Lately, everything I seem to be reading on Twitter and blogs seem to be about social or peer-to-peer learning. Okay, I may be exaggerating – not everything – but consider that only one year ago in Australia, the term was relatively new and not widely mentioned at learning and development gatherings and conferences. All of a sudden, it’s on everyone’s lips. And I mean everyone. People in learning and development; people outside of learning and development. Vendors who sell LMSes and even those who don’t. I can’t help but feel that I’m being swept up in the “next big thing” as people get excited that this will solve all questions around the impact and value of learning and development departments in organisations.
Part of me is excited that people are finally taking note and listening. Another part of me is dreading it for fear that some organisational learning teams will simply treat this as another medium and attempt to enforce, control and measure not business performance but the contribution and participation in the programs instead. Some of the comments I have heard previously are:
- “Let’s just add the discussion board function to each of our current training programs. Hand over the program content to someone who can make it into a social learning program and we should be right.”
- “In order to pass this course, you will be required to post at least three (3) replies to the discussion board for every module topic”
- “We have 30 people registered in this program but only two people contributed in the discussion in the last two weeks. Let’s get their managers to send them an email and ask them to respond into the discussion board within 2 days.”
My reason for this anxious feeling is based on my own personal experiences of social and how much of a transformative journey I had gone through these last three years to get to where I am today. And I’m STILL learning. The issue is from hereon, I have to be CONTINUALLY LEARNING. We all have to be continually learning. That means not one person is the “teacher” or the expert. We all have something to share and learn from each other.
So when I’m asked to run facilitator-led sessions on teaching people how to implement social learning into programs, I get a bit antsy. It doesn’t ‘sit right’ with me. I need to clarify their understanding of social because it means different things to different people. To some, it’s about how to make their content more engaging; to others it’s about learning how to use social media; and to others it’s not about using (or being allowed to use) social media at all. Only after I have clarified their understanding, I know what I’m working with; their personal biases towards technology and social media and their expectations of me.
(Also the traditional face-to-face one-off event is not aligned with the social learning experience which is a great equaliser. I want to be the one sitting down with everyone else and be inspired by new ideas, perspectives and insights from others as we work on a niggly problem together. I don’t want to be the person *telling* people how to do something. Instead, I’d like to inspire them to try their own methods and find what fits right for them).
For the last year, I have been working with organisations to explore how they can help their geographically spread teams to co-operate and break down the silos using different mobile and social open and enterprise tools. My performance consultancy background comes into play here as I analyse their current business situation, the tools, processes, systems, policies and procedures in place for their employees and how these are helping or hindering in their work. Then, based on my own research, curation, experimentation with tools, apps and platforms, my networks and connections, I am able to customise a learning strategy for their consideration.
Each of my clients have specific business needs and their budgets vary. Organisational culture and senior stakeholders who model and BELIEVE in social are ‘deal breakers’. (You don’t have these? No two ways about it, you’re going to have a battle on your hands). That’s why I’m always uncomfortable running standard generic ‘social learning one-off workshops’ that I get asked to do without doing the proper analysis before hand and asking some questions like those below.
(Besides, as people close to me can attest, I’m an introvert. My palms start to sweat and my heart beats rapidly every time I speak publicly. Facilitation is not my forte although this is what many people ask for. I much prefer to work one-on-one in a trusted business adviser and “partner-in-learning” capacity with my clients but I digress….)
So rather than giving my clients a ‘stock standard social learning workshop’, I ask the following questions because then I know what I’m dealing with and able to structure a program, an experience – that is less about the tools and more about changing our behaviour and perspective of the tools when it comes to workplace learning and connecting.
- What’s the business performance issue they are trying to solve?
- What’s the organisational culture around knowledge sharing?
- Do their key senior leaders model social behaviours?
- What social tools and technology do they have access to?
- Are they allowed to use personal and mobile devices in their work?
So what I’m saying is that how social learning is implemented can vary. What would suit a major corporate client with a geographical spread office-based workforce and super tight firewalls with strict social media policies will not suit my small business clients who would like me to review their content and guide them through how they can customise their 5 day facilitator-led workshop into a blended social learning program using open source tools like Google communities.
As new ideas come to the fore, as models and modes are developed and adopted, making sense of them, putting these together in a practical, pragmatic, usable and relevant (to the individual) way becomes tougher.
This explains why I’m finding it tough to explain to people that social is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution – and oh, guess what, you need to BE the change too.
I’m not going to lie. Explaining social learning has been difficult because it means that you’re also questioning the role of learning and development teams. You’re questioning their processes, you’re questioning how they do business. You’re questioning how much of a role model they can be in this new world of work when they approach social in the way they’ve approached business requests. Admittedly, it does feels awkward. What I can at least hope for is that for individuals in learning and development teams are open and curious to exploring, learning and trying things out but more importantly, they have managers and leaders in their organisation who are also willing to do the same.
Partners in learning.
Starting on 1st of June, I will launch an ‘Activate My Learning’ campaign. Every month, four tips, tools and ideas for learning will be emailed to you to learn, try and experiment. Feel free to join the list! #activatemylearning