Social learning ranks high today among the priorities of learning and development professionals in businesses large and small. It’s easy to see why -- studies have found that informal knowledge sharing among colleagues is responsible for 70 to 80 percent of the information employees learn on the job.
But how does the increasingly popular trend of social learning differ from the more established practice of knowledge management?
At their core, these activities are two sides of the same coin: both are concerned with information sharing among employees to drive greater productivity, collaboration and the preservation of institutional knowledge. It’s the way in which these two practices accomplish their goals that sets them apart.
Social learning in the business context refers to all the informal ways that we learn from our colleagues through face-to-face interactions and through technologies like unified communications and enterprise social networks. We learn socially anytime we observe others, ask questions and share our knowledge. Businesses that support social learning have environments that foster conversation and collaboration between learners across the organization.
While social learning evolved from the informal sharing of information among colleagues, knowledge management began as a top-down approach to preserving institutional knowledge. As organizations have grown and become more complex, and as individual subject matter expertise has become increasingly essential, businesses have taken steps to formally curate and catalog internal information about company products and processes.
Social learning and knowledge management's roots differ, but both are critical to organizational learning and require processes and systems that facilitate their adoption. Here are three essential elements to making the most of both approaches to preserving institutional expertise.
Catalog Knowledge in an Enterprise Content Management System
Centralizing an organization’s knowledge assets is a critical step to ensuring that those assets are easily shareable and discoverable. Often, the central knowledge library comes in the form of enterprise content management (ECM) systems.
Most ECM products support a range of content types, from traditional documents and records to social content in the form of blogs, wikis and discussion feeds. As organizations increasingly incorporate user-generated content into their knowledge library, it’s important to apply content approval workflows that ensure the relevance, accuracy and appropriateness of the information being shared.
Plan for Video-Based Knowledge Sharing
By 2017, Gartner estimates that 50 percent of all business content will be non-textual, with video among the fastest-growing types of new enterprise content. This trend isn’t surprising given the wave of Millennials entering the workforce and the fact that video provides a more engaging way to communicate.
The growth of video-based knowledge sharing, however, places new requirements on organizations for how this data is stored, analyzed, searched and delivered. Whether a company is recording training courses, live streaming town hall events, or enabling individual employees to record and share their insights and ideas, traditional ECM systems aren’t designed to store massive video files, provide reporting on their usage, search the content within videos, or stream video efficiently across the corporate network.
To address the unique needs of video, a new class of enterprise software called video content management systems (VCMS) has emerged in recent years. VCMSs simplify the capture, management, search and delivery of video using a combination of web-based “YouTube-like” portals, software for recording and live streaming, and search engines that enable employees to find and fast-forward to any word spoken inside videos.
As organizations incorporate video into their social learning and knowledge management practices, it’s important to ensure that the VCMS integrates with the existing ECM systems. This prevents video-based knowledge from becoming siloed from the organization’s primary knowledge repository.
Create a Culture of Knowledge Sharing that Starts at the Top
To make the most of our natural tendency towards social learning, encourage employees to capture the information that they share informally. Often, the best way to create a culture of knowledge sharing is to start at the top of the organization. When executives share their ideas and learnings through informal recordings and contributions to the enterprise social network, it sets the tone for the rest of the organization to follow suit.
By creating a culture of knowledge sharing, companies actually benefit twice. First, they enable their experts to use their time more efficiently -- sharing their knowledge once in for scalable, on-demand playback. Second, they broaden the reach of knowledge across the organization -- enabling any employee to benefit from information whenever and wherever they need it.
Social learning and knowledge management are important elements to any company’s learning and development programs. When companies employ the right combination of technology, process and encouragement, they stand to improve the impact of their learning initiatives by leveraging the unique advantages of both approaches.