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 organisation, 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 organisations needs to be shared rapidly internally. This allows employees to make the best use of it as a differentiator before competitor organisations 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 digitised 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 organisations, rather than waiting for someone else to turn it into a course first.

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

Real-time answers

Tim Baker, Consultant in the HR Practice at Odgers Berndtson, London suggests how HR and Learning functions can keep up with modern consumer behaviour.

“If I am learning to put up a shelf, I no longer turn to books or sign up for a course. I search Google or watch a YouTube video. Professional learning needs to be the same."

“By creating platforms for knowledge sharing, content can be made and accessed instantly and in real time. By offering forums for conversation around a topic, organisations can harness the expertise that exists in their people to respond to questions and add new thinking.

“The interactions we see on social media with “likes” and “comments” can be replicated in learning technology, encouraging individuals to share content and receive immediate feedback and, at times, challenge thinking too.

“Organisations can also monitor the data to establish what areas people are most looking to learn about, and these insights can inform both HR and organisational strategy.”

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.

Tim Baker

Tim Baker is a Consultant in the HR Practice of Odgers Berndtson and focuses on the recruitment of senior HR professionals, primarily into Financial Services, Media and Technology organisations. Pr...

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