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Learning & Development Blog


Why Companies Should Spend More on Social Learning

Companies are spending next to nothing on social learning, and their frugality is going to come back to haunt them. Like many training companies, we are actively brainstorming ways to incorporate collaborative Web 2.0 technologies into our training programs, but rarely do we find a client that wants to create a robust learning environment comprised of both formal and informal components.

Last week I had a phone conversation with Ian Huckabee of WeeJee Media. It sounds like Weejee is growing quickly with Ian and Tracy at the helm, but they too are frustrated with the slow adoption of informal learning. Wikis are an easy place to start the promotion of collaborative learning spaces, and clients seem to be willing and able to accept this informal tool into their everyday lives. However, wikis are only the tip of the iceberg.

The slow adoption of social learning is not localized to Minnesota and North Carolina. Karen O’Leonard from Bersin & Associates wrote an article last week entitled Corporate Spending on Social Learning. In the article she gives some scary statistics:

Our recent study showed that 30 percent of US companies spent money on informal learning tools or services in 2010. The figure was highest among large businesses, 42% of which spent money on informal learning during the year. Among industries, a greater number of technology companies and business services/consulting firms spent money on these tools.In dollar figures, spending is minimal. Across all US companies, spending averaged $6,463 for informal learning tools and services. Small companies spent just more than $5,600 on average, whereas large businesses spent approximately three times that amount, or $16,409, during the year.

Either companies are afraid to be early adopters or they’re trying to scrimp. It can’t be that they don’t believe in it. Every day, social media and informal learning entrench themselves more into the fabric of our everyday lives.

Take for example the Pakistani Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual) who unknowingly tweeted about the US operation to kill Osama Bin Laden in Abottabad when he heard an explosion and firefight close to his home. He broke to the world what is most likely going to be the biggest story of the year, while it was happening in complete secrecy. As I write this blog, the man now has 94,894 followers on Twitter and every major news outlet in the world is scrambling for an interview. Can you say future book deal?

Going beyond this anecdotal story on the power of social media, however, my colleague Jim Thomson’s latest blog post describes how companies using Web 2.0 technology achieve an 18% boost in employee engagement. And furthermore, a recent Gallup study found that firms with engaged workforces have 2.6 times the earnings per share growth rate compared to their industry counterparts. The evidence is undeniable, and yet companies continue to scrimp.

Scrimping often plays out in the form of internal IT pros developing and delivering end-user training. They may by very knowledgeable about the technology behind a tool but can’t bridge the gap to explaining its usage to the people who will be using it, or they don’t know of the most effective learning solutions (e.g. ILT vs. WBT vs. informal learning).

Toni Bowers of Tech Republic writes about this issue in her latest blog, Do Your IT Trainers Really Have Training Skills? Toni is right when she says that this failure in learning is not the fault of the disconnected IT pro but that of company leadership. Leaders have to be willing to put some money behind training programs and they have to trust the statistics validating informal and social learning principles. Select companies are taking the leap and already seeing the reward. What’s it going to take for you to follow their lead? 


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