Learning with and from Others: Restructuring Budgets for Social Learning: Now Is the Time for Learning Professionals to Embrace Social Learning as an Emerging and Engaging Way to Enhance an Organization's Learning Strategy

Article excerpt

A confluence of issues, both mitigated and unmitigated, has arisen over the past several quarters. Budget cuts, staff reductions, travel embargos, and facility consolidation have left many chief learning officers and learning professionals clamoring for the emergency brake. Add to this the rising inferno (and demand) of social media, informal learning, and anything to do with a 2.0 moniker--including social learning--and you have yourself a full-blown learning crisis for the learning profession.

Given this pending calamity, it's time for learning leaders to rethink their strategy to make social learning an important piece of the learning spectrum. Leaders should be embracing it, but it does require new approaches in leadership and budget planning to successfully execute.

More with less

Despite recent and modest gains in the economy, training budgets continue to decrease, and doing "more with less" is a repeated utterance throughout the profession. No matter the study, training budgets have been and continue to reduce or run flat. In a 2009 IDC report, training budgets decreased on average by 19.5 percent. Bersin & Associates indicates that overall training budgets have shrunk by 21 percent since 2008. ASTD research also suggests that corporate learning investment, as a percentage of company payroll, has decreased from 2.24 percent in 2008 to 2.14 percent in 2009. Clearly, a fiscal pattern is emerging and corporate learning budgets are running flat or, worse, dramatically shrinking.

With less corporate learning investment often comes the causal effect of fewer people to actually do the work. According to IDC, the ratio of company employees to learning professionals has increased. In 2008, each learning professional supported 197 employees whereas in 2009, this number increased to 260. It's no different with research surfaced by Bersin & Associates which found that the median learning and development professional ratio fell from 7.0 staff members per 1,000 company employees in 2008 to 6.2 in 2009. ASTD reports staffing in learning-related roles dropped 8 percent in 2009. With fewer staff in learning-related roles, there are observably fewer learning professionals supporting the overarching learning strategy and execution plans.

Enter social learning

Given the meteoric rise of social media in the consumer space, it was only a matter of time before various 2.0 technologies surfaced within the organization. The trend may have started with Facebook and Twitter being used inside company firewalls as a toe in the water, but it quickly shifted to specific social media tools being developed for specific corporate uses. Unlike other technologies, practices, or processes, social media inside the organization, for many companies, doesn't belong in one single business unit; it lazily shifts among interested parties regardless of function or title. Further exacerbating the issue is that the use of social media inside a company, to many, seems to come across as a negative time waster. Andrew McAfee of MIT recognized this dilemma and argued there was a place for it inside a company and coined it Enterprise 2.0, specifically "the use of emergent social software platforms within companies."

But where things have really gotten interesting of late is that many social media and thus Enterprise 2.0 opportunities inside of a company have translated into a new term: social learning.

Social learning can be thought of as the use of Enterprise 2.0 opportunities and technologies to help facilitate the learning experience of employees. Blogs, wikis, microblogging, YouTube-like video sharing, tagging, ranking, virtual worlds, discussion forums, and generally any other form of user-generated content (for learning, communication, and marketing) are both practical and engaging ways to complement the learning strategy of any organization.

Ultimately, learning organizations will effectively evolve if they consider including new social learning strategies. …