Employee-to-Employee Learning: Should We Foster More of It?

Advances in technology and changes to the ways we access and share knowledge are reshaping workplace training and development.

Training magazine’s 2013 Training Industry Report shows how this reshaping is taking place:

·      44% of training hours at U.S.-based businesses were delivered last year by an instructor in a classroom setting—a small but telling decline from 45.2% in 2012.

·      28.3% of training hours were delivered with blended learning techniques in 2013, an increase from 27% in 2012.

·      25.9% of hours were delivered through online or computer-based technologies, up from 24.7% in 2012.

·      About 16% of hours were delivered through virtual classrooms and webcasts, a rise from 13% in 2012.

·      3.3% of hours were delivered via social learning, up from 1.1% in 2012.

·      1.9% of hours were delivered via mobile devices, which is nearly double the percentage from 2012.

While much of the learning occurring in the workplace is still being delivered the old-fashioned way—by instructors who are face-to-face with their pupils—the Training report shows that remote learning, virtual learning, social learning and mobile learning are all trending upward. One question the report doesn’t answer is this: how much of this learning is happening on an employee-to-employee basis?

We found no reliable statistics to answer this question. But a Fast Company article by Sara Kessler makes a pretty good case for why the answer should be “Not enough.”

The article describes a learning program at Google—fittingly called Googler to Googler—that puts employees into teaching roles, which the company believes is a “good business idea.” Kessler writes: “Telling your employees that you want them to learn is different than asking them to promote that culture themselves. Giving employees teaching roles, says Google’s head of people operations, Karen May, makes learning part of the way employees work together rather than something HR is making them do.”

In short, employee-to-employee learning at Google is about instilling a culture of learning. And it happens to be an effective way to teach, the company avows. Google’s data (which it declined to share with Kessler) purportedly show that employee teachers perform as well as teachers “who facilitate employee education as their primary job.”

Obviously, employee-to-employee learning won’t suit every organization or fit every learning culture but it’s certainly worth a closer look by employers who want to bolster their learning and development strategies. While employers are exploring alternative forms of learning for a number of reasons, perhaps the primary reason is improved performance. Research from Bersin by Deloitte shows that organizations with strong learning cultures significantly outperform their peers: their employee productivity is 37% greater, they’re 35% more responsive to customers’ needs, and they’re 17% more likely to be leaders in market share.

It’s awfully hard to argue against numbers like those.