Continuous, Curated Learning: The Business Case

Business is changing. The Towards Maturity Benchmark Report notes that 72% of CEOs believe the next three years will be more critical for their industry than the last 50. The challenge to Learning & Development teams is how they’re going to help their CEO and internal customers stay smart in uncertain times. We need to shift to a model of continuous and curated learning in the workplace. Here’s why continuous curated content matters to businesses, and how Learning Professionals can make a business case for it.

The drivers for business: continuous learning is a competitive advantage

If you worked for AT&T 30 years ago, you were probably feeling pretty good about things. You were working for the company that once owned the patent for the telephone. How cutting edge can you get? You were trained once at the start of your career, and that stood you in good stead until retirement. Skills for life, a job for life. Learning is for newbies.

Flash forward a few decades. AT&T find themselves fighting to survive. They’re chasing the tails of companies less than 10 years old, and losing to them. What happened? In simple terms, they didn’t keep up with changes in their industry. They got Ubered (or in their case, Googled, iPhoned and Amazoned).

Think back on any piece of knowledge, training or skills you acquired 10 years ago, or even 1 year ago. How relevant is it today? To make the lesson of AT&T personal: whatever skills and knowledge have got you this far in your career are not going to get you or your company to the next stage.

For proof, read Exponential Organisations – Why New Organisations Are 10x Faster, Better and Cheaper than yours (and what to do about it). It’s a sobering read for anyone who thinks they’re on top of their game:

  • The average shelf life of a business competency has dropped from 30 years in 1984 to 5 years in 2014
  • 89% of the companies on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 were not on the list by 2014
  • The average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has decreased from 67 years in 1920 to 15 years today
  • In the next 10 years, 40% of all S&P 500 companies will disappear from the list

The only defence against our skills and businesses becoming irrelevant is to remain agile and continuously learn, becoming what Google calls a “learning animal”.

Continuous Learning is an Economic Imperative

The Economist recently ran a special report on the economic imperative for lifelong learning. They note that with 47% of American jobs susceptible to automation, technology will force change on people and the skills they need to remain employable. As they put it:

The answer seems obvious. To remain competitive, and to give low- and high-skilled workers alike the best chance of success, economies need to offer training and career-focused education throughout people’s working lives.”

So what do you do if you’re AT&T? Get smarter, and fast. Continuous learning is their only hope for survival. Their CEO’s edict is that everyone spends 5-10 hours a week continuously learning to “stay on top of the firehose of new information”. And if they can’t stay on top? “Mark my words, if we don’t do this, in 3 years we’ll be managing decline”, their CEO says.

Do they even have that long?

“In a world of rapid change and increasing complexity, the winners will be those whose rate of learning is greater than the rate of change and greater than the rate of their competition.” – Tom Hood

Learning continuously is how the winners will stay ahead and outpace change. That needs to be fed with curated content that’s recent and relevant.

The drivers for learning: 14 Reasons why Learning Professionals Should drive continuous learning

So we need curated content to help us stay sharp and continuously learn. But who’s going to find and filter this content? Most people don’t have the time to do it for themselves every day.

In our view, the modern learning professional is ideally placed drive this change in the organisation. If you need to convince stakeholders (or yourself) that this is the right shift for L&D, here are 14 reasons:

  1. You’re giving people what they really need. Formal courses only account for about 10% of how we learn. The rest of our insight comes through informal and social learning from each other. So curated content fits right in with our preferences, into what Jane Hart calls everyday learning.
  2. You’re saving people time. Towards Maturity found that two thirds of leaders say that they struggle with finding the time to learn, and 44% can’t find what they need, despite having the desire to do this.IDC estimates that the average knowledge worker spends 9.5 hours a week searching for information. If you could reduce that by just 10%, what would that mean for efficiency and productivity in your organisation?
  3. You’re reducing costs. Budgets for training are under constant pressure. Curating content on the latest trends in pricing, management skills or big data is a lot cheaper than building a custom elearning course or a blended programme.
  4. You’re helping the organisation to stay agile: By being outward looking and alive to the next trends in your sector, you considerably reduce the risk of your organisation being sideswiped by disruption or a competitor’s actions. That’s very different from the traditional mode of L&D.
  5. You’re adding value. You’re not just aggregating content from multiple sources. That’s what machines do. You’re acting as an intelligent human filter, drawing attention to what really matters – because you understand your audience, their needs and their context. It’s a very personalised service – and it scales really well if you use the right tools. As Beth Kanter put it, you’re spotting the awesome.
  6. You’re providing a more responsive service. If a sales team wants continuous, curated learning on the latest trends in Nanotechnology, or an overview of a new prospect, or a regular set of insights on pricing, effective curators with the right tools can respond rapidly. By the time you’ve built a course to answer those questions, the question will have changed.
  7. You’re helping teams stay smart. Rather than producing courses that decline in relevance over time, effective curators are continuously keeping teams briefed on what matters to them. You become a go-to resource. You’re reducing FOMO. And it doesn’t have to be a massive drain on your time.
  8. You’re building your own expertise. A great side-benefit of being a content curator is that you consume a huge amount of information in order to filter and select what’s relevant. For your own personal development, it’s a great way to stay sharp and develop your own skills. It’s also very rewarding to deliver really relevant content through curation.
  9. You’re creating a lasting resource. Curated content, if well managed, remains relevant over time. There’s long term value in hand-picking the very best articles on sales leadership, SaaS pricing, or Negotiation skills from authoritative sources. They become the new reference sites and knowledge bases.
  10. You’re helping people be self-directed. 88% of learners want to take charge of their own learning experience. Set up properly, continuous and curated content is self-service. It’s not an enforced linear experience like a course, you’re serving up relevant content for people to tap into. You can create paths and structures, or let people make their own.
  11. You’re encouraging sharing and working out loud. The number one way we learn is through knowledge sharing in small focused groups. Great curators do not present themselves as experts who have the final say on a topic. They start the conversation by saying why an article is relevant and invite people to comment. Curation is the engine behind helping teams to share insights and work out loud.
  12. You’re delivering at point of need. Learning teams need new approaches to help their customers deal with information overload and increased competitive pressure. If you could say to your internal customer that you can help their teams stay up to date on any topic, in less than 10 minutes a day, on any device, with no need for a course, would they keep listening?
  13. You’re defending your competitive advantage: curating and sharing valuable content every day is by definition helping people to learn and stay smart continuously. Curation habits are the best safeguard against becoming obsolete.
  14. You’re harnessing collective intelligence: by inviting collaboration within teams to discuss, add value and act on content, you’re harnessing the power of collective intelligence, and encouraging others to find, filter and share relevant content in their teams continuously.

Make the case for continuous, curated learning in your organisation, and you’re making the case for business survival in an immensely challenging environment. That’s as close to any CEO’s heart as L&D can get.

 

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Stephen Walsh

Co-Founder at Anders Pink
Stephen has spent over 20 years in Learning Technology. He is the co-Founder of Anders Pink, a new free tool for continuous, curated learning.

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One Reply to “Continuous, Curated Learning: The Business Case”

  1. Stephen

    Very timely, perfect for a meeting yesterday!

    Whilst your article is aimed at internal L&D professionals I think the points are relevant to all, as often the expertise in specific fields within a company lies inside various functions.

    In my experience the barriers to curated knowledge-sharing are human, not technical (the tools have been here for years) – as a practice it requires an investment of time and attention.

    I think that’s why I like what you have written – expressing a clear business value is the way to get managers’ attention.

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