In Renaissance times, knowledge may have been power, but today things are clearly different. Where once information was laboriously conveyed in person or via the written word, it now flies around the world almost instantaneously.

The impact of this on the knowledge economy is vast. According to intellectual capital merchant bank Ocean Tomo, in 1975, intangible assets accounted for just 17% of the market value of the S&P 500. By 2015, that figure had risen to 87%.

These intangible assets are made up of brand equity, intellectual property, and so on. The largest single component of more and more enterprises is human capital: the people of an organization, what they know and what they can do.

Freeing the information

Before the internet, these people came into the workplace with their natural abilities and knowledge and kept up to date on an annual schedule of training courses. That pedestrian approach won’t cut it today.

With so much information available for free, whatever is unique to organizations needs to be shared rapidly internally. This allows employees to make the best use of it as a differentiator before competitor organizations catch up.

This imperative for speed is at odds with the traditional training department’s usual approach: first, create a beautiful, information-heavy course for delivery. Next, schedule attendance, and test on completion.

Moving this model from the classroom to online does not make learning sufficiently faster, nor more effective. The result: training departments are struggling to adjust in a world of digitized information.

New roles for training

There is an answer. Training departments must accept that their role has changed from instructors of information to curators of content and facilitators of the conversations around it.

This enables people to learn fast from the vast amount of content that already exists in organizations, rather than waiting for someone else to turn it into a course first.

It is also the only way organizations can compete in a world where knowledge is no longer power.

Real time, real problems

Áine Hurley, Head of the People Performance & Culture Practice at Odgers Berndtson, London confirms a broader picture of how HR and specifically the approach to Learning & Development has evolved.

“Besides delivering information in a way that keeps pace with digitally-savvy employees, used to finding things out with a quick Google or a how-to YouTube video, learning and development thinking is reshaping itself in other, more fundamental ways.

“It’s more holistic in nature. In other words, whilst the learning experience does have an online dimension where you access the information at your own pace, it’s also anchored around tangible business objectives related to the organisation’s needs. It’s often likely to be a team effort, so you develop as an individual as well as a member of a team.

“This delivers a more rounded contribution to the business, moving colleagues and leadership forward in a way that the traditional ‘training’ model isn’t geared up to do.”

Editor of Inside Learning Technologies magazine, Donald H Taylor is the author of Learning Technologies in the Workplace, published by Kogan Page in 2017. He is also Chairman of the Learning and Performance Conference, and the Learning and Performance Institute.

Áine Hurley

Áine Hurley is a senior member of the Board Practice in the London office, where she also leads the HR Practice. Her team is responsible for recruiting HR Directors as well as experts in Talent, Re...

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