Don’t want to get left behind? View your employees as consumers, and introduce new organizational possibilities.
By Jerry Roche
There has been a lot said and a lot written — in this magazine and elsewhere — about the “consumerization” of learning. But knowing the definition without knowing its business applications is like being a carpenter who has a pocketful of nails but no hammer.
Let’s start by finding the most learning-specific definition of consumerization possible. Here’s the perfect reference, from Gartner — the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company: Consumerization is the specific impact that consumer-originated technologies can have on enterprises. It reflects how enterprises will be affected by, and can take advantage of, new technologies and models that originate and develop in the consumer space, rather than in the enterprise I.T. sector. Consumerization is not a strategy or something to be ‘adopted.’ Consumerization can be embraced and it must be dealt with — but it cannot be stopped.
Consumerization is impacting you and your company, whether your realize it or not. As people have access to better technology, the lines between work and life are becoming more blurred. How and where people work and the new technology they use to get things done are changing. So, as learning is further consumerized, you and your employees will have to adapt to those changes.
Rather than viewing learning as a singular, isolated activity on a talent management wheel, John Ambrose, a senior vice president at Skillsoft, says organizations need interactive tools that make learning a consumerized experience as inviting as Amazon or Netflix: “The final mile is to create rich, dynamic experiences for learners, including the many different forms of learning that occurs outside of [a course in a learning management system].”
Much of the impetus to adopt consumerized learning comes from younger, computer- savvy workers. And by 2020, Millennials will comprise 50 percent of the domestic workforce. Fifteen percent of them will work for someone at least 10 years younger. Those trends will force work to be more open, collaborative and social. Gamification, interactive learning experiences, and the growing number of social media elements in performance and learning management indicate that the technology employees expect to find in the workplace is evolving.
In today’s world, according to Wayne McCulloch of Salesforce University and Walter Rogers of CloudCoaching International, “learning needs to be woven into the fabric of what employees are doing, not necessarily as a separate activity. Elements of consumer technologies — like social media, gamification and mobile — are integral.”
Five current trends can enable your enterprise to further consumerize your learning:
1 Mobile learning: Just 10 short years ago, nobody would have imagined the possibilities of mobile learning. But with the introduction of smartphones, it has become not only possible but pervasive. If employees can learn new job skills or knowledge wherever and whenever they want, they have the potential to further integrate learning and work with their home life — and vice versa.
2 Social collaboration: By 2016, 50 percent of large organizations will have internal Facebook-like social networks, and 30 percent of these will be considered as essential as email and telephones. “The popularity and effectiveness of social networking sites as a group communication tool among consumers is prompting organizations as well as individual employees to ask whether similar technologies can be deployed privately,” says Nikos Drakos, research director at Gartner. “There is increasing interest for using social technologies within organizations to connect people more effectively, to capture and re-use valuable informal knowledge, and to deliver relevant information more intelligently where it is needed through social filtering.”
3 BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): Granted, BYOD is a disruptive phenomenon. But managing growing workforce expectations around mobility can further integrate employee work life and home life. Your employees use many devices, and they expect to use any device or application anytime, anywhere.
4 MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses): These courses promote unlimited participation and open access via the Web. MOOCs — first introduced in 2008, emerged as a popular mode of learning in 2012 — further enable employees to integrate their work lives and home lives.
5 Independent contractors: As a company gets “flatter,” use of experts, contractors and consultants become more the norm. If the needs and wants of an organization can be perfectly matched with the products and/or services of an independent contractor, both the organization and the contractor can profit.
In today’s world, according to McCulloch and Rogers, “learning needs to be woven into the fabric of what employees are doing, not necessarily as a separate activity. There will always be a need for classroom, focused learning, particularly around formal recognition (like certification). The only true competitive advantage employees and employers have is the ability to learn and then apply that learning for success.”
Algorithms And Analytics
Forward-thinking corporations can take a hint from some of the most popular technological advances that are today being offered to consumers. Services like Yelp, Netflix, Kickstarter and even Match.com can have productive and profitable business applications.
YELP is a peer-group rating system with 138 million monthly users who post 61 million reviews and ratings.
Corporations have begun using this kind of technology for projects that are enhanced by initiatives utilizing crowd- sourcing. Just think about how employees are currently working on projects. Even on an individual basis, group ratings can be instrumental in helping solve problems, and they give other employees the opportunity to congratulate a peer on a “job well done.”
With this technology, an HR director can also make performance reviews very dynamic on a yearly, quarterly or even project-to-project basis. Potentially, a company can ultimately get all the “star-system” ratings incorporated into one rating for a particular employee or contractor.
NETFLIX, the motion picture and TV show “smart” service is what’s called a “conscious delivery mechanism.” It’s used by 44 million subscribers.
Because subscribers can comment on what they watch, it’s also has an extremely social component. And the system itself can also make recommendations based on an individual’s viewing habits.
The algorithms that drive Netflix are the same kind of algorithms that can drive career-development components of a learning or talent system. Employees interested in adding to their education can get courses or MOOCs tailored to their new-found interests. Such a system could also recommend other courses that are pertinent to what that employee needs to get to the next level.
One other benefit of this type of technology is that it is a perfect vehicle for making peer and social recommendations (“I loved this class,” “I hated this class,” “Take this class instead”).
KICKSTARTER is a technology that provides revenue crowd-sourcing for unfunded or under-funded but otherwise worthwhile and/or popular projects.
So far, Kickstarter has provided more than 70,000 projects with $1.3 billion worth of funding. And Kickstarter projects not only potentially repay with interest, but the technology allows for a reward system (for instance, a red carpet pass to a movie opening that has been produced with Kickstarter funds).
In the enterprise, you might have a project for which volunteers are needed. The project itself might help those volunteers skill-build and can provide rewards by participating in the project.
One of this magazine’s Learning! 100 companies is an interesting example. Its global leadership development program builds teams of managers from all over the organization who don’t even know each other. The teams are charged with recommending new corporate initiatives. At the end of the project, instructors and managers vote for the program that has the most business impact, and that program is actually funded by the enterprise. This particular Learning! 100 company had two business lines for 50 years; as of this year, it has five business lines. It was this kind of approach that helped the company jump-start new ideas.
MATCH.COM is an online dating site. Surprisingly, 17 percent of all marriages are results of online dating sites.
The assumption is that if you can find your life partner with Match.com, why can’t a company use the same algorithms to find the next great candidate or the next great employee?
Even more than that, enterprises are using Match.com-style algorithms for internal purposes.
Employees who are very knowledgeable but on the cusp of retirement are mentoring employees who want that ame career path in virtual e-spaces instead of being in the same office. The HR Department matches up these players, based on personnel profiles.
These types of algorithms also come in handy for individual projects. An example could be selecting an LMS. There are within a 50,000-employee organization maybe five or ten people who might have that expertise. But when the responsible manager has to select an LMS for the first time, having access to pertinent employee profiles — with experiences and ratings — can identify who he or she can reach out to, in order to assist in that project. Some forward-thinkers in the learning profession even envision that, some day, employees, contractors and board members will help vote for the next CEO.
Where’s It All Heading?
All these new consumerizing technologies are really applying pressures on learning professionals to keep up. Organizations will have to figure out where they are and where and what they want to be. Because all the behaviors and practices in the consumer space are now driving new learning technologies.