Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Open source your skills development

It’s time to harness the innovations in higher education.

Early in my career, I worked for IBM. Back then, the “glass house” datacenter controlled access to all information technology resources. This model demanded centralized management of IT assets, tight control over all development efforts and long planning horizons. Stability, reliability and rigidity were hallmarks of this era. Eventually, however, the enormous cost and slow pace of this model lead to its undoing. First through the growth of distributed computing and more recently through the rise of software as a service. Each evolution has reduced the cost of managing computing, and more importantly has significantly accelerated the pace at which new technology initiatives are deployed.

A parallel situation has been occurring with the management of corporate learning and development. Trying to centrally manage training and employee development is too slow and too expensive to meet the rapid pace of change within organizations. Recent studies show the half-life of workplace skills are five years or less. How can any group possibly have the knowledge and know-how to keep up with all of the change? A more organic, open source model is needed; one that enables an organization to respond more quickly to the rapid changes in workforce skills.

Today the higher education community is taking on this challenge. Innovations are bringing about lower costs and more rapid development. In the past few years, we have seen the emergence of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), competency-based learning programs, short-course formats, and accelerated degree paths, to name a few. These innovations open up a game-changing opportunity for Learning and Development professionals.

Learners (whether they are consumers or employees) are already taking advantage of this opportunity. They recognize that in today’s economy there is intense pressure to continually learn new things and stay competitive. Witness the growth of MOOCs alone over the past few years. The top 5 providers served close to 17 million students in 2014 (Source: EdSurge). Over 400 universities now offer MOOCs with 2400 courses offered increasingly in specializations that are of interest to employers - cybersecurity anyone? And this is just one of the innovations occurring.

Employers can gain the following advantages by harnessing these innovations.
  • Cost-effective –it’s less costly than developing your own programs or sending employees to traditional programs.
  • Speed – it allows quick access to new content in order to develop new skills in a rapidly changing world.
  • Learner appeal – programs are delivered in consumer-friendly, online formats that drive utilization. Even better many of these programs provide a credential.

New model for corporate learning and development
How can Learning and Development (L&D) professionals open source skill development in their organizations? What’s needed is a new model for sourcing and managing these programs. The time and effort spent in building content and infrastructure can be redirected to providing employees access to the vast array of relevant programs already available from higher education and training providers. Changing the focus advances the real purpose for L&D: to develop employees.

The rapid changes occurring provide a great opportunity to leverage the resources to develop your own virtual academy. One that supports the skills and competencies you want. There are four key elements of this open-source model:
  • Learning supplier network – some may call it a learning portal, but it’s essentially a network of participating education/training suppliers. L&D would have the ability to direct existing supplier relationships into the network as well as augment it with new providers that are providing innovative content and programs, ideally at a preferred price. Support for different formats (e.g. online, classroom, blended) to meet the different needs of learners as well as support resources such as advising will be important.
  • Learning mapped to employer needs - having learning content for content’s sake serves no purpose. The learning must ultimately support the skills and competencies needed by the employer. This model can automatically map educational programs to the company’s unique talent development needs. Also needed is the ability for L&D professionals to set the standards and choose the providers that are associated with quality in their organizations.
  • Sourcing and procurement – finding and identifying new suppliers is an on-going effort since the learning needs of the organization will evolve. Mechanisms to make that happen easily and quickly are critical. Since the learning is delivered by an external supplier, the need to securely purchase programs will be critical as well.
  • Analytics – in this new model, it’s important for the L&D team to understand which suppliers are performing and which ones are not. This measurement can take several forms such as program utilization, employee satisfaction, cost or a combination of factors – it all depends upon the employer’s needs.

Education is undergoing a sea change and now is the time for smart employers to leverage the innovations. Organizations that adopt a different corporate learning and development model will gain significant advantages, especially in their ability to rapidly deploy new and relevant programs for their employees and stay competitive.

About the Author
John Zappa is a co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Knoitall, which helps employers develop the skills of their workforce through private learning marketplaces.  An industry expert on lifelong learning, John has spoken at numerous industry conferences including Chief Learning Officer Symposium, Society of Human Resource Management, and The Conference Board, and has co-authored articles on corporate tuition assistance programs and talent management. 

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