New Analogies Apply Within

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

Training has long used I.T. departments as their role model. Once the misunderstood backroom of corporations, CIO’s now sit at the leadership table offering strategic insight and business value. Training aspired to make the same leap from oft-questioned expense to essential strategic investment. There is a big difference though. Training doesn’t make anything!

Just Learn It!

The mind-set of training needs to change from manufacturer to marketer. Training departments offer courses on leadership yet rarely sit at the head table of the corporate party. They train on sales, yet one look at attendance data will show you that the most attended trainings are frequently mandated, not sold to their audience. Training pros are marketers and packagers of a performance-inducing product. Like Gatorade for corporate athletes. Training should even steal the Investopedia explanation of marketing, “The ultimate goal of marketing is to match a company’s products and services to the people who need and want them, thereby ensure profitability.”

I unlocked the “SalesPro” badge!

Today’s digital and social media world has exposed the desire of many to be “prosumers”. Learning needs to let go of its “keeper of the knowledge” belief and welcome this change. Yes, learning is made more efficient by the use of proven methodologies and structures not known by every employee. The trade off is the authenticity and “real-world” endorsement of skill building activities, not to mention the increased engagement of employees in their development. By focusing on supporting and enhancing the work of the producers and easing the barriers to the consumers, training can accelerate and scale a company’s learning. This doesn’t just mean installing Yammer or Chatter to provide a platform. Where learning pros will add value is by acting as marketers to build their brand’s (high performance) connection to its customers. Training can achieve this by catalyzing the conversations (think aggregator sites) and constantly looking outside for ideas and analogies on how to incent learners (think FourSquare badges) or encourage sharing (think Like buttons and followers). There will always be a role for more traditional learning events but today’s business speed requires a new approach. One where user generated content and real-time adjustments are the norm.

Crowdsourced Learning?

The biggest switch for Training in this new analogy is in process. I.T. has for a long time embraced a linear and carefully structured design methodology. This process starts with a detailed needs analysis, design frameworks, pilot process and roll out. Training’s instructional design methodology follows a similar pattern. Marketing, on the other hand, with all the emerging channels and tools available to it, has been forced to adopt an experimental mid-set for customer-development. One where things are tried, learned from and improved. One where speed-to-market is increasingly seen as equally important as perfect-to-market. Today’s customers (read learners), it turns out, see “authentic” as more engaging than perfect.

But that’s next. Think lean start-up. Think lean learning.