Don’t waste budgets for knowledge workers
Real research – a prolifically miss-quoted set of statistics? A few weekends ago I was catching up on some industry updates and came across an interesting piece by Donald Taylor at TrainingZone. In the piece he reminded me of the study by Robert Kelley and his longitudinal study of knowledge workers at Carnegie-Mellon University.
In this often quoted research, it is suggested that little of what we need on a day-to-day basis is required to be held in memory, and in this case there is a greatly reduced need for corporate training and development functions (in knowledge based environments). It was said that in 1986 75% of the knowledge we need to do a job is held in our brains, in 1997 that had dropped to 15-20%, and it was predicted that by 2006 it would be between 8 & 10%. It is interesting that for a so called longitudinal study that no update has been made for over 10 years.
If this data is to be believed then 90% of what trainers and “learning professionals” have been doing for the last 20 years is no-longer required. certainly the younger generations learn very differently and the old ways just wont work with them in the same way. We need to adapt.
Is learning just about knowledge?
Now this is a very different question! Sure knowledge can be acquired through many different ways, but as team players and an interpersonal based species, we still need to develop behaviors. Mentoring and coaching have their place – but so does “classroom” based experiences and facilitation. The scary thing is that as each day passes there are more and more providers offering “off the shelf” training solutions, when what businesses need are more highly qualified and competent behaviorists, practical psychologists and facilitators – not boxed products, used by people that have a desire to develop people with a limited budget.
There is no doubt that “informal learning” is becoming more critical than ever. Now lets not lose the fact that informal learning has been around for ever, however as time goes on we are less embarrassed to ask our peers than ever before, and as knowledge and skills becomes more and more “just in time” this strategy is even more important than ever.
With the advent of technology, most computer programs now have built in help, but as i have recently read:
“… I mentioned a Microsoft Help. I don’t know about you, but I have tried to use Microsoft’s help approximately twice in my life. Absolutely totally and completely frustrated both times. I now never do that. I call a colleague, my “phone a friend” or sometimes I even ask the audience to help.”
There are some problems with his research, including:
- Most of the data was collected in relation to employees in one company – Bell labs (then validated at 3M)
- That the only people included were recommended by their line managers – bringing bias into the analysis
- That the outputs of the research form the core of a commercial training program (DDI)
- that the only obvious published work on this is the book “How to be a star at work”
There are no papers which seem to confirm this data (happy to be proved wrong). The source of the “data” appears to be a Gartner conference in 2006 in which a presentation included the slide:
Indeed, many sources on the web cite “Robert Kelley’s longitudinal study with knowledge workers“, however none quote a source, nor does there appear to be any original content to support this.
Sure there is some face validity to the idea that as time goes on, less people need to retain most of the knowledge they require – however believing there is a study that does not appear to have been published does not add credence to this idea.
If you are reading this and know of any references or papers please contact me and let me know – I have spent some time researching this and purchased Kelley’s books to see if there is any real data – but without success.
Knowledge workers have very different needs