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TRAINING: The Future of Training & Development: New Social Learning

Massive transformations are taking place in our economy, our businesses and the way we communicate and filter information now more than ever before.  The transformations may not be much of a surprise to most as Thomas Friedman warned us exhaustively in The World Is Flat five years ago; however I’m not always sure we’re aware of the transformation that is taking place right within the very walls of our own organizations.  The transformation I’m talking about has little to do with fiscal legislation or the current recession or even healthcare (all transformations that we are seeing and hearing about a lot these days).  I’m talking about the transformation in how we learn, as adults, as employees, even as a community.  Learning is the art of gathering information, processing that information and then reflecting upon that information. Learning is under massive transformation as we enter a new “culture of sharing.”

 For Training and Development Departments specifically, with the common mission to build and sustain the competency of the organization’s workforce, we tend to fall short of catching onto those “cultural transformation shifts.” Usually, we are left in the dark and out of the loop.  We get stuck in our veteran style of learning with autocratic management and bureaucracy-driven tendencies for a “pulpit to pupil” teaching style.  Sometimes taking the path of least resistance, we shun the notion to find truly new and insightful ways to teach and learn.  And yet, that’s our mission! – to seek out and find new ways to capture the innovation of our employees’ minds and transform their thoughts and genius into a collective value for our organization.   This new transformation into a culture of sharing or culture of “new social learning,” as Bingham and Conner describe in their recently released, The New Social Learning, might be just the ticket.

 Imagine with me, a Training and Development Department in the not-too-distant future with that vigor, that ability to capture ideas and accelerate our ability to create.  It might look like this…

 The trainer (facilitator) walks into the classroom. The usual set up is there with tables, refreshments, and chairs.  Most of the chairs have employee students waiting to learn the new fundamentals of Presentation Skills or perhaps they’re attending a Train-the-Trainer series (What they will call Facilitate-the-Facilitator).  However, some student students aren’t physically in their seats, they’re mere mirages of themselves and are actually holographs staring back at the facilitator.  Because this is a multi-global company, these holographic students are from India, Japan, or down the block at home nursing a sick child.

The facilitator begins by saying “Welcome to this morning’s session, turn on your pads to page one.” Each student, whether in the classroom or on the computer screen, turns on his/her digital reader to follow along with the instructor.  Not only can the students follow along with their digital reader to the facilitator’s presentation, but the students can also access video, articles, podcasts and blogs to enhance their learning experience.  The digital reader (think iPad) is connected to the web. An interesting thing begins to happen, as the training unfolds.  The text and content on each of the digital readers begins to change.  You see each student can begin to add his or her thoughts to the presentation, or post an interesting article or video with a wisp of the fingertips. The term ‘trainers’ has fallen by the wayside and has given way to the much more collaborative term, ‘facilitator’ – a name for someone who helps facilitate the thoughts and learning environment.

Won’t someone post wrong information or misleading information during the presentation?  No, not really. You see the community of learners at this morning session keep a strict set of ‘collaborative learning’ principles when they learn or are trying to capture new ideas.  The learning community they are building, even in this morning session’s training, is only as legitimate as the “correctness” of the added information and each student holds true that value of having correct information (Wikipedia is a great example of this cordial dance between content and correct information). If something wrong was posted, it will quickly be taken down from the digital reader because the community has forced positive peer pressure and review to the subject.  When providing venues where people can share peer-to-peer and be accountable, the best information naturally rises to the top.

Perhaps this is a Training Within Industry session this morning.  At certain points throughout the training, when the students need to fully understand the Toyota Production System, the facilitator instructs the students to enter their avatars (no, not James Cameron yet, but digital beings that represent people in Second Life software) and enter the 3D immersive environment.  Once in the environment via a headset and handset, the students are now partnering with employees over in a Japanese Toyota plant to learn firsthand what goes into the Toyota Production System.  There is no language barrier because the social learning software translates.  There is no learning barrier because now students practice in the culture of reciprocal learning:  learning from one another.

The day’s events are all captured on the students’ digital readers and saved on their personal wikipage (personal website), which at their discretion can become public or remain private.  They can refer to them whenever they need to or build upon them as they mature their learning experience.  Most importantly, they have the ability to share their thoughts, reactions, and innovation to the presentation.


New Social Learning, or the use of social networks and tools to encourage knowledge transfer and connect people in a way consistent with how we naturally interact, is a product of three converging workforce trends.  These trends, happening right now, include the expanding opportunities for personal connection through new social media tools, emerging expectations from shifting workforce demographics, and increasing reach of customized technology. We are witnessing a dramatic increase in our collective thinking, collaboration, and capacity to grow; we are witnessing a more collective, hybrid IQ.

Where does training and development fit into this brave new world?  Training describes an outside-in approach to providing known quantifiable content, while learning, especially social learning, describes an inside-out process that originates with the learner’s desire to know. A blurring of roles has occurred between the learner and the teacher.  We are all prosumers (a mix of consumer and producer) now, with just as much ability to create, support, and publish our thoughts to theories as anyone else.  The teacher and learners’ roles have combined to create a continuous learning environment.


TO BE CONTINUED… The Future of Training and Development, part II

Now featuring the newest article from the NDC team on social learning

  • Learning, Training and Development — perspective must change from addressing organizations needs to addressing individual needs in the long term.

  • Your definition of learning appeals to me except that there is no explicit role for retention of knowledge.

  • Bill,

    You bring up an interesting point. As Kirkpatrick famously pointed out it’s important to evaluate if the learner has actually learned at the end of a training (the ROI of training programs). I think social learning, unlike other media before it, presents us with a new way to reinforce the training that has occurred with the student. With the ability to passively and organically learn via blogs, YouTube, Twitterfeeds, etc. the idea of continous and rention-based training is very prevalent now.

    This very blog has become a great resource for knowledge retention and re-engagement with the student as we talk about many of the topics from previous trainings within the various blogs.

    What are other people’s thoughts? Do you find that social learning tools have provided your workforce with an ability to retain knowledge. Any data around this concept?

    Thanks for the feedback!

    – Matt

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An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

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