Chief among the disrupters is social media. Before new hires start their first day at IBM, Persico said they’ve likely already engaged in the firm’s network of online communities through the recruitment and hiring process.
By participating in these communities, soon-to-be IBM employees have conversations with current employees and learn about the firm’s culture and their new positions.
Even employees who have yet to formally receive an offer from the firm may already know the ins and outs of the beginnings of their own development — their participation in social network conversations has given rise to a sort of pre-recruitment on-boarding that could not have happened 10 years ago.
“They, in effect, get engaged before they fill out their W-2 forms and all the things that you do on the first day of employment,” Persico said.
While most employees relish the opportunity to learn and grow as they advance their careers, social media has made the practice more transparent, accessible and engaging. And though its use as a learning driver may be in its infancy, Persico said employee development might be forever changed because of it.
Social media also has taken the loneliness out of the e-learning delivery platform and re-energized development among classroom proponents who favor its community element to continue learning once a course has ended. And unlike learning technology from a decade ago, the current distribution opportunity of learning content via social media and mobile devices is extensive, said Bob Taylor, CEO and co-founder of learning and development consultancy Orgwide Services LLC.
More organizations are also building their own social networks, hoping that by customizing their platforms to specific cultures and learning needs they can build a more engaging and collaborative learning experience.
General Electric Co. (GE) has an internal social network called GE Connect, and its own video sharing platform, GE Video Central. Both are used to bookend learning events and create a more connected learning community, said Bethany Tate Cornell, chief learning officer of GE Energy.
“Oftentimes we go back to our jobs [after a learning course] and we forget that we have this great network that we can draw upon,” she said. “So we’re trying to leverage GE Connect as both a front-end community builder and a back end, in terms of driving sustainability of the learning.”
Increasing learning connectivity has grown more important as business expands into new markets and divergent demographics of employees blend.
With an aging workforce — one of every four working Americans will be 55 or older by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — likely to stick around longer, and a spike of Gen Y workers already adept at learning through digital communities, it’s important that employee education become more inclusive, Tate Cornell said.
GE leverages its more seasoned workers as subject matter experts, teachers who lead discussions and learning events through social channels. This informal mentoring and coaching encourages seasoned employees to continue their own development and accustoms them to new tools and technologies, and it may give them new skills to use in the global business environment.
However, the most significant revelation in employee education isn’t necessarily in the technology itself. To IBM’s Persico, the rise of social media and other technologies has simply acted as an enabler for a brand of learning that’s been prevalent for years.
“We’ve been doing [social learning] since time began,” Persico said. “What you see now with the advent of this technology is just the enablement in the sense that people can do all of this [learning] much more vastly, readily and with larger groups of people.”