Social learning in organizations
It may be easiest to begin discussion on the value of social learning by first looking at its antithesis which is learning that is not social. While this may seem to paint more traditional forms of learning into an unfair corner it is nonetheless helpful when considering the contrasts between social and more traditional forms of learning. Moving to a learning model that includes social learning is partially a matter of adjusting to societal realities and also a matter of exploiting technologies that simply have not been available in years past.
It is estimated that the Internet of Things (interconnected devices) will grow to 50 billion devices by 2020 (Rosenberg, 2017). By 2025 it is estimated that 75% of the workforce will be made up of millennials (Winograd & Hais, 2016). As of 2014 human knowledge was doubling every 13 months and was expected to reduce to every 12 hours (Schilling, 2013). Our economy is now global so what happens in Asian markets is felt real-time in the United States. All of this points to an evolution of information that is taking place before our eyes. This drives not only a necessity to increase learning capabilities in order to keep up with the rest of the world and technology but also an opportunity to expand the learning of everyday people in ways previously impossible.
Importance of social learning in organizations
There was an advertisement produced some years ago by UPS that serves as a good illustration of why social learning is important in organizations – things are moving quickly and globally all at once and as such, there is both the need and opportunity to educate our employees more quickly and effectively. Social learning is people learning from one another so it is not a new phenomenon. What is newer is the idea that not all training and learning needs to come via formalized methods and that in most circumstances social learning is as legitimate as formal learning.
While formal training and learning will always have its place, its Achilles heel is that it can be slow, costly, cumbersome and may not take full advantage of available experts and practitioners (Kosinski, 2015) .
Social vs Formal learning
Consider the difference between these two funnels. Social learning, because it gathers information from many possible sources is represented by the funnel right-side up, collecting learning from a much broader audience.
Invert the funnel and one has a picture of formalized
traditional training and learning where the learning is tightly controlled and limited, creating a hard to avoid choke-point.
Because of greater access to others with greater or different expertise, encouraging social learning using social media can empower employees to solve problems and learn best practices more quickly. Thus, the most likely effect of organizational social learning is an increase efficiency and speed in problem solving.
According to the Journal of Knowledge Management, up to 90% of organizational knowledge is stored in employees’ heads (Smith, 2001, p. 311). Many have experienced the struggle when someone leaves the organization taking all of their corporate knowledge with them. While social learning may not be a cure-all for the learning needs for any organization one of the things it can do is help create a culture of sharing.
Most people feel good when they have been able to answer a question or share experience that helped someone else (Muzzell, 2017). Additionally, the employee who found the information they needed (and perhaps started a productive relationship with another employee in the process), feels good about getting what they needed. That employee is likely to replicate that behavior when given the chance. Any organization will benefit from a sharing culture where employees feel free and encouraged to collaborate and contribute to the success of others.
Social learning facilitated by social media can create opportunities to augment a trainer’s efforts and impact (Bozarth, 2010). For example, a trainer may choose to use a tool like Twitter to facilitate dialogue amongst students or to receive real-time feedback from students regarding the effectiveness of training during conferences. Trainers and organizations alike may benefit as learners establish or join communities of practice where they are able to learn from others in a particular discipline. Employees who attended a conference together may establish a Facebook group to stay abreast of others’ projects or to ask questions of the group. These educational backchannels can create powerful connections between trainers, employees and even leaders.
Establishing ground rules in social media
Establishing ground rules from the beginning is an important step in using social media for organizational learning. Employees’ agreement to abide by guidelines should be recorded for the sake of accountability. The guidelines for social media use are intuitive and should include the following at a minimum:
- Purpose of social media use in a professional environment (Lauby, 2009)
- Importance of preserve one’s own and the company’s online reputation (Lauby, 2009)
- The need to protect sensitive information (Lauby, 2009)
- Importance of considering the feelings of others and the tone of messages (Lauby, 2009)
- Importance of sharing information and comments that are helpful (Lauby, 2009)
Few would disagree that the photo above would convey a very different feeling if it pictured a solo individual. When one feels like they’re part of the team it feels good and social learning and social media are about people making connections with people. An integrated approach where training, professional development, social learning and social media are combined, creates an environment where interpersonal relationships can develop. This encourages free collaboration and communication and benefits and improvements to production and the health of the staff are a natural result. One of the challenges in creating a social learning environment is social learning can be slow to build because it is essentially a culture change that requires trust and effort on the part of employees. Additionally, there may be some who may feel that social learning will not yield credible learning thus they prefer a more controlled or formalized way of learning and problem solving.
Risk ¤ Strategy ¤ Reward
Every day we face risk in both our personal and professional lives and in many cases we may not even be aware we have made any decision to embrace or avoid it. But what every business leader knows is that not all risk is bad and not all risk should be avoided.
Nonetheless, when considering implementing social learning facilitated by social media some concern over risk is prudent.
There is some risk for organizations embracing social learning and social media, but while playing it safe may bring some sense of comfort, the problem is, it can also stifle creativity and miss out on valuable contributions of employees. The decision here is a strategic one; which is a greater risk, a possible loss of productivity because of social media use or the risk of distancing your company from collaborative communication that can drive training, development and innovation?
Having a good strategy is key to good execution.
- Ask questions
- How are current training programs offered? What are some areas of training and development where integrating social learning and media may be a good place to start? (Pandey, 2017).
- Set goals for social learning and media integration
- Consider implementation on a small scale if possible to learn lessons and adapt to the organization before wider implementation (Pandey, 2017)
- Seek out advocates and early adopters (Pandey, 2017)
- Gain insights and ideas
- Leverage their influence and voice to encourage adoption within the organization
- Choose a social learning system or platform (Pandey, 2017)
- Consider hiring a consultant to fully understand the available options
- Encourage dialogue
- Give and request feedback on social learning and media (Pandey, 2017)
The world has changed significantly in just the last 30 years and changes in technology have created an exponential increase in knowledge, communication and accessibility to learning. While formal training will always have its place, creating a social learning environment as part of an overall training and development strategy has tremendous potential to transform an organizational culture from one that is siloed and limited to one that drives productivity through both facilitated and organic collaboration and sharing. The risks associated with social learning and social media are outweighed by the rewards. As relationships are built trust increases and knowledge flows more freely creating an atmosphere where people have the tools to leverage knowledge and expertise from up, down and across the enterprise.
Starting with careful study, questioning and collaboration with leaders, trainers, and employees, an organization will take well-advised first steps in building a collaborative, communicating and growing organization.
What is WordPress? “WordPress is an online, open source website creation tool written in PHP. But in non-geek speak, it’s probably the easiest and most powerful blogging and website content management system (or CMS) in existence today” (“What is WordPress? | WordPress 101 Tutorials: iThemes,” n.d.).
What is fantastic about WordPress is its ease of use and in particular, the ease of embedding videos (like what has been done in this presentation). Because it is web-based a trainer can create content, embed training videos, pose questions and read responses – all without sending anything more than a link to the recipients via email. Because WordPress is a blog, it is also a repository of previously created content. This means that an employee can access the site as often as they like to reference information on previously shared training or professional development.
Powerful – and cost free!
Bozarth, J. (2010). Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for enhancing and extending learning.
Ithemes. (n.d.). What is WordPress? Retrieved from https://ithemes.com/tutorials/what-is-wordpress/
Kosinski, M. (2015). Is Social Learning Better Than Formal Training? [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.recruiter.com/i/is-social-learning-better-than-formal-training-infographic/
Lauby, S. (2009). 10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy. Retrieved from https://mashable.com/2009/06/02/social-media-policy-musts/#Kw4sr3rZJ8qR
Muzzell, B. (2017). Sharing is Caring: How to create a culture of sharing best practice. Retrieved from https://www.looop.co/articles/sharing-is-caring-how-to-create-a-culture-of-sharing-best-practice-and-make-a-decent-coffee/
Pandey, A. (2017). 5 Steps To Implement The Social Learning Strategy In Your Corporate Training – eLearning Industry. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/implement-the-social-learning-strategy-in-your-corporate-training-5-steps
Pixabay (n.d.) Funnel [image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/funnel-blue-cone-cipher-309721/
Rosenberg, M. (2017). Marc My Words: The Coming Knowledge Tsunami. Retrieved from https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/2468/marc-my-words-the-coming-knowledge-tsunami
Schilling, D. (2013). Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours. Retrieved from http://www.industrytap.com/knowledge-doubling-every-12-months-soon-to-be-every-12-hours/3950
Smith, E. A. (2001). The role of tacit and explicit knowledge in the workplace. Journal of Knowledge Management, 5(4), 311-321. doi:10.1108/13673270110411733
Winograd, M., & Hais, M. (2016). How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/research/how-millennials-could-upend-wall-street-and-corporate-america/