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Why Communal Learning (And Cake Pops) Are the Future of L&D

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

Just as the tradition of annual performance reviews is on the wane, the concept of one-and-done training sessions is becoming increasingly outdated. The pace of technology continues to accelerate each year, and HR professionals can no longer expect to train people once a year (or even once a quarter) to keep up to speed—instead, employees need opportunities to constantly learn and improve their knowledge.

But it's also clear that HR can't serve as the only source of this knowledge. According to a recent study from Deloitte, the gap between the importance of L&D and the ability to act on it grew by 211 percent over the past year. In order to bridge this gap, learning not only needs to be continuous, it also needs to be communal.

Source Knowledge from Inside the Company

For years, I've been an advocate for a learning model that I informally refer to as "inside-out" development. It takes "build" in the "build vs. buy" argument to another level: If you want to build a custom training program for your employees, do it by leveraging the skills, talents and expertise of those same employees. Don't limit your construction team to HR if you want a truly valuable and comprehensive learning program.

At Cornerstone, putting the "inside-out" model to practice has proved invaluable. Here, the L&D function isn’t necessarily defined by the number of employees officially on the "L&D team." Our L&D team, with inside-out training, has a team of about 1,500 - that is, everyone in the company is in learning now.

And it shows: Cornerstone employees have completed 8,500 training hours in just a year and a half—all employee-generated, employee-designed and employee-delivered.

How can you apply the "inside-out" approach to your learning program? Here, four key lessons I've learned about cultivating a community-led learning environment.

1. Focus on Culture First

While I wouldn't consider myself a traditionally creative person, I've learned how to foster an environment where creative people thrive—and that's the key to inside-out development. You need to establish a company culture where trying new ideas is celebrated.

By empowering employees (regardless of title) to come forth and share their knowledge with coworkers, you'll create a more intimate organization where internal teaching will begin to occur naturally.

2. Identify Your Learning Champions

In order to make employee-led training work, you need employee advocates. Find people throughout the organization who are excited about the idea and willing to support you!

To start, conduct a basic needs assessment of your organization and identify the core opportunities for learning. Then, seek out potential presenters who excel in these areas and offer to help them develop a session or training course. You can coach them on presentation skills, ensure the content is relevant and accessible, and help them market the session—all of which are critical employee skills, regardless of department.

3. Embrace the Unexpected

If you want your learning program to be user-generated, it's going to be unique and unexpected. Remember: it's all about embracing new ideas.

The first time I sent around a survey asking people what they would be interested in teaching, I received more than a few outside-the-box responses: from a cooking lesson on cake pops to teaching people how to ride a bike. So, on our first "Development Day," one of the sessions we had was on cake pops—it filled up almost instantly and was a great team-building experience. The cyclist also gave a great session on bike safety and commuting to work.

Don't let your expectations of what learning should look like get in the way of a new idea. Hosting the above sessions alongside lessons on coding, remote working and stress management rounded out our entire program.

4. Always Be Iterating

Finally, think about how you can continue to impress and surprise people. Don't do something just because it worked before—think of new things to try and new ways to curate and present information.

For instance, how can you embrace new technologies to increase engagement? How can you continue to update existing sessions and identify new ideas? It's important to take full advantage of the knowledge offered, and find ways to create ongoing conversations—whether that's through virtual communities or ongoing courses.

As you continue to experiment with inside-out development, you'll find that your company strength, trust and cohesion will be positively influenced—and all by finding great people within your organization and helping them shine.

Photo: Shutterstock

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