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Creating a knowledge-sharing culture in your organization

Learning, collaborating and knowledge-sharing is part of our every day when we use social media, search engines and wiki sites. So, why not apply that way of learning to the workplace and create a learning and knowledge-sharing culture in your organization?

What you already have

In fact, knowledge-sharing and collaboration are probably happening in your organization already, right under your nose.  But it may be hard to detect and quantify.  That’s because it’s largely informal.  People will ask others for help and advice on a regular basis.  They’ll turn to people with experience and expertise.  But they won’t record that interaction.  It generally remains a private exchange, shared just between the learner and mentor. 

Yet even though these exchanges are informal and private, it’s still a powerful way of learning because the person looking for help has clearly identified a learning need and a gap in their knowledge.  They’ve also identified where and how they can find the answer.  They’ve turned to a trusted source of information.  And the information they’ve received has been imparted within the context of a real-life, work situation.  All these factors will help cement that piece of learning in the mind of the learner.  He or she, in turn, is now able to pass that on to others.

Making the most of informal learning

Informal learning has many benefits.  It means that people recognize the importance of learning without the need for formal training programs.  They engage and motivate themselves, often more effectively than through prescribed learning initiatives.  

Yet while it’s good to know that your employees have taken the initiative to identify gaps in knowledge and the ways they can bridge them, there are limitations to this approach.  

Informal exchanges can mean that vital information is not shared widely enough, that it’s hoarded rather than passed on.  It’s a matter of chance whether that learning is evenly distributed across the organization.  And if it resides primarily in the heads of certain experience staff, what happens when they leave?

As a way of developing an organization’s workforce, informal learning is not sustainable unless it can be harnessed and channelled and the knowledge to a certain extent formalized.  For that to happen, you will need to put a learning infrastructure in place that enables the wider communication informal knowledge and facilitates its sharing on a one-to-many rather than a one-to-one basis.  

You can’t leave critical and beneficial knowledge to chance or hidden away.  It has to be more widely shared and it’s up to L&D to facilitate its distribution.

L&D’s pivotal role

L&D has to take the lead in building a sustainable learning culture.  That requires changes to the way L&D generally operates.  L&D is no longer primarily the provider and administrator of training programs.  It adopts a new role as the facilitator of independent learning and as the curator of the knowledge assets.

Instead of providing yet more training programs, L&D should look at the way existing learning content can be repurposed and reused by breaking them down into microlearning assets.  L&D also needs to encourage the sourcing of new assets whether they are created internally by employees or from external sources (e.g. links to information on the web) that are recommended by L&D or learners themselves and incorporated into the shared learning repository.

L&D’s oversight is critical.  The sharing of knowledge is a way of addressing performance gaps. For that to happen L&D needs to track what people know and, equally and perhaps more instructively, what they don’t.  And also assure the quality of what’s being added to the repository.

Building a learning infrastructure

Technology can assist L&D in building a basis for the better storage and distribution of information.

Using an LXP, you can create a searchable database of digital, learning assets.  These microlearning resources can be accessed by mobile devices so that people have these learning resources with them wherever they are.  Information is available on the go, in their own time and space.  No need even to wait to find the moment to ask your colleague a vital question.

Microlearning assets can be anything from a blog, a tweet, a piece of text or video, or a voice recording offering some advice, a how-to tip or explaining best practice.  Experienced employees should be encouraged to provide their own assets through video, audio or text so that you capture what’s in their heads and place it as the disposal of learners.  All these assets are catalogued and tagged so that they can be retrieved when needed.  They are easy to access and quick to digest.  

But LXPs are more than just a library of resources; they prioritize the experience of learning.  With their recommendations, alerts and notifications, they encourage self-directed independent learning.  The social-media-style interface reflects a collaborative environment that allows learners to create their own profile and to use messaging and posting functions to interact with colleagues.  The systems come with a powerful search engine that helps surface content.  And you can add a chatbot that uses AI to support and help mentor learners in their work and learning.

Learning while you work

However, creating a knowledge-sharing culture is not just about amassing and distributing learning content.  It’s also about facilitating collaborative practices in the workplace.  A number of freely available apps can help open the channels to collaboration.

Slack, for example, captures and organizes information in a more accessible and transparent way than email for more efficient team working.  The project management app Trello invites collaboration and the sharing of information and learning.  Its task management, to do’s and notifications and alerts features make collaboration on projects easier.  L&D can use internal blogs and Twitter to publicize training initiatives, highlight new additions to its learning resources and initiatives.  

L&D can also incentivize and reward collaboration formally by recognizing those employees who share their knowledge and contribute most to the building and maintenance of the learning culture.  It can work with HR to acknowledge the importance of collaboration in employee reviews.  CPD points, digital badges and personal ePortfolios can be used to recognize individual contributions and promote career development. 

Articulating the culture 

All these elements can be expressed in L&D’s vision for the organization’s learning and knowledge-sharing culture.  Your goal should be to establish an open, distributive knowledge-sharing.  You want to instil an ethos that expresses the importance and value of knowledge and creating an environment and structure through which knowledge is channelled.  

Establish communities and forums where knowledge is traded.  Organize peer-to-peer mentoring schemes where more experienced employees impart what they’ve learnt to new employees.  Such schemes are more effective because they situate learning squarely within the workflow. 

The benefits of knowledge-sharing

We know from our daily interactions that sharing of information and knowledge has been greatly enhanced by technology.  Organizations too can benefit using technology to improve the dissemination of knowledge.  Often that knowledge already exists but is hidden.  Making use of this valuable resource requires the establishment of infrastructure and culture.  

There are several obvious benefits of creating a culture in which knowledge and learning are shared.  Learning becomes a continuous process that occurs outside the classroom and LMS in the workflow, right at the point of need.  The power and immediacy of informal learning are captured to benefit all.  Knowledge accumulated over years is no longer lost when experienced personnel move on.  

Learning on the job improves the relevance of doing it and makes learning stick.  It encourages self-directed, learner-centred learning.  It aids motivation and engagement because learning becomes not only accepted practice but the way to perform better.  

Continuous learning

A learning culture removes the disconnect between formal training programs and what happens at work.  Training becomes part of working.  And if people see the potential to learn and develop within an organization, they’re more likely to stay.  Better retention rates mean a greater return on investment for the organization and add to the pool of knowledge that will sustain the organization and help it grow.

So, don’t leave learning to chance.  Recognize the value of knowledge-sharing and tap into and open up the knowledge resources that your people offer.  Set up L&D to focus on the bigger picture: the creation of a sustainable learning and knowledge-sharing culture and see the whole organization benefit.

To read the rest of the blogs in this series, download our ‘L&D for the 21st Century eBook’ now.

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