March 31, 2022

The Learning Culture of Tomorrow is Democratized


Est. Reading: 24 minutes


LMS365 was pleased to sit down with Fosway Group’s Senior Analyst for Learning Systems, Fiona Leteney to look into the trend of democratized learning and how having an open knowledge sharing culture can be fostered and made possible by the strategic use of digital learning and content creation tools.

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The Learning Culture of Tomorrow is Democratized

LMS365 Intercultural Communication Specialist, Candace Stephens sat down with Fosway Group Senior Analyst for Learning Systems, Fiona Leteney to hold a conversation all about democratized learning, including what it is, what it means for modern organizations, some of the challenges experienced in implementing it, and the tools that can help support this more open knowledge sharing learning approach.

In her work for Fosway Group, Europe’s #1 HR industry analyst, Fiona gathers vendor, customer, and market insights to support corporate clients in accelerating their decision making across all aspects of next generation learning.

Listen to the full 45-minute podcast above or read the transcript below to learn more about how democratized learning has transformed the flow of information in companies of all industries.


Candace Stephens – LMS365:

Welcome everyone to this podcast episode and this conversation surrounding learning solutions, where we’ll be offering a peek into how these platforms can benefit organizations in all industries, looking to enhance their learning and training structures.

My name is Candace Stephens and I’m representing LMS365, which is a modern learning management solution. My position within the company is the Intercultural Communication Specialist, which means my focus is really on strategic content creation. that’s both inclusive and accessible for our global audience. And I’m very excited to be joined today by our special guest, Fiona Leteney of Fosway Group.

Fiona is the Senior Analyst for Learning Systems that Fosway, which is Europe’s number one, HR industry analyst. And she’s worked in the learning technology market since 2000, gaining a wealth of experience by either selling, implementing, or managing learning solutions in a corporate context.

Fiona joined Fosway group in 2016. And is the primary lead on research in the learning systems market, where she’s gathered vendor, customer and marketing insights that have really helped corporate clients accelerate their decision-making across all aspects of the next generation of learning. So, with all of that welcome Fiona.

Fiona Leteney – Fosway Group:

Thank you, Candace. Great introduction. Yeah, absolutely. I’m looking forward to this as well.


I like to roll out the red carpet and you obviously have a wealth of experience and I’m coming in from really, a newbie position on this topic that we’re going to be talking about today. So I’m really excited to pick your brain and share that with our audience as well.

So excited to talk about today’s topic, which is drum roll, democratized learning.  Which I came across this topic in my work, as at LMS365, we were looking at the trends and new methods of learning that were emerging.  And I became really interested in democratized learning of course, for its benefit.  On learning as a whole, but I really liked how it’s driving a different way of looking at collaboration within a team and fostering more trust and autonomy within an organization.

So again, very thrilled to hear more about it from your side and to speak more about the topic today with you.


Yes. I am too, because it’s actually an interesting trend and very topical, I think at the moment.


So we’ll just dive in and Fiona, I’d love to hear how you would describe a democratized learning method or structure and how you’ve seen this trend reflected in companies that you’ve worked with.


It’s such an interesting question.  And I think I’m defining democratized learning and it could, I think we’re having different, words for it, different phrases. And some of it is user-generated content and, sort of, open knowledge sharing that kind of thing.  And I think in a way this has been around, it might not be something that L&D departments have actually had their arms around as such. But, I think it is something that is now beginning to be, much more, talked about because there is technology to kind of help facilitate it.

And I remember going back quite a number of years when we were doing an audit on a tech software company talking to one of the distinguished engineers as one of their stakeholders. And I’m asking, so how do you pass, how do you share knowledge about the product, the pre-sales, pitches and things like that.  And it was a kind of, an email or an in the office.  Do you remember that in the office?  Yeah, it was that kind of sharing and in teams and around a table and that kind of thing, or passing that through on an email and update, a newsletter.

So, I think it’s been there for quite some time.  It’s just that we have started to talk about it a little bit more because we’ve moved on from., I’m thinking of L&D as just focusing on the formal learning and that we now also think about, because we understand that learning is not just in the classroom, it’s actually peer to peer and it’s also on the job. And I think, we’ve kind of moving into that area and seen how L&D can actually influence and naturally facilitate some of that.


I know when I was first diving into the topic, I mean, being an American, I think I had a skewed sense of democratized learning. I was like, okay, democracy, I see where this is going. But what, what really interested me is that the base of democracy, when we talk about that is that the power is really in the majority rather than, a few people at the top or a few people determining it.

And so, I think that’s where we talk about this more shared, open access to learning that’s the majority’s responsibility rather than just a choice few in L&D. Of course it’s, giving them a little bit of a break as far as having that huge responsibility, but it’s also just showing the wealth of different types of content and diverse content that can come from different voices and different people.


And I think on that, there’s also the fact that a lot of people that are involved already, they are actually learning from each other, but don’t necessarily understand that. So when asked a question and then maybe that the company survey: “So have you been involved in training or learning, this year?”, they might say no because they haven’t been to a classroom, so they’re expecting to have that formal piece.  So I think, we need to be as well, just, making everyone aware, learners, aware that they are actually learning on a daily basis. It just might be a different way of doing it.


I mean, especially when you think about just the diversity of learning content, quote, unquote, but absolutely that you see on YouTube or Wikipedia even, or LinkedIn that is created by so many other people. And you can read an article and learn something new, and you don’t consider that.  And I think that’s kind of where our minds are, like well I didn’t sit down for a course and get quizzed after. So did I learn something?  But I think that’s, what’s fascinating is that, I guess when we look at Wikipedia and all those things that are co-created, and that there’s a lot of other people that are helping with this learning process, which I think is really interesting.

My next question would be what are some of the challenges that can be solved by incorporating a more open culture of knowledge sharing within a company or organization?


So, I think this can come from a number of angles, the sort of the benefits of this. And so the challenge often for L&D is that they just lack resources. So, they tend to be involved in the, making sure that, we have the compliance content. We have, perhaps onboarding, we have leadership training manager, training, those sorts of programs that are quite often what L&D will be focused on.  And so.  But there is so much more in particularly the learning that’s going on elsewhere. That’s what is actually the core of what is moving the company on as well.  So we often, preach about the fact that we need to be, measuring the impact of learning.  And if you are closer to the business and where that learning is happening in the business, you can, much more likely be able to manage that.

So just, just an example. I mean there’s a lot going on in this sort of the sales enablement piece.  And if you start there, it is quite easy. If you deliver a piece of content or even if it’s just one USP that somebody has been able to deliver in a particular way and has made the sale. If you can pass that onto the rest of the sales folks and say, “have you tried this?” or whatever, you can measure the impact of that person who might be. Either an expert or an influencer in the organization and you can measure that impact.

The challenge has always been, not being able to measure or struggling to measure the real impact of learning, in a sort of an ROI way. But I think we need to push the boundaries so that we can do that.  So, I think, I think being able to. Understand what it is that is affecting the business. And also being able to, work out from maybe the CEO or whatever the C-suite, what are the things that they are losing sleep over the L&D needs to get involved in?

I mean, great example of that was actually COVID and, when we’ve seen that over the last few years and how L&Ds had to pivot. They’ve had to change very, very quickly in terms of how they are delivering things.  And sometimes it’s from that perspective, it could be on a, I dunno, a retail situation where your processes suddenly have to change and you’re managing to get that information out quickly.  And so, L&D have had a great role in response in that.  And now that things are hopefully getting more under control and we’re going back to some sort of, real life normality and, less remote than L&D still needs to have that influence on how they are involved in making a difference to the business.

And so, it’s getting close to those business folks and finding out what it is that they are learning and how and who from.


So, it’s really just mapping the learning that’s already happening. Like you’ve said, democratized learning methods have already really happened because I just imagine, when you’re new to the company and you have someone taking you around, they’re like, “okay, this is how we do it, but I’ll also, I’ve done this tip or trick, and it really helps me”, or, oh, when you are working with this type of client, this is really helpful too.  So it’s, I think it’s also just really showing appreciation and recognition for those small learning moments that happen. And I’d imagine when there is this culture of more open knowledge sharing and it’s recognized as being important and significant. It’s able to operate a little bit easier with less obstructions, with less barriers. And also you have, of course the buy-in from the CEO’s and such, because they’re able to hopefully more comfortably track what types of impacts that that’s showing.


I think, yes. And a lot of these things that maybe going on so informally that actually, as you have grown as a company, things could get missed. And I think that’s always the case, that, as a startup, things might sort of happen organically and just internally and it’s fine. But as you start to grow, you actually need to get processes in place. So you can make sure that that little tip that was given to one person, because they happen to speak to that particular individual actually gets shared around everybody and is available to, in a known place, to actually draw from. And, getting to know who are the experts in the area is another thing really.


Exactly. So that’s, I mean, that’s definitely, I think we have already kind of danced around some of the benefits, but are there any other, huge benefits of having this open knowledge sharing and this learning culture that you’ve witnessed in your work with other kind of corporate companies?


Yeah, I think, for a learning development department, the benefit is having that extra resource and that can actually be a bit concerning initially because L&D like to have a bit control over what’s published and what’s and then maybe the quality assurance etcetera, but and that’s fine. There was one particular, supplier of a system, that was talking about delivering, the ability to, for subject matter experts to create content. And they were making it available to absolutely everybody. And my initial question was, and this was a few years ago, was “so who are you selling to?”  And it was the HR department. I just absolutely got this. And I said, but when you talk to L&D you might need to provide a means to switch that on and off.

So, they know who it is, who are the content creators.  So, I think there’s a little bit of a relaxation from an L&D perspective are just to kind of be sure that these folks are experts and can actually provide be a great resource that can create content that doesn’t have to sit in a queue for quite some time.

I had another situation where it was a manufacturing organization that has, their sales department in Europe. They had trainers as part of that sales department and those trainers, came to us to say, we could do with a system for us to put sort of training on it. And I, I knew the organization and said, “But you’re a large organization, you should already have, a learning system of some sort.”  And, they said, “well, yeah, the L&D department is controlled, centrally they’re in the states.” And actually when we asked to have something put on, it was going to be six months before they could, they could do that.


Oh, wow.


And yeah, that is not a good thing.  Their problem, or the L&D department’s problem was that they were being reduced in number. Their resources were being cut away and so, they’ve got so many other things they needed to do. And the other side of it was in the sales department, the trainers there had plenty of resources available to them because they were going back to a previous point, they were making an impact. They knew that as they were training on the product, and that knowledge sharing, they were actually getting results. They were seeing sales go up. And so their local teams and were the departments where they had funding.

And so it’s, the benefit for L&D is that they will gain extra reserve resources, certainly from the expertise point of view. And as well as potentially other funding as well.

So it was only recently, this week, I think I read an article about the TikTok owners. Now, what phrase did they use, “dissolved” their talent development departments and they were, and I knew, whoa, that sounds a little bit scary.  And they were quoting things like, because they had limited practical value, whoa.  And a disconnect from the company needs.

Now going back to measuring impact. I know I’ve said this a few times now, but it is so important that an L&D department is allowed to move into this area and be able to show their impacts on the business, on the success of the business. So that when some C-suite member comes to them as those actually limited practical values that, actually we’ve got the data.  We can show you exactly how we are making a difference.  And if with more resource we could actually even make a bigger difference. So you need the data to be able to do so. So I think the benefit of going down this democratize learning route, and making sure that there is some tracking of that, some facilities that potentially and technology that the L&D department could use means that it’s opening up to resources and satisfying areas that they just haven’t got the resource to do that.


That’s really, that’s really interesting.  And so many great points that come up there because like you mentioned, I think on, on one level and one of the first steps is really for L&D to have that trust in their  subject matter experts.  And to allow that autonomy of content creation to happen.  But to also, like you said, have the tools that have the capabilities to monitor in some way into, instead of having to just create everything themselves, at least release that responsibility a little bit.

And then of course, safeguard and approve of the content that’s going out.  Because I think that will also create, just more of an open culture and collaborative culture where L&D is not just this siloed department, that’s just shooting out all of this information, but they’re really collaborating and cooperating with the other departments. Which is just great, I feel like for team building in general and respecting the expertise of other groups, but also on the other level, if you, again, if someone comes and says, I don’t know how viable this is or how beneficial, L&D is to the company, they can say, well, not only are we producing all of these learning opportunities, but we’re also raising up and collaborating with all of these different departments that would be affected if we were to be minimized or diminished in a ways.

It’s almost kind of, I feel like I see the, the visual of like, kind of getting your tentacles in a few more of the departments.  So, it isn’t just this one department that’s L&D all of the responsibilities on learning.  So, if learning fails, it’s your fault. It’s actually saying no, there’s this is a collaborative, cooperative adventure that we’re going on together is building this learning for the whole department.


You’re absolutely right. As collaboration is key, and we’ve actually seeing a lot more of that being needed, working in a remote kind of situation. We’ve needed to work out how to do that virtually. Collaboration has always gone on, and whether you’re talking about in an office and sort of, chatting over the desk, you hear something and you can get involved in and help and  answer a question that somebody else  might’ve just voiced to somebody else and you just get invaluable naturally, or whether that’s in a classroom as well, the collaboration within a class. Being able to learn from peers, as well as from the trainer is just kind of happens naturally and at the breaks as well, that launching time it’s great.

So doing that virtually, we have had to find ways of doing that and the collaboration, can mean different things in different parts of organization or even, you know, different products out there. So there are those that are collaborative authoring, but also there are those that will provide, collaboration for cohorts going through programs. I mean, it’s a great word, but it means lots of different things to different people, but, but I think it’s absolutely, what we have, I think, seen more, we’ve gathered during COVID the value of actually being with people and collaborating with people. And when we are on our own, then it can actually be, quite difficult as well.


Difficult, and I think again, detrimental to the whole organization when, some information can be lost in some ways. And also, you can talk about employee retention and how that actually feels of feeling alone and not part of the department.  But yeah, I think collaboration we’ve also seen and kind of going back to, “what are the new measures of success or ROI and collaboration features, or the capability for your teams to collaborate?”  I definitely think could be something that, the C-suite can be looking at and really celebrating and looking at it as a metric that should be analysed and appreciated more because there are so many benefits that can come from those quick conversations or just the sense of feeling like you can go to someone and get a quick tip and then share that through a platform and share it with the whole team. So that tip does, you know, live on and spread.

And I think that’s a perfect segue to my next question, which would be, what are some tools that you’ve seen that really promote this more collaborative, open knowledge sharing, democratized learning aspect in companies?


So, I think, we’re seeing that a lot of the learning systems are adding, the simple authoring tools into the systems themselves. So I’m not talking about authoring tools like the articulates or the captivates or those that are generally used by learning professionals, the instructional designers to create e-learning content.  I’m talking about some very simple tools that might allow somebody just to add or a place that they can add a video and share it with their peers, and then get them to comment on that. Or ask a question or share a document and what some of these tools also do is allow you to, sort of recognize and then follow the expert. So, when this particular expert will publish something, you’re reminded of that. You’re notified of it.  And so, and also, some tools actually monitor, how many experts there are publishing. And then one of them says that their research is probably about 5% of people within an organization are actually publishing so there can be a certain level of experts in a company that are publishing, and they do say that it can be around about 5%. So not expecting everybody to be contributors or to be those that will actually do that.

But there are some people that both have the knowledge and are willing to share, and that actually maybe comes to a culture thing as well, to be able to encourage people to actually share their knowledge, which is in, in some cases might a) they don’t want to be shouted down. I think that’s always a potential problem. But also, it might be something that they want to keep hold of themselves. But again, that’s down to sort of culture with that trust you mentioned before that trust piece, not just coming from a learning development department, but also internally with our peers, you know, developing that trust.  So yeah, there’s a number of things, as I say, it’s a trend, it’s something that is beginning to, be made available within learning systems.  And therefore, it’s something that there are other tools now for L&D to kind of use that so that they can actually step out into, let us help you do this. Let us help you, facilitate that collaboration.  That’s, that’s going on so that it can be monitored, and you can, you can see who are those experts?

I think this is one of the things that, I saw this in a system quite some time ago and I’m not sure it took off back then, but I think it is something that’s starting to be used and can be really beneficial now. And that is where you can see who’s at the… I’m thinking I’m doing this because I’m thinking of a spider diagram, it’s sort of like pinpoints where there are lots of people, a lot of connections to that particular individual, that person is just the expert. What would happen if you took them out of that situation?  Either they leave the company or they are moved into somewhere else where they’re not necessarily connected to.  What then happens, to the rest of those connections?  Is there somebody to be raised up, to be able to take that place to be the next expert, if you like?  So having that, you know, there are some technology is around there that can actually, monitor, that kind of thing as well, which I think is often a really interesting to be able to see, who are those gurus, those go-to people in the organization, and that maybe they should be encouraged more as well to create the content and, share their expertise.

That’s in a more informal  way in, because obviously they’ll go to people and, but they are, if they are actually creating that content so that it’s there when somebody else is ready to receive it, because that’s the other thing, if you don’t have to be in the right place, the right time when somebody is delivering that,  in a live situation, then you’ve got to have somewhere where the information is stored or if it’s written  down or there’s a video of it, that’s the place to go.  And this is a worthwhile piece of content.  And everybody locally, everybody in the peers knows that that’s worth listening to. And that’s crucial as well, having those peer likes as well, because those are the things that are available as well these days is those likes, all star ratings or whatever to show what’s useful.


Yeah, absolutely. I think in that hit on again, so many things, because I know in our company, we use Teams for example. So, Teams channels is really where we live, we work, we learn, we communicate and it really does help us build this culture of this open and appreciated knowledge sharing for so many different things. Because as it’s simple, just to get a like, or a heart on something you share, that’s just saying, “Hey, I was working on this document, thought this could be beneficial for things going forth.”

I know I do this a lot where I’m creating content for a complete other campaign, but if it’s a really great boiler plate or something that I know, oh, this might be able to be used again in a different context, I’ll share it.  And just simply a like, or a heart or an of course, technology that could see how many of those posts are being made and how many people are connecting with that content would be so beneficial to be able to map out.

And I think it’s really a great point you talked about as far as, hiring and retention and turnover.  When we think of, if that person was plucked out, where is that information being held or housed, was there some type of formal collection of that information that they provided?  And if so, that would actually make it much easier for someone to step in. And I would imagine for HR to say, okay, we need someone who has this type of experience, or this would really be beneficial because that’s the hole that we see has been created by, you know, this position being lifted off.

There are so many benefits that can come from these smart tools and how they allow collaboration, but also foster the sense of appreciation for the subject matter experts or just the people that have certain expertise in areas. And I think it also relieves those subject matter experts. Cause again, like you said, not everybody wants to be looked at as the guru and not everybody obviously has the time and energy to  just be answering all of their colleagues’ questions constantly that are coming in. So it also relieves them of having this huge responsibility to constantly answer these questions where they can maybe put, focus on putting something they know into a more formal course that can live on and stay, as long as they stay with the company or after which I think is really great.


Yeah.  And I think, I mean, Teams is great, and Slack and you know, that sort of collaborative areas.  But sometimes it needs as well, a little bit of organization kind of, within that, because those comments can get lost and they might need something, having, like you say, some place to go. And I think a lot of, if there’s a good search engine within the content, there’s that metadata that can allow somebody just to search on a particular subject and find that video or that document or those comments. And then that’s kind of useful.

It also reminded me of something that, it was actually in the nuclear industry. Now, there are certain things that go on in that industry where things only happen very, rarely. So if there’s a piece of maintenance that has to go on or whatever, then actually having somebody just film that somebody’s an expert, who’s doing it because there are certain industries where there is an aging population and, it was when you talked about, plucking somebody out, who has the expertise who’s ever, who’s got the expert experience to do that particular job, in the future.  And so yes, having that record of, how that particular thing or the various problems they might have, come across at that time, which maybe there might be, a procedure to go through, but there might be somewhere in that there was actually, a particular problem that they came across that was kind of outside what was expected. And they solved it in this particular way.  And then when you’ve gone on you’ve missed it, but if you’ve got something that’s making a record of that, then that’s a great opportunity.

Also, I’ve just remembered another, I think to do with that, just, I suppose, performance support. So just helping somebody, and needing it in a very, very quick ans easy way.  So that just a short piece of, information that they need. So the guy that was telling me about this, gave the example of, you know, one of their field engineers being up a telegraph pole, needing to know I have got, you know, a couple of ways that actually have disconnected and I need to make sure they go in the right place and he’s got his phone to be able to find out the information quick. He doesn’t want to have to go through a whole e-learning piece of e-learning find that out and go to page 13. So finding that it’s, quickly with a good intelligent search engine, then that’s something that, some systems are beginning to do. And, I think that’s the direction of travel as well that we need to be able to find this massive information quickly and get to the right points.

And so even having, if it isn’t a video, knowing where it is that if the system can actually take you to the couple of minutes you need, that’s the message that went through.


That’s so interesting.  Especially when you spoke about kind of the aging out of experience that I don’t know if that’s the appropriate way, but I just immediately thought about how great of a tool this could be for HR.  Like for off-boarding, we especially talk about onboarding a lot, but off-boarding for knowing that  if someone is leaving a position, you know, trying to take some of that, experience and their insight down. And I don’t know if it’s, making a whole course, but having just some bullet points of this is what really helped them in their position. And this is, some tips that they’d like to leave with us. I think, obviously, we would love that all off-boarding is done in a really great and respectable and collaborative way. And I think that could be an awesome way to make sure that information isn’t completely leaving with that person when they, when they do go.

And to then again, keep it collaborative and keep it open so more and more people can learn from it.  But I think that’s really fascinating how those tools can be used and for all the different purposes.

Well, I mean, I could keep going, but I do have just one final question. And I know you’ve given so many different pieces of advice and insight, but what other aspects would you say, or what other recommendations do you have, Fiona, for organizations looking to adopt a more democratized learning method in their company?


I think the first thing, and we mentioned this earlier, but going out to the business and working out how they already do this, you’ve got the product sales teams or the customer-facing teams in whatever industry that might be in and finding out how is that knowledge already passed on. And is it a case of there is somewhere on a SharePoint site, or there is somewhere that is being used, but it isn’t necessarily, easily accessible, and just be able to work with the technology that you have and just help them, you know, to facilitate it and find those experts that can help create content that is going on. I’m sure within, there’s often the subject matter expert is not in the L&D team. But it’s potentially having the content much more simply delivered.

What I mean by that is not necessarily needing it to go into a piece of e-learning. I was talking to one of a very fast growing FinTech company in Europe that, when they started out, they hadn’t have a learning system, but they started at that sales enablement and with just creating content that was needed at that moment in time and putting it somewhere. And as a small organization, they were able to kind of pass that information around and it was only the other thing about the sort of the sales team. They only have time to read the things that are actually going to make it better for them as a salesperson, the company, and also their customers. And so, it focuses your mind very much about not delivering things just for…it’s nice to have it be very, very focused. This is going to make an impact and we can measure this impact as well.

So, I think, before you kind of want to put it into a system, then making sure that content and it’s simply made, it’s not, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a traditional piece of e-learning. It can be quick video documents, just what is needed at that moment in time. Don’t overthink it. I think is one thing, but then be able to, as I say, as things grow.  Have, the technology available to facilitate these things.  And there are a lot more systems now beginning to do this.  And so, it might be a specialist in a particular area rather than, within your own suite.

So it’s really just starting with what you have assessing, your needs and your wants, your goals for having this more open knowledge sharing and the types of information that you’re really finding that your teams are needing and starting with that. And then looking for the tools that can help you to scale up if that is, in your goal, that can allow you to keep that open network collaborative as you grow and it’s not, as we said before, it’s not for the sake of just doing it. It is, “How is this going to impact the business?”

That’s the bottom line is, don’t bother unless it’s actually going to have an impact. And that impact could be just making sure that your teams are all going off in the right direction and that kind of thing. And the other is there is talk and there is collaboration and you’re facilitating that. But ultimately, you need to affect the bottom line. I think that’s, becoming much, much more important these days.


Absolutely!  Oh, well, that’s a beautiful note to end on, even though I know I could keep going. I feel like there’s so much, I’d love to dive into this topic with, but I just want to thank you again, Fiona, for joining me in this conversation today about democratize learning and really the future of learning. Where it’s going in general, and I hope all of you listening have taken some helpful tips and insights from today’s conversation. I know I have a lot to think of, and yeah, again, thank you for your time, Fiona, it’s a joy.

And just for sharing your experience from your work with Fosway Group, and even before that, and we really look forward to seeing what shifts this conversation can create in the learning space. Thank you again.


Yep. My pleasure. Thank you very much for asking me.


Bye for now.

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