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Is the enterprise training department still relevant?

What does the future hold for enterprise trainingdepartments, especially in this era of Web 2.0? This is the intriguing question posed by Collaborative Enterprise in its ECOLLAB. According to the blog site,Ecollab-us-ad-408x60 copie   ECOLLAB “…is a cross-cultural idea laboratory to exchange perspectives with experts and practitioners on Social Learning and Networked Enterprise concepts to develop more resilient organizations.” The authors chose “training departments” as the lab’s first topic.

In response to ECOLLAB, Clark Quinn writes:

It can no longer be just about courses.  It’s got to include performance support, and informal learning. It’s got to be about culture, and learning together skills, and facilitating productive information interchange and productive interactions. We have technologies now to empower user-generated content, collaboration and more, but the associated skills are being assumed, which is a mistake.  The ability to use these tools will continually need updating and support.

Tom Haskins writes that training departments in collaborative enterprises must choose between:

·         living fearfully in the past and living optimistically in the future

·         neglecting technological advances or fully utilizing them

·         rejecting the younger generations or embracing them wholeheartedly

·         facing the future with self-absorbed resignation or creating a future by caring for common interests with many others

Harold Jarche writes this about the future of the enterprise training department:

The main objective of the new training department is to enable knowledge to flow in the organization. The primary function of learning professionals within this new work model is connecting and communicating, based on three core processes:

1. Facilitating collaborative work and learning amongst workers, especially as peers.

2. Sensing patterns and helping to develop emergent work and learning practices.

3. Working with management to fund and develop appropriate tools and processes for workers.

The only certainty about the future from here on out is that it won’t resemble the past. For example, instructional designers no longer have time to develop formal courses. Survival requires people who can navigate a rapidly-changing maze at high speed. They need to find their own curriculum, figure out an appropriate way to learn it, and get on with it. It’s cliché to say that people have to learn how to learn. Management needs to support self-learning, not direct it.

While I agree with these commentators, I think the training (and development) function in organizations should be designed around its ultimate purpose which is to help the organization achieve its strategic goals. As the great architect Louis Sullivan said, “Form ever follows function.” Given this sage advice, the question becomes, “What is the best structure for facilitating learning that will result in achieving business goals?” The point then is not whether a centralized or distributed department delivers training programs, or internal consultants facilitate self-directed learning, or even that technologists teach employees how to use Web 2.0 tools for learning.  These all are worthy activities.  The main point is that employees are learning and applying that learning to achieve strategic goals. That necessitates what we call the “5As Framework”: 1) aligning learning interventions (training, coaching, online support, etc.) with goals; 2) anticipating learning and success; 3) forming a learning alliance of learner with supervisor/boss; 4) applying learning to achieving business goals; and 5) being accountable for business results. Whatever structure (centralized enterprise training department, distributed training, collaborative networks, etc.) supports these elements, then that’s what’s needed.

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