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Digital Learning: Beyond the copycat model

As organizations progress through their digital transformation journey, one of the areas that have the biggest potential to be revolutionized by a novel approach is Enterprise Learning. However, many of the attempts of reinventing learning fall victim of a well know pattern: copycatting what is happening in the consumer internet. It’s a reocurring model with a less-than-stellar story of successes:

  • Organizations invest many resources to create a comprehensive intranet but readership and engagement is low
  • Corporate search imitates Google’s page rank just to find out that there are not enough reliable cross-links in intranet pages to create a reliable ranking of page importance
  • Internal versions of Wikipedia try to re-create the magic of a single authoritative reference resource for the whole organization, but after a couple of years most of the content is incomplete or outdated
  • Enterprise Social Networks try to mimic Facebook and Twitter, but fail to go beyond the shallow conversations that characterize those platforms

The fundamental point missing in all these failed attempts is the understanding that your corporate intranet is not the internet. It’s not worse, it’s not better: it’s just different. And that difference, while subtle, matters a lot.

There are plenty of learning resources available online: from iTunes U, to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Udemy and Coursera, to the many incredible mobile apps such as Duolingo and The Elements, they tease us to endless possibilities to be explored in the corporate environment. And in fact, each of them showed us a different way to promote learning, beyond the traditional classroom + textbook combo. But several of the attributes that make those resources successful are not present within most organizations.

First of all, most organizations don’t have a massive population of employees. In fact, there are only three private companies in the world surpassing the million employee mark. Learning resources that rely on a very large population of users may come short when serving a smaller group with more specialized needs. There is an ecosystem framework to serve large populations that may not thrive when applied to niche populations.

Furthermore, there is an inherent anonymity in the target audience typical of these online resources. It’s the equivalent of a blockbuster movie: it tries to appeal to the general audience, where everybody looks the same and doesn’t interact much with each other as that content is delivered to them. Approaches that assume a nameless audience that have little in common may be leaving money on the table when it comes to workforce learning. Employees are not like spectators in a movie or in a football game. There are deep common attributes in that population beyond the fact that they are all there for the same event, be it a formal code of conduct training or a large program with many modules.

This is not to say that some of the concepts in popular learning vehicles like the ones mentioned above cannot be used in the corporate context. They can, and they will, for years to come. But simply copying those models will lead us to lukewarm results once more. The not-so-secret sauce to make the most of the new learning opportunities brought by the digital transformation movement is to combine the best of the consumer Internet with the peculiarities of the corporate environment, enabling new models of learning, such as peer-to-peer, just-in-time and non-structured approaches that are often overlooked when our eyes are obfuscated by the intense brightness of the big stars of the consumer learning space.

Come back next month to read more about the exciting opportunities in the world of corporate learning.

Aaron Kim

Aaron Kim is the Head of Digital Social Collaboration at the Royal Bank of Canada, and led the efforts to bring social business and social collaboration to an organization of 79,000 employees. He’s also been a public speaker at several events across the globe, from the Web 2.0 Expo to JiveWorld, from Singapore to Barcelona. He has a passion for innovation and for making work smarter, more meaningful and rewarding to all. Born and raised in Brazil, to a Korean father and Japanese mother, he also volunteers in several diversity initiatives, inside and outside RBC. In the past, he worked as a consultant both at IBM Canada and Unisys Brazil, having played the roles of solutions architect, Basel II analyst, performance engineer, Java programmer, Unix administrator and environmental biologist. He holds an MBA from the University of Toronto, and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Universidade de São Paulo. He lives in Toronto, Canada, is married to Tania and have a son, Lucas.

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