New Literacy: So Many Languages To Learn
In case you weren’t aware, November is Financial Literacy Month. And if you happened to miss it, October was both Health Literacy Month, as well as Information Literacy Month, if you happened to be in New York. If you’re a regular visitor to eLearning Industry, you have surely come to appreciate how critical Digital Literacy is to the success of both learning and training through electronic platforms. There are more than a few proponents of early childhood coding training who insist that coding will be the sine qua non literacy of the 21st century. If you grew up reading and writing and consider yourself literate, all these measures of new literacy might come as a bit of an unpleasant surprise.
Literate Workforce Silos
Before you go into a panic over how you will catch up -much less get your team or organization up to speed on all these, apparently, critical languages- consider what the point of any sort of “literacy” really is: Α basis on which more people can communicate more effectively. While greater literacy facilitates better communication, the model can become overextended when we treat it as just another mode of specialization. Like the fabled collapse of the Tower of Babel, all our progress in advancing technology and role specialization has thrown the workforce into skills silos, each with its own distinct language and set of tasks.
In this environment, eLearning can be your babelfish, if you use it support not just up-training for specialists within their silos, but also cross-training to extend fluency between them.
When expertise operates within a silo, it can often come at the expense of collaboration. You can’t listen, much less communicate effectively with your doctor if you lack Health Literacy. Similarly, you can’t take full advantage of new technology -or stay relevant in the face of automation and changing employer demands- without sufficient Technology Literacy. You can’t stay connected and engaged today without Social Media Literacy - the list goes on and on.
Having teams and human resources each literate in any of these core realms certainly adds value, but maximizing that value requires such literacy to spread among other teams, individuals, departments, and specialists. When they are capable of communicating, they open the doors to troubleshoot collaboratively, to stimulate creativity beyond the confines of their silos, and generally add intangible value where it would otherwise never occur.
Fluency Yields Fluidity
The reality is that while expertise has its place, everyone could do with developing some additional “fluency” outside their strict realm of operations, and eLearning on demand may be the best available platform for that.
For one, it is an easy way to facilitate interaction and conversation not just about work, but about the substance of the eLearning curriculum. A little healthy debate over things as simple as terminology can be a huge contributor to company culture, and help improve understanding of the very concepts language exists to describe.
Fostering friendly discussion and even debate can be a huge advantage in managing change. When people are engaged with how they communicate, what things mean, and how language needs to change, they can shape the evolution of the company, the work, the mission, and the operational norms that govern everything they do.
Debate stirs engagement, and engagement supports progress. When team members talk about their language, they reveal their attitudes, their comprehension, their priorities, and their flexibility.
It can be a way to get folks on the same page regardless of their prior training or education, too. This doesn’t have to be as rote and patronizing as remedial college courses, but it does serve a similar purpose: Getting new hires as well as veterans on the same page when it comes to the language of the company, the industry, and the mission.
Every industry has its own language, but even having a specialized degree may or may not put everyone on the same page of the codebook that translates jargon. When the same introductory curriculum homogenizes specialists and familiarizes newcomers, they at least have foundational knowledge in common, and thus a starting point for conversation and cooperation.
Transforming Specialization Into Collaboration
Historically, the banking sector was the most popular destination for MBA grads, but recent disruption to the financial markets and emerging trends in real estate have changed that. Now, the rush of investing in real property -and growth of associated roles in the management of commercial real estate/portfolios- is causing seismic shifts in both the investment sector, and the makeup of MBA programs that feed it. More and more, they are adding the lens of specialization to focus the application of traditional business principles on the real estate sector.
What this means is that MBA students are not just gaining business skills, management training, etc., but are developing a secondary fluency at the same time - the better to interface with other professionals across industries. Under the cover of specialization, these programs put different departments and skill sets into context and generally show how multi-dimensional all business really is.
The same principle is being used in primary schools following the integrated Exploratory Learning approach. Rather than sending students through each subject in isolation, these schools focus the entire curriculum around a single topic or subject -like caterpillars or a local bird species-, then examine it through the different lenses of science, math, art, history, etc. This precludes any question of how each element of the curriculum is relevant, and forces students, if not to think outside the box, then at least to get a much bigger box.
Adopting a similar transdisciplinary cross-training curriculum as part of a corporate eLearning can have the same benefit to any organization. In this context, the point is to emphasize where all departments and roles overlap, rather than reinforcing existing silos and “not my job, not my problem” attitudes.
A Little More Conversation
This isn’t eLearning as coursework, but eLearning as an organic, ongoing group project. The future not just of healthcare, but of all industries lies in the ability of professionals to “learn to team”. This begins with learning to speak the same language.
When teams and specialized individuals can communicate, they can then develop situational awareness across organizations, rather than within silos. When internal conversations confront specific challenges and nuanced ideas, awareness can be applied interdepartmentally to all future opportunities and projects.
New literacy is not just the next big challenge you can face through eLearning, it is the next great opportunity.