elearning age, February 2011
Jane Hart is the Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. She has just published her Social Learning Handbook - from which the following is an extract.
Now that “social learning” is becoming a hot topic, organizations are beginning to consider how they can implement or operationalize it. However, “social media” is a very different beast from traditional enterprise tools, particularly because it is mainly being used at the grass roots level rather than being implemented by the organization. Social tools are not only changing the way that we think about “learning” but also how we apply them. This then begs the question, what is the best way to implement social learning within an organization?
The traditional way of implementing any new trend or technology – we have seen it with e-learning and the LMS – is to do this top-down. Someone or some people decide what tools/platforms are best for use within the organization and these are then purchased, installed and set up for employees to use. They then have to get the employees to use the tools, perhaps even train them to how to do so.
Those who looking to implement social learning in this way, will probably be asking questions like this:
- How will we get people to use social tools?
- How will we get people to collaborate and share?
- How will we ensure what they share is accurate?
- When are they going to have time in their workday to collaborate and share with their colleagues?
- What platform can we ensure everybody uses to allow us to track every piece of social activity that takes place?
In other words, it is seen in terms of imposing social and collaboration tools on the workforce, compelling them to share and collaborate, and then controlling and tracking what they do share.
But this approach is unlikely to work well with social learning and collaborative working, for a couple of reasons:
1. Those that are already collaborating, sharing and learning with one another, will resist attempts to force them to use other social tools or platforms in order to track and control what they are already doing. This may well push their activities even further underground.
2. Those that have yet to experience, understand and feel comfortable with social media will not want to be forced into sharing and collaborating when they are not ready for it, and are likely to resist attempts to make them do so.
It is very probable that organizations that take a top-down approach to implementing social learning will report that it has failed; that workers are not using their collaboration system, or that they are not sharing and that it is not effective.
A more appropriate approach, therefore is to use a supportive bottom-up approach, which is more about supporting those individuals who already are sharing and collaborating with one another and encouraging others to experience the benefits of social working and learning. It is also about recognizing the fact that social learning works best when individuals and teams have a genuine purpose, need or interest to do so, e.g. to deal with a common issue or problem or to support one another – rather than because they are being told or forced to do so.
Smart organizations are therefore asking very different questions about “implementing” social and collaborative approaches for working and learning, e.g.
- How can we support those who are already working and learning collaboratively?
- How can we build on what is already happening?
- How can we encourage those who are not already working and learning collaboratively, to do so?
- How can we provide services to individuals and teams to help them address their learning and performance problems using collaborative approaches?
In organizations who adopt this approach, social learning and collaborative working becomes an organic process. And as more and more people recognize the value of it, they will become involved, participate, share and collaborate. It is these organizations who will be more likely to report job and business productivity improvements, increased customer satisfaction and an improved bottom line.
There are a number of fundamental principles that underpin a supportive bottom-up approach to social learning:
1 – L&D doesn’t “own” social learning
When Marcia Conner, the author of The New Social Learning, was asked, in a recent interview whether social learning should be led by cross-division teams or should it be ‘owned’ by a specific division/groups, she gave the following answer:
“The idea any group or cross-division team can own social learning is like asking one department to be responsible for organizational health. The only people who can own social learning are the individuals who themselves are learning each day, from one another, based on their work and in the flow of work.
2 – Autonomy is a powerful motivator
In his latest book, Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, Dan Pink explains how autonomy (along with mastery and purpose) is a powerful motivator. He shows that the secret to high performance and satisfaction at work is the deeply human need to direct our own lives. He states:
“The opposite of autonomy is control. And since they sit at different poles of the behavioral compass, they point us to different destinations. Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”
3 – Better results come from “getting out the way”
Encouraging learner/worker autonomy is something that scares many organizations; and it certainly requires a culture of trust. Andy McAfee, a principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management, who coined the phrase “Enterprise 2.0”, writing in an article in Fortune Magazine, Taking the social media plunge: Learning to let go, says:
“If you want a good outcome, back off on process and get out of the way of people. Let them come together and interact as they wish, and harvest the good stuff that emerges.”
So “implementing” social learning therefore is not just about adding social media to the blended learning mix, but about encouraging autonomous, self-directed workers and learners. Although some will be comfortable and competent to address their own business and performance problems in this way, others will need help to acquire new information skills, as well as how they can use social media effectively and responsibly for their own personal needs as well as for team and group working. The aim is to help individuals and teams become self-sufficient so that they can address their own learning and performance problems. Timothy Clark and Clark Gottfredson reinforce the need for this in their article, Agile Learning: Thriving in the New Normal:
“As competitive environments increase in speed, complexity and volatility, organizations and individuals are compelled toward a dynamic learning mindset. Dynamic learning is defined as rapid, adaptive, collaborative and self-directed learning at the moment of need.”