st-century knowledge workers, enabled by a new generation of learning systems.

Learning is no longer a set of discrete activities composed

A fundamental convergence among learning, collaboration and work characterizes high-performance 21st-century knowledge workers, enabled by a new generation of learning systems.

Learning is no longer a set of discrete activities composed of going to a classroom for three days or taking a series of e-learning courses at the desktop. While such structured learning events still occur, they are only a fraction of the real learning that happens as knowledge workers learn from each other, from Google, and from the professional conferences and stretch assignments in their development plans.

It is said that — fundamentally — people learn best from other people. Elliott Masie used to say, “if content is king, context is queen.” In the 21st-century workplace, context is now king — and learning organizations are recognizing this.

21st-century knowledge workers need 21st-century learning systems that include:

>> Platforms should be learner-centric, not focused on administrators.

>> Platforms must organize user-generated content as easily as they do courses developed by experts.

>> There is a need to support informal learning equally as well as formal learning is supported.

>> Platforms need to incorporate proficiency-based learning processes, not merely simple training events.

>> They must support learning of all types in the midst of work, not as a separate activity.

Supporting Learning

Knowledge workers learn in three ways, and learning systems need to support each of these modalities. Sometimes workers learn through formal instruction, sometimes learn by searching for the information they need, and sometimes by asking a colleague.

Moreover, there isn’t a clear distinction between learning and other things knowledge workers do on the job. They produce knowledge — intellectual property — for their organization, and they produce deliverables for their customers. Most often they do both in collaboration with others. They learn as they work, and they work as they learn.

The online environment knowledge workers use day-to-day needs to recognize this convergence, because for them learning, collaboration and work are all pieces of one jigsaw puzzle.

Learning organizations and learning systems are ideal vehicles for supporting this convergence — because no one else is attending to it.

Content Support

Learning systems should support content — but they should also support the wide variety of learning activities often required by robust instructional design. In fact, the learning system should allow the designer to create and track all the types of activities she might use.

 Here’s a model used to maps how to train learners in an instructor-led environment.

>> Learners discover basic vocabulary, concepts and procedures.

>> They have the opportunity to ask questions of a live expert.

>> Individual or group exercises help them reflect on the learning and actively assimilate it into their own cognitive structure.

>> They practice skills in a controlled environment.

>> They apply learning at work with a reinforcement cycle (performance feedback, improvement) that helps them build on learning, not have it decay after 30 days.

Unlocking the Puzzle

In order to do their jobs effectively, knowledge workers also constantly need new information. They find answers to questions in a variety of ways.

Performance support isn’t simply a library of content or an electronic performance support system (though these are good things). Content must be embedded in context. Most learning systems don’t get this fundamental fact; content is seen as one thing and conversations as another. They are considered, stored and accessed differently.

Moreover, the day of the expert has passed. Everyone is an expert these days, as “we are smarter than me” and the wisdom of the crowds leverages the synergistic interactions of knowledge workers. Only a portion of the content knowledge workers use is from the organizationally anointed expert, stored in formally published documents.

Learning systems must adapt to this new world and present knowledge workers with tools that are at least as powerful as they use to pursue their hobbies or personal lives.

There must be support for:

>> social networks;

>> organizing, storing, and finding published documents, learning modules, FAQs, and user-created content;

>> finding answers to questions;

>> evaluating information; and

>> creating new knowledge via communities.


Collaboration is increasingly at the heart of knowledge work: cross-functional, quick-forming, quick-dissolving teams. Moreover, in the global workplace where people work from wherever they live and travel, an increasing portion of this collaboration is done online.

High-performance organizations make it easy for knowledge workers to obtain content and get answers from others on the job. They also encourage workers to provide content back for others to use, with systems for sharing best practices and lessons.

The most effective learning systems must provide performance support in a way that integrates content and collaboration. Performance support must not be a simple database of best practices, but a living system that maps to the world of work, where content and collaboration, giving and taking, work and learning all converge. Specifically, the learning system must provide coaching and mentoring sites; work spaces for action learning teams; and the ability to track coaching, development plans and assignments.

Enterprise Integration

Finally, learning systems must effectively integrate with the enterprise and have tools that administrators can use to track learning. In particular, they should:

>> have enterprise architecture with role-based management that can appropriately scale and deal with security requirements;

>> effectively integrate with HR data warehouses, portals and other LMS systems;

>> track collaboration, content and coach performance as well as learners;

>> allow administrators to quickly create and deploy the wide variety of work spaces and learning activity sequences needed for informal and formal learning; and

>> be available as Software as a Service.

Implementing learning is not simply a technology adoption problem but a change management issue. Vendors need to not only provide their software as a service but have a full range of implementation services with well defined processes that can be used with and taught to customers, so that the first implementations are successful and organizations can continue to roll out succeeding ones without relying on the vendor forever.

—Excerpted by GeoLearning from a whitepaper by Dr. Bill Bruck and Q2Learning LLC. Download the full whitepaper at www.q2learning.com/21century. Download a complimentary blended learning and collaboration checklist at www.geolearning.com/blendedchecklist

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