With much research pointing to the many benefits of open knowledge sharing in organizations, the democratization of learning has become an essential and advantageous addition to learning and development (L&D) teams in all industries. By democratizing, or making more accessible, the learning opportunities of your workforce, remote instruction becomes a shared effort among the instructors, content creators and employees themselves.
The term “democracy” goes beyond the standard governmental definition. In the more general sense, a democracy can be defined as a group or organization where the majority of the members hold the power, rather than a choice few leaders or managers. So, when we speak about the democratization of things, it really just means that there is a wider access to and control of the particular thing by a group which works closely with it.
You can take the democratization of knowledge as an example; this represents the sharing and spreading of information to all people, not just those seen as privileged or superior in status. In the past, this meant “common people” would be given access to education that was formerly reserved for academics or royal figures.
The democratization of knowledge soon morphed into the democratization of content, which you can easily see represented in modern media outlets such as Wikipedia, YouTube and LinkedIn. Content is no longer just curated and created by the “chosen few”; Individuals by the billions are now the creators, consumers and sharers of content, making information seamlessly accessible to the global population.
“Forward-looking organizations offer a glimpse into a future in which content creation capabilities are available to all.” Ginna Hall, Senior Manager of Content Marketing, Allego.
So, how does this bring us to remote learning management? Well naturally, as more education and trainings are being moved online, content creation and administration is more vital to remote learning than ever before. By incorporating democratized learning in your employee training, daily work and organizational education, you ensure that all employees are not only receivers of diverse content, but the creators and managers of that content as well.
In the past few decades, typical learning was administered using a top-down information structure. This means that key information came from the “top” —managers, representatives, leaders, etc.—and was disseminated to the staff or students under them. This has been commonplace in organizations as well, under the belief that information should have necessary gatekeepers around it.
However, what democratized learning abides to is a bottom-up structure of learning, where the employees and learners themselves are sharing information with their peers and the managers and instructors in higher positions. This is achieved through many different ways, but namely by identifying the resident “experts” among your workforce and giving them a platform to share their expertise.
“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch, CEO, General Electric
When provided with the opportunity, these recognized employees—commonly referred to as subject matter experts or SMEs—have the ability to spread tacit or implicit knowledge to their peers. This results in higher employee collaboration, increased peer-trust, and the important recognition of employee’s talents. All of these are crucial ingredients to rapid knowledge sharing, employee retention and organizational resilience.
Though there are many disparate features and aspects of democratized learning, Todd Blayone and his team of researchers found four specific characteristics of democratized digital and remote learning structures:
- They address the root processes of learning, and by doing so, promote the inclusivity of information
- These structures run in opposition to traditional learning structures that made education authoritarian and restricted, by putting more of the learning experience in the learners’ hands
- Organizational members have space and encouragement to express their thoughts and expertise freely as creators, as opposed to being only consumers of information and content
- They empower the collective with learning and with digital technologies, correcting the many inequalities of access and competencies
These characteristics act as a guide for organizations who are looking to up their democratization game and bring more diversity to their learning management.
Democratizing Learning Benefits: For Learners
Learners receive some of the largest benefits when organizations begin rolling out a democratized style of learning and working. Firstly, in a democratized learning setting, employees receive more recognition for their unique talents and skills, boosting recognition and resulting in higher employee retention.
Additionally, by incorporating a Learning in the Flow of Work structure through accessible blended learning content, employee training success is improved and many typical learning stressors are eased.
One of the biggest boosts of democratized learning structures is that learners have more space to access and acquire information in a way that best works for them, including accessibility assistance, device capabilities, and 24/7 information availability. In this way, learning is wherever the learner is, ensuring that employees are always kept up-to-date and current in both work and training matters.
Democratizing Learning: For Instructors and Managers
Beyond the consumers of the learning content, democratizing learning also gives great benefits to the creators of the learning content as well. Most notably, by encouraging more bottom-up and horizontal communication, the pressure of creating content that engages your audience is released as the learners themselves are contributing to the content quality by creating what engages them.
Instructors and managers can also make use of polls and employee discussion spaces to identify how their learning content is processed and interacted with, cutting down guesswork and content troubleshooting. No more guessing what employees want or need to know; learning becomes a collaborative effort amongst creators and users.
By communicating more with learners to see what is actually needed most and received best, managers can spend more time on learning management rather than content creation, boosting productivity and leaving room to focus on building a thriving remote learning environment.
“Previously our tax specialists would deliver learning by visiting all 31 of our offices throughout Denmark. Now learning can be made and delivered in less than a day. The time and cost savings are huge.” – Sonny Moric, Director, HR – Learning & Development, BDO.
Democratizing Learning: For Organizations
It’s no surprise that democratizing learning ultimately benefits the entire organization, as both learners and managers are empowered with new ways of communicating and collaborating. For instance, when given easy access to share content and expertise, employee and learner collaboration is enhanced, lending itself to deeper peer-trust, cooperation and innovation.
And with a democratized, “all hands-on deck” learning structure, the organization begins to problem-solve and strategize among themselves, improving creativity and building resilience: two key ingredients for lasting success in an ever-changing environment. The organization is not only better informed, but better prepared to face whatever the future has in store.
The most substantial benefit for the organization is the change of mindset that emerges from a more democratized learning model; a mindset that encourages learning at all levels, methods and times and promotes collaboration across departments and positions. This shift in mindset occurs within the organization’s culture of learning itself, leading to a more flexible, accessible and interactive organizational learning culture.
The first step to rolling out a new democratized learning structure is having the right technology to support your efforts. Whether you’re a professor teaching students online, or an instructor leading a corporate training, employing a learning management system (LMS) to help create, administer, measure your educational content is ground zero for building an efficient and democratized learning culture.
With an LMS, such as LMS365, managers can plan, communicate, monitor and share content in one agile platform. And as LMS365 is built for precise integration with the whole Microsoft 365 suite, you get the added power of applications like Microsoft Teams, PowerPoint, SharePoint and Power BI.
Utilizing an integrated learning platform such as this gives organizations the ability to easily shift from outdated top-down learning, to inclusive democratized learning through message boards, interactive meetings, custom employee certificates and engaging polls. By democratizing learning in your organization, you equip your employees with agile training and preparation, allowing you to build a resilient, informed workforce fit for the future.