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Social Learning and the Recession

February 19, 2009

Update: I’ve embedded the session below.

On Tuesday, I’m doing a webinar on social learning and the recession.  During this session, I’m going to cover some of the biggest challenges faced by learning professionals:



  • Staff reductions are going to decrease training output in many companies, but the needs will remain the same, or even increase
  • Training isn’t viewed strategically
  • The scope of a learning professional’s role is limited to the world of training
  • Other departments are moving in on “learning” turf, specifically IT and Marketing
  • Many learning professionals are late to the party of social media and social networking
  • Training departments are still spending a lot of time of “low return” sort of activities instead of big stuff

Staff reductions are going to decrease training output in many companies, but the needs will remain the same, or even increase
Training groups are cutting staffs and budgets.  This is a real challenge given that employers are also laying off a whole lot of other people.  Expertise and specialized knowledge is walking out the door in unprecedented numbers and at the same time, our ability to “train up” these resources is going down.  Ugly.  We obviously need to find a new way forward.

Training isn’t viewed strategically
Nothing new here, right, but this particular confluence of events could result in a radical restructuring of the typical organizational structure.  What is the confluence of events?  A deep recession, maybe even a depression, and a “tipping point” in the evolution from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy.  Like the movement from an agrarian / artisan culture to an industrial paradigm, the movement from industrial models to knowledge / network models is going to be profoundly disruptive.  One possible outcome is a complete rethinking of organizational structure.  Not so scary, if you are viewed strategically.  Very very scary if you aren’t.

The scope of a learning professional’s role is limited to the world of training
Again, this shouldn’t be a big surprise, but this limited perception of the possible contributions of learning professionals means that other departments are not benefiting from their unique expertise.  Marketers are rolling our peer-to-peer support initiatives without realizing that these are at least partly social learning initiatives.    IT departments are recasting internal communication with blogs and wikis and discussions forums without thinking through the cultural aspects or what this means in terms of expertise sharing.  And trainers are mostly on the outside looking in.

Other departments are moving in on “learning” turf, specifically IT and Marketing
See above.

Many learning professionals are late to the party of social media and social networking
Trainers and HR teams are still way behind IT and Marketers in really understanding social media and social networking.  While HR and training groups are still testing the waters, IT is rolling out entire internal initiatives and marketers are moving on to second and third generations blog and discussion strategies.  Learning professionals need to step up and step up now, like right now, to have a place at the table.

Training departments are still spending a lot of time of “low return” sort of activities instead of big stuff
For real, if I hear one more analyst talk about talent management or see one more RFP / RFI with talent management as a major focus, I’m going to lose my mind.  Let’s see, on the one hand, the entire world is about time of need knowledge, decision by synthesis, and solving problems for challenges that didn’t exist two weeks, let alone two months ago, but on the other hand, we’re supposed to build robust skill and competency trees and succession plans as if everything lives in stasis.  Seriously?  Ok, how about this for a skill and competency tree?  Know how to find critical information when you need it through people, through searches, through data sets; know when to use it and how to apply the information as necessary to solve whatever problems arise, even if the problem is something no one even had on their radar this morning; be creative; work hard; love your co-workers like family; love your clients even more.  Doesn’t this describe what we really need?  So let’s stop spending ridiculous amounts of money of initiatives to manage, proscribe, and measure when we should be spending money to collaborate, listen, and empower.

So that’s what I’m going to talk about — in a little more detail of course.  What do you think?  What else should I cover?  Send me your thoughts and please join us.  It should be a fun session; we’re going to do the open chat again, but I’ve also asked Kevin Jones to moderate a twitter channel as well.

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