How can your organisation achieve social learning that is dynamic, engaging and productive? What’s the L&D professional’s role in facilitating or enabling social learning of this type?
As social learning becomes more and more of an organisational priority, many people come to me with these questions. They are interested in not only creating a mechanism for social learning, but also ensuring that the social learning they enable is worthwhile to both the organisation and its employees. Social learning expert Julian Stodd helps point us in the right direction with respect to these questions in his article, “How to Create a Dynamic Social Learning Space with High Engagement,”and recommends looking to a few key elements for a productive social learning space.
I think there’s a lot of market confusion in this area and for good reason – any system with a social component (business/enterprise social network, LMS with social component, Q&A forums, document sharing software) is now boasting that they do “social learning.” And this is partially true. Any time you learn directly or indirectly from someone else, “social learning” of some type has occurred. The differentiator, in my mind, is the level, scope, breadth, and quality of social learning that a system can enable. For deep and meaningful social learning that will have an impact on your organisation and its constituents, I believe that a social learning technology should make engaging in social learning easy and effective for participants. As such, it should be able to provide people with ready access to others who are (1) willing and available to learn with or advise them, and (2) appropriate to collaborate with based on learning goals and interests. The technology should also provide intelligent recommendations for content and resources that can support participants’ learning conversations.
Conversation is one of the main building blocks of social learning. Think about it. It’s the asking of questions and sharing of personal knowledge, stories, experiences, opinions and so on related to the learning topic at hand that is the catalyst for the group’s social learning. And this happens through meaningful conversation and dialogue. As an L&D professional, the key to ensuring social learning conversations are productive is encouraging participants to set learning goals prior to collaborating and then taking a more hands-off approach. As Julian points out in his article, members of social learning groups should be the ones who take ownership of the learning conversation, so that it is relevant and contextualized to their work realities. As an L&D practitioner, you can “seed” topical groups in which you know people within your organisation would enjoy participating, but unlike formal learning, you do not direct the learning conversation; rather, you enable and encourage it. When L&D professionals administer too much, the learning conversation becomes contrived and loses its productive value.
Social learning environments that lack engagement typically also lack meaningful participation and thus become useless to everyone involved. As an L&D professional, there are a couple of things you can do to ensure your social learning environment is engaging. First, allow participants to self-direct their learning (or the groups and topics they join), because this allow participants to engage in learning that is relevant and personalized to their unique work context. Not only does this help the learning environment become more engaging, it also helps to align learning and work as adults almost always know what they need to learn or areas upon which they could benefit to improve. Second, your social learning environment must be active. Passive conversations or conversations that go stale kill engagement. You can try to help enable the conversation by prompting participants to answer a thoughtful question, finding an appropriate resource to spur further dialogue, etc. Keep in mind that enabling technologies that encourage active participation, contribution and learning via intelligent recommendations or other features that draw people back into a social learning environment can also help create an engaging learning space.
To encourage learning that is productive and engaging, try to create a social learning space that is participant-centric. Make participation in the process easy for employees; they shouldn’t have to do “virtual backflips” to find available and appropriate collaborators and to engage in learning-centric collaboration. Keep in mind that the process must appeal to their motivations and derive its power from their participation and contributions. As an L&D professional, try to be an enabler or a “cheerleader” for social learning; choose the best enabling technology, help draw in participants, prompt discussion when necessary and then sit back and watch dynamic social learning organically flourish within your organisation.
Interested in enabling dynamic and engaging social learning at your organisation? Download this eBook, “7 Strategies for Productive Social Learning,” and get started today!
About the author: Randy Emelo is president and CEO of Triple Creek (www.triplecreekriver.com), a social learning software company. With more than 25 years of experience in management, training and leadership development, Randy has worked with hundreds of clients as they build learning cultures and make learning more personal through Triple Creek’s River software. He has devoted much of his life to helping others learn and develop, and he is a prolific author, speaker and thought leader on topics related to collaboration, mentoring, social learning and talent development. His articles can be found in such publications as Training Journal, Chief Learning Officer, Talent Management, Inside Learning Technologies, T+D, Diversity Executive, and Industrial & Commercial Training. Connect with Randy on Twitter using his handle, @remelo, or on LinkedIn