Bridging Learning Ecosystems and E-coaching for Mastery, by Katja Schipperheijn and Matt Poepsel, PhD


Recently, we wrote a blog post (“From data repository to collaboration platform and bridging the knowledge gap”) that described how a range of IT infrastructures are being used to stimulate the flow of knowledge in organizations. In that blog post, we described the characteristics of “Stage 5” organizations that are using social learning techniques and learning ecosystems to bridge the corporate knowledge gap. That post received a strong reception, and in this post, we would like to describe the next frontier of learning and performance: learning ecosystems embedded with E-coaching to support individual mastery of new knowledge and skills.

The addition of an e-coaching platform and related ideas are based on prior doctoral-level research (Matt Poepsel) and a year of consultation with corporate organisations. In fact, the idea to link a learning platform and an e-coaching platform came from a customer who set out to implement a new training program after moving on from the methodology it had used for the past 20 years. This organisation wanted to dramatically improve its performance outcomes by developing a technology-enabled combination of social learning, manager coaching, peer coaching and self-coaching formats. The old way of working simply wasn’t working any more.

This leading organization envisioned how a combined social learning/e-coaching platform could extend the learning ecosystem and create an innovative means of making sure the lessons translated into real change on the part of participants. It is now clear that a coaching-enabled learnscape can close the knowledge gaps in an organization and produce performance outcomes by properly supporting the mastery of new skills and capabilities by its employees.

The LearnScape

Social Learning Closes Knowledge Gaps

According to recent research by Deloitte, companies spent over $130 billion in 2013 on training and development worldwide, yet we have seen that those organizations still struggle to make knowledge available to their employees precisely when they need it to succeed. In her 2014 Social Learning Handbook, Jane Hart describes how people at all levels now realize that “learning the new” is vital in order to stay on top of the knowledge and skills relevant for their work. In a world of increasingly rapid change, the half-life of a given skill or “stock” is constantly shrinking and is now around 5 years.

While most organizations understand the importance of presenting job-relevant information as well as how flows of knowledge can cross the knowledge gap, too many have failed to create such a lean learning environment. Many learning management tools are archaic and are no match for the new reality described above. Social learning tools need to be incorporated in corporate platforms in order to provide a modern and effective learning experience. Not-all-that-new technologies such as smartphones, tablets and Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) can be used to create a learning environment that appeals to all generations.

The new reality is that workers don’t contact their Learning and Development counterparts when they need learning to fulfil their daily tasks. This helps explain the rise of social learning tools like Wikipedia, Twitter and even You Tube in corporate settings. Company intranets and collaboration tools are now stimulating social learning by incorporating social features ranging from Yammer’s microblogs which are being used to answer urgent questions to discussion forums that are stimulating group learning and problem-solving. Using increasingly sophisticated learnscapes, knowledge workers are very open to share what they have learned, and they are also seeking out like-minded peers in order to the find the knowledge they need when they need it.

E-Coaching Supports Behaviour Change

There continues to be tremendous interest in coaching inside organizations. Coaching is often seen as essential to performance management, workforce readiness, leadership development, and other critical talent-related activities. Despite the stated organizational interest in coaching interventions and programs, the implementation of coaching is often superficial. Too many managers, for example, want to coach their direct reports but have little idea what this really means and too few examples of how they are actually doing it.

The growing interest in coaching has been paralleled by new developments in technologies – developments that may make the promise of coaching more achievable in organizations. The steady rise of E-coaching now promises to provide Learning and Development professionals, managers, and individual employees with scalable, structured ways of putting coaching techniques to work in specific real-world situations.

Using an E-coaching platform, the same things that professional coaches do with their clients every day – conduct assessments, facilitate goal setting, develop action plans, examine performance outcomes, weigh options that may produce results, and drive commitment to achieve stated objectives – are being codified into coaching programs that can be used by any “Manager-as-Coach”.

While training and learning are about knowledge acquisition and retention, coaching is about behaviour change. The question at the heart of coaching is in essence “What am I going to do differently to improve my results?” New E-coaching platforms are seeking to enable more people inside organizations to take on and succeed in a coaching role to the benefit of their charges and the business results alike.

Linking the Social Learning and E-coaching for Mastery

While the developments of social learning and e-coaching platforms are each compelling on their own, it is becoming increasingly clear that the two may be most powerful when they are combined.

Consider a common scenario: a shift in the business environment has created the need for a new way of working with customers. In order to support this organizational change, existing employees now need to learn a new set of knowledge and skills and put these into practice.

Historically, the learning department would develop a monolithic training program and conduct the broadcast instruction being careful to monitor compliance. After the courses had ended, managers would miss the coaching opportunity to reinforce and apply the learning, and most of the benefit would dissipate quickly leading to chronic underperformance.

With the advent of new learning and coaching solutions, the picture is quite different. The need for new knowledge and skills is identified as before. In this case, however, the learnscape is stocked both by L&D professionals as well as Subject Matter Experts. Social learning allows the employees to engage in a combination of traditional coursework as well as modular and flexible formats. Real-time search gives them access to just-in-time, contextual learning assets, and they’re able to connect with peers for additional instruction and support. Managers are able to utilize pre-configured E-coaching programs to reinforce the learning and transition the knowledge to real-world scenarios. They are prompted to facilitate the necessary behaviour change on the part of their reports using powerful coaching practices including goal-setting, self-awareness, accountability, execution and iteration.

In the second example, the result is the individual’s mastery of the new knowledge and skills in a way that matches the current operating environment and their own preferences in terms of learning and development.

We look forward to a time when social learning and E-coaching ecosystems allow employees to continuously upgrade their knowledge. This type of continuous improvement is becoming increasingly important as the demand to “acquire and apply” new knowledge and skills is steadily accelerating. Fortunately, the same technological advances that are driving this demand are also offering a corresponding solution for those organizations that are willing to embrace the new possibilities.

Katja-Matt Poepsel

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