As part of our latest thefuturestory event on May 7th, we hosted lunch-time workshops where attendees in corporate communications roles could discuss their challenges with experts from different sectors. Our workshop, led by Kate and Guy, joined two interesting topics together: social business and open learning. We explored how, if at all, these two topics applied to the  attendees' companies, and as usual, with such a rich mix of businesses represented around the room, it wasn't long before the conversation was in full flow. We also looked at how data, in all its forms, can be information and knowledge, and the alternative ways storytelling can help to share this knowledge.

Inspired by the adidas Group’s Corporate University, we started by discussing a blog carnival that the company held a few years ago: a discussion around learning and what the future of learning looked like. It was an open forum where employees could share their thoughts and the results were unsurprising. People wanted to learn on their own terms and move away from the classroom. And so the blog carnival informed the new learning strategy for the adidas Group.

The adidas Group is now changing the way they learn from 80% classroom based learning to just 10% (did you know that 50% of classroom learning is forgotten within the hour?) and have adopted the idea that learning is teaching and teaching is learning, so that everyone has the opportunity to learn, and to teach. The group identified that this was a particularly beneficial shift considering the wave of Gen Zs that will soon flood the workplace as younger generations are certainly learning in a different way and pushing the boundaries. Being a Gen Y, I find the place I go to for the quickest answers is Google, which probably makes it the place I learn the most from on a day-to-day basis.

We established that having different learning opportunities in place puts a company in a favourable light from a recruitment angle and will certainly attract employees in the future. And of course, online learning is very easy to track and measure, though genuine feedback perhaps isn’t given as willingly. Other obvious benefits include it being an easier option for multi-lingual companies, and learning online is a more flexible way of learning if you’re able to dip in and out of it.

But open learning isn’t for everyone and it may not work in every organisation. It was noted that in older establishments people are less likely to want to share their knowledge. In many places, knowledge is still power, and when it’s shared, it’s shared selectively. But what we need to start doing is thinking differently. When you share your knowledge, you become a source of information for other people, and surely that’s powerful in its own right?

Also, the challenge that digital learning, for example, brings is eradicating human interaction altogether. We all agreed that face-to-face learning is invaluable as it focuses more on the individual and questions can be asked and answered more easily. It’s important to remember, however, that everyone is different – some people need regulating and others don’t. Perhaps it’s worth trying something like open learning with small pockets of a wider audience first – but is this promoting the idea that learning is for everyone, everywhere? Possibly not.

There’s no doubt about it, I’m a huge fan of open learning, but I couldn’t help but wonder, through all the stories people had to tell around the table about learning in their organisations – is something only creative and exciting until it’s formalised? By making an informal idea, formal, how easy is it to keep it fresh and enticing? A thought for another day I think!

From the benefits (or not) of an opening learning culture we began to talk more about social business. What is social business? Well, it’s just business. It’s about being open and finding a mechanism that allows that to happen. A business that challenges itself rather than thinking ‘we’ve always done it this way, that won’t work’ is a social business. And the problem is that regulated industries will begin to feel this more and more, people wanting to push the boundaries of what has been the norm.

The main points that we took away from our workshop were firstly, that sharing is a necessary future, it’s happening everywhere and we can’t avoid it. Secondly, finding a story to hook and engage your employees, through all the tools available to us today and everything that’s being shared already, is still so very important. And lastly, whether something is right for a business entirely depends on their organisational culture.

There's no doubt about it, we are changing the way we do business: open learning, social business, whatever it may look like, we need to be open to change. Businesses must be ready to adapt, and the adidas Group is an example of a company that is doing today what other organisations will do tomorrow. Exciting times ahead and I can’t help but feel so fortunate to be a part of them.

If you'd like to come to our next thefuturestory event, you can register your interest here.