For a learning and development (L&D) leader, the list of priorities is endless. Surrounded by opportunity and driven by demand, the question is not “what should we do” but rather “what can we afford to do?” But L&D is caught between an ever-increasing need for training and an ever-shrinking budget. The pressure has never been greater.
What if you could have it both ways?
What if you could increase the range, scope, and quality of your training without increasing your budget? What if you could increase learner buy-in and learning outcomes without burning the candle at both ends?
The answer lies in democratizing training by spreading the load—crowdsourcing.
Empowering individuals and teams in your organization with the permission, the know-how, and the tools can help you to achieve a great deal more than you currently do.
Imagine if you empowered people across your organization to be creators or curators of learning content?
This question tends to elicit two very different responses: either a shocked and worried “That would be an utter disaster!” or an ecstatic “That would be incredibly efficient!”
Those who respond negatively usually share a few relevant concerns in common:
- How could we be sure that staff were learning everything they needed to?
- What if employees passed on their bad habits?
- Who would be responsible for quality control?
- Wouldn’t that make training inconsistent in both format and content?
- What about evaluation programs? How would those fit in?
These concerns are focused on two key areas: The quality of the training and the structure of the delivery
Part of the reason that formalized training programs are so prominent is that they give organizations a feeling of control over the process and a sense that (whether true or not) the employee is getting everything they need to succeed on the job.
Formalized training programs seem to promise uniform, consistent informational exchanges en masse to multiple learners.
And to be fair, it’s been very challenging for most businesses to rapidly or easily create the training they need, so formalized training programs have been a necessary approach.
But here’s the thing…
Democratized training is already happening in your organization—and it’s making up for the failures of your formal training program.
According to Digenti (2000) and Cross (2007), formal training (like that in a long classroom session or found in a company manual) isn’t working as intended because it typically communicates only 10% to 20% of what people actually need to know to do their jobs well.
The other 80 percent to 90 percent is picked up informally through people other than your trainers.
If that sounds shocking, think of it this way: how much of an employee’s on-the-job learning comes from consulting others on their team or those who share their role?
How much information is delivered immediately at the point of need—for example, when one employee asks another to stop over and explain a process to them on the fly?
This exchange of knowledge and information happens quickly and far away from the restricted environment of a training session. It is perhaps the most organic type of learning there is.
Consider the advantages of a democratized approach
Crowdsourcing offers several benefits:
Formalized training is limited to the availability of certain finite resources: instructors and their time, meeting rooms, and so on. One trainer can only deliver and create so much material on their own; they’re a natural bottleneck.
When employees are empowered to create training on their own, these limitations no longer apply. Trainers can focus on other areas of the job, like overseeing development of important new areas, reviewing modules for quality and accuracy, and evaluating performance.
Training programs are often designed and delivered by those who no longer hold the role on which they’re instructing. There are degrees of separation inherent between the trainer and the actual worker on the frontlines, creating a disparity of information and gaps in understanding that come out of the fact that only someone who is actively in the role would encounter the problems for which others will need answers.
Formal training programs need to wait for these problems to “filter up” to whomever is designing the training before they can be incorporated into the curriculum.
This problem is non-existent when those who are actively in the role are empowered to train others. Their perspective is hyper-relevant to the task; they know exactly what someone else who is trying to do what they do will need to know, and can voice solutions in a relatable way.
One of the greatest limitations of centralized training programs is their ability to stay current in environments of rapid change. Formal programs typically undergo long, comprehensive overhauls, so that by the time the new versions are released, they’re already outdated.
When many contributors build your training, response to change can be near immediate and come straight from the source with the most information to share.
Culture of learning
Creating a culture of being a “learning organization” only happens when that vision is actively shared and participated in by everyone from the bottom up.
When employees are empowered to share their experience, and given the tools to help one another, those reciprocating relationships and moments of recognition (who doesn’t love being able to share what they know and love with others?) create an environment where sharing isn’t just encouraged—it’s the norm.
Rather than fear democratized training, liberate it
You have the opportunity to facilitate democratized training by providing platforms and processes for creation and, in doing so, empower everyone to take part in the process. It’s the seemingly paradoxical idea of centralizing all of the decentralized training; organizing it in a way that is easy to access, share, update, and track.
There needs to be an infrastructure in place to help hold it all together. That’s been near impossible for companies to accomplish, but technology is changing all of that—and fast.
The web has given everybody the ability to create and collaborate in real time, and mobile devices make it easy to consume information from anywhere. The tools are there—it’s just a matter of implementing them.
Barriers are eroding
Trainers are just as important as ever—only their role is evolving. They can play an invaluable role in rolling out, monitoring, and improving this collaborative approach—and because their energies aren’t focused on constantly trying to create, update, and deliver programming solo, they can invest time into curating, enforcing quality, reviewing development, and encouraging further collaboration.
One strong advocate of the democratization of training is David James, Disney’s former director of talent and learning in EMEA and founder of the L&D supplier recommendation website WeCommend: “In my experience, the moment you empower others within your business to contribute to L&D initiatives, that’s the moment that you start to capitalize on the limitless potential of your L&D function. We developed whole programs at Disney with the contribution and expertise of others outside of L&D or HR roles and increased engagement, as well as capability, as a result. Imagine what you can do in areas such as induction, knowledge sharing, and career development by empowering the individuals and teams in your organization.”