The Largest Water Cooler:Social Media for Learning

Posted by Mike Culligan, LINGOs

Our Biggest Workplace Learning Challenge?

A presenter at a recent national learning conference asked an intriguing question, “Where do you go if you need to learn something at work?”  Surprisingly, the answer among the 500+ attendees was nearly unanimous, “Google.” 

 What does that say about the way we learn on the job? It appears to point out that many of us have become “workplace searchers.”  An article in KMWorld magazine indicates that knowledge workers (those of us who tend to work at desks using computers) live in an increasingly information-based world.

  • We spend between 15% to 35% of their time searching for information;
  • We are only successful in finding what we seek 50% of the time or less;
  • Furthermore, only 40% of us are able to find the information we need to do our jobs on the company intranets.

 As a result, we find ourselves stuck in a vicious cycle.  We spend extensive amounts of time looking for information, often unsuccessfully.  Then we spend even more time recreating existing information, only to have our new work lost in the information maze that characterizes the organizations where we work. 

 This is one of the biggest workplace learning challenge sin our organizations!  Furthermore, this isn’t the type of challenge that is addressed through a workshop, a training, an e-learning course or any other form of workplace instruction. 

 So what do we do?

 Enter Social Media for Learning! 

Social Media!  Yes, it is the buzz word in the e-learning world today!  It seems that you can’t go to a conference, attend a webinar, subscribe to a blog or read an article on the issue of technology assisted learning without somebody insisting it is vital to learning success! 

 That said – social media offers great potential in addressing the challenge of the information seeker in your organization!  First, however, you need to be able to navigate the maze of options that exist for deploying social media.  This is a vexing challenge, because today’s reality is that hundreds (thousands?) of options exist to incorporate social media into your learning strategy and it is easy to become lost among the many options.

 One way to simplify the challenge is by first taking the time to clearly articulate the learning objectives you intend to address through the introduction of social media.   The following list provides three potential learning objectives that social media can be especially helpful in addressing:

Objective One:  Improve the Ability of Staff to Listen and Learn:  Do your colleagues subscribe to access relevant knowledge and learning via feed readers?  Do they load information into their home page via RSS readers?  Do they listen to the feeds on LinkedIn groups or other groups that allow them to hear what the community is saying on the issues of most interest to them?  This is an important first step in learning and tools like Google Reader, Bloglines (and many others) allow learners to pull the learning and conversations that are most important to their performance straight to their home page or e-mail account, allowing them to skip the process of searching out that information on a daily basis.    

Objective Two:  Improve the Ability of Staff to Create and Share Knowledge:  If your colleague in another office had developed a similar PowerPoint presentation to the one you will do next week, would you know it existed?  If you wanted to view the on-line course on project management from last year, would you be able to find the recording?  What about that link to the statistics on the gender breakdown of your beneficiaries in the field? 

Unfortunately, the answer to most of these questions will probably be, “No!”  And yet, think of all the social media tools that exist outside of your corporate firewall that allow people to share this type of knowledge to the entire world:  SlideShare, YouTube, Twitter, WordPress, and more. 

Do opportunities exist for you to establish a comparable system in your organization?  For example, can you (or one of your esteemed colleague) start a blog to share information?  Can photo assets be shared on Flickr?  If Twitter isn’t an option, what about Yammer? 

If not, why?  Be creative! Remember, 15-35% of our job is spent looking for information and most of the time without success.  If we improve our organizations ability to create and share knowledge, this will have concrete impact on our results!

 Objective Three:  Improve the Ability of Staff to Create Networks and Build Community

In the words of Jay Cross, “Learning is social.”  Since the day we were born, we learn from those closest to us — parents, brothers, sisters, playmates, schoolmates, roommates, teammates, classmates… the list goes on!  Research indicates that the workplace is no exception!  We learn from our colleagues in conversations that takes place in the hallway, at the water cooler and in your cubicle. 

The beauty of social media is that it lets you build the world’s longest hallway, the largest water cooler and our cubicle can now extend to reach the entire world!  Examples abound of international development agencies that are leveraging social media to create networks and build community.  The LINGOs Linked In Group, Oxfam’s NING workspace for its Raising Her Voice! Program, IRC’s monthly Elluminate sessions on best practices in Monitoring and Evaluation.  These communities allow those of us that are new to the business to ask the water cooler questions, while the more experienced among the group have a channel to share their hard earned wisdom. 

 A Final Cautionary Note!

As is the case with any learning trend, don’t be taken in by the allure of the next big thing!   Avoid the temptation of equating “social media” to “cool technology!”  The key to successfully deploying social media in learning is not about buying the newest and coolest toy.  It isn’t about building a website, deploying smart phone apps, promoting micro-blogging, posting message boards, etc. 

Yes, technology is important, but it is only the last of three important considerations you need to keep in mind as you develop a strategy for social media in learning.   Your strategy should be designed around your answers to three critical questions: 

1. Who is Your Audience?  Who needs to be connected?  Where are they located?  What are their needs?  What technology resources do they have (computers, virtual networks, etc.)?  What challenges do they have (firewalls, internet reliability, software skills)?

2. What are Your Objectives?  What exactly is the challenge? Are you trying to increase communication?  Manage project baselines?  Share documents?  Comply with regulations?  Improve scheduling and coordination?  A combination of all the above?  Is this challenge best addressed through a technology-based solution?   Or, is this a challenge better addressed by improved norms and policies?

3. THEN… …What is the best technology to reach your audience and achieve your objectives?   Based on the answers to questions one and two, the project team can now begin to identify the collaboration technology that best serves its need. 

 

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2 thoughts on “The Largest Water Cooler:Social Media for Learning

  1. Great outline of the process of building your organization’s capacity to engage in social learning networks. Your readers might also be interested in Jane Hart’s “Social Learning Network” on Yammer. Lots of learning professionals talking about their experiences building social learning networks in their orgs. You can email Jane Hart and ask her for an invite:
    http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/

    1. Great recommendation – Jane Hart has joined Jay Cross (referenced in the post) to focus on strategies for organizational performance support (many of which rely on social media.) LINGOs has long recommended her Jane’s eLearning Pick of the Day blog and her list of most useful tools for learning.. …. now here is a third way she provides great knowledge (and value) to our community.

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