Creative in Conflict: Project Management Training in Syria via WhatsApp

The war in Syria has created one of the most challenging environments for NGOs to operate in. Financial resources are extremely limited, communication networks are poor and electricity is in short supply. The security situation has forced almost half the population to flee to safety which means there are fewer skilled people left in Syria and those trying to enter the country face numerous risks and problems. As a result, NGOs are in desperate need of project managers but are struggling to recruit or train them.

Marifah for Social Entrepreneurship in Turkey decided to tackle this problem by utilising one of the most reliable free communication tools it has access to: WhatsApp. With the organizational motto, ‘Creative Investment in Creative People,’ they came up with the idea of providing training in Project Management for Development Professionals (PMD Pro) using WhatsApp to engage trainees directly through their phones or computers.

Continue reading “Creative in Conflict: Project Management Training in Syria via WhatsApp”

The story behind PMD Pro Starter

A guest post by John Cropper, Director of Capacity Building Solutions

Whenever I finish a PMD Pro level one training, I can pretty much guarantee what the first two questions are going to be. “When can I do level two”? and “Is there something I can use for my partners”? Let’s leave level two to be the subject of another blog, but until now there has not really been a satisfactory answer to the second question. How can people use PMD Pro for their partners? What tools can help?

Continue reading “The story behind PMD Pro Starter”

Take the Survey: How Does Your Organization Learn at Work?

LINGOs logoA recent survey by Jane Hart asked her blog readers to rate 10 different ways they learn at work.   As you can see here, the results of the survey are provocative, and challenging to Learning and Development (L&D) teams.  However, her results likely don’t represent the reality of the learners we serve in the development, relief and conservation sectors.  While 3,500 readers responded to the survey, very few were from the global South and over 50% of the respondents worked in HR/L&D.

So, let’s explore the different ways that development, relief and conservation workers learn!

Please share the link to this brief survey with your learners around the world.  We want to know how learners in your organization rate 10 different ways they learn at work.  We will keep the survey open for one month, and results will be published in the next LINGOs newsletter.  We will then use the data to:

  • inform a series of articles that outline the challenges of the new world of learning
  • identify models to evolve the traditional role of L&D teams, and
  • introduce LINGOs resources that help address the new realities of learning in the workplace.

Please share the link to the survey widely and often!  The URL is:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CYNVVSK

If you’re interested in learning more about the resources available to NGOs through LINGOs, sign up for our monthly newsletter here.

LINGOs receives Client Excellence Award for the Best Use of NetDimensions Talent Suite for a Good Cause

The NetDimensions Client Excellence Awards ceremony took place in the context of Next Steps regional user conference in Chicago on the 17th September. NetDimensions granted its Excellence Awards to six client organizations to recognize exemplary leadership and innovation in using NetDimensions Talent Suite.

That Wednesday evening we were proud to hand out the Client Excellence Award for the Best Use of NetDimensions Talent Suite for a Good Cause to the LINGOs team.

20140917_LINGOs_Client_Excellence_Award (2)LINGOs Technology Director Robb Allen, NetDimensions Chief Marketing Officer Alex Poulos, LINGOs Member Services Manager Gus Curran (holding award) and LINGOs Technology Support Specialist Juan José Vallejo at NetD Conference

The NetDimensions crew is glad to support LINGOs in their mission to make the world a better place.  “We are proud to be a LINGOs partner and to contribute with our technology in helping to address many of the fundamental challenges faced by society today,” Alex Poulos, Chief Marketing Officer of NetDimensions said. “There is no question that learning can be transformational to communities all over the world and can help better people’s lives with technology playing a key part in that.”

NetDimensions and LINGOs have built an innovative learning offering that is based on NetDimensions Learning, the award-winning Learning Management System available as Secure SaaS, which can serve multiple LINGOs member organizations via highly personalized and distributed learning portals. The portals are developed on the popular WordPress blogging and content management system and utilize BuddyPress, a WordPress plugin that provides social networking functionality.

With the WordPress front-end, LINGOs can cost-effectively provide learning portals to each member organization that meet the unique requirements of their headquarters and country offices wherever they are in the world. These portals integrate with NetDimensions Learning via the NetDimensions SDK that provides single sign-on authentication and specific APIs and widgets for WordPress.

“NetDimensions has always been true to its mission to make learning, performance support and knowledge sharing more accessible to global organizations,” said Jay Shaw, CEO and founder of NetDimensions. “We are honored to be able to do the same for non-profit organizations that have to serve their efforts under very difficult conditions. As a company looking for ways to give back to society, NetDimensions is fully committed to building our relationship with LINGOs and to helping provide a learning technology that has an impact on the world.”

Insights to Better Connecting a Growing Team

Guest Post by Kris Ritter, InsideNGO HR Manager

InsideNGO is a membership association dedicated to strengthening operations staff and fostering leadership in the international NGO sector. InsideNGO is a supporting member of LINGOs.

Using Learning From The Insights Discovery Program

To meet significant growth in its membership and the range of benefits and international services it provides, InsideNGO has increased its staff from five to twenty-five in just over five years.  With the addition of the new staff, it quickly became clear that the less formal management style of InsideNGO was no longer effective.  After efforts to clarify position descriptions and reporting lines, we realized that there was an element missing:  an understanding of management and interaction styles, which are essential in any organization, but especially important in a smaller, growing one.

We leveraged our LINGOs member benefit to the Insights Discovery Profiles

Insights: “…released capacity we didn’t know we had”

Looking for a means to drive individual self-awareness, better communications and organizational development, InsideNGO launched the initiative to have each staff member complete the Insights Discovery profile to incorporate as the major focus of the all-Staff Retreat in December 2013.   We used the individual assessments, online learning available to us as part of InsideNGO’s supporting membership in LINGOs, as well as in-person exercises. As we implemented the Insights Discovery program, a new language, culture (and humor) began to emerge across InsideNGO,  leading to major benefits of a more effective teaming and partnering style across the organization. “Insights unlocked the “software” that allows our hardware (i.e., role/job descriptions) and wiring (i.e., reporting lines) to work even more effectively and release capacity we did not know we had,” observed Tom Dente, InsideNGO Chief Operating Officer.

Insights-InsideNGO

A more effective team means more creativity and innovation as InsideNGO looks to meet the changing needs of its more than 300 members working around the world.

Learn More

InsideNGO Annual Conference: Insights’ Don Johnson will be speaking at the InsideNGO 2014 Annual Conference “Sustaining Excellence in a Changing World.”

LINGOs Member Benefit: Many InsideNGO member organizations are also members of LINGOs (Learning in NGOs). Click to see a list of LINGOs Members. Among the benefits in the LINGOs Membership Toolbox are facilitation tools including Insights Discovery Profiles.

Insights – LINGOs partnership strengthens individuals and teams for global development

 

 

 

 

Espresso Shots Explained

Posted by Gus Curran, LINGOs Manager of Member Services

 EspressoShotLearningIt’s mid-afternoon. You’re feeling tired and could use a break, but you have so much work to do. Maybe you’re thinking of heading down to the local coffee shop to get a quick blast of caffeine? I have a better idea.

Don’t pay big bucks for the double latte; check out LINGOS Espresso Shots instead!

LINGOs Espresso Shots are short tutorials created by LINGOs Members, for LINGOs Members. The idea for Espresso Shots evolved from the LINGOs 2012 Member Meeting and the “virtual coffee breaks” our members have enjoyed.

At the LINGOs 2012 member meeting, several members organized a “LINGOs Speed Dating” session. Representatives from each organization had a table, materials, and six minutes to describe a project they were proud of. The rest of the conference participants moved from table to table, picking up great ideas from the energetic and slightly stressed presenters.

Espresso Shots also spun off from LINGOs Virtual Coffee Breaks, hour long webinars where members go more into depth on what they are working on. Espresso Shots are the short, high caffeinated version, unfolding in less than five minutes, instead of an hour.

Staff from FHI360, Conservation International, and Samaritan’s Purse have created and shared Espresso Shots on the LinkedIn LINGOs community. New Espresso Shots are posted there as they are created, and you can find a list of all the Espresso Shots on the LINGOs member site,

Info for “baristas”

Creating an Espresso Shot is both exciting and challenging. We encourage members to use Jing, a simple and free screen capture software. Jing was created to foster and enhance online conversations. It allows you to create videos of what you see on your computer screen, and then share them instantly!

What makes this exciting, and emulates the member meeting speed dating session, is that Jing tutorials have a five minute time limit. This means you need to present your idea in just five short minutes! The challenge of trying to explain what might be a complicated idea or program in this short amount of time is almost like being on the old TV show Beat the Clock!

Take a look at the Espresso Shots we have so far and please consider contributing to the collection. You can email me (Gus (at) LINGOs.org) and I’ll help you get started.  LINGOs members have so many great ideas to share, and we think the espresso shots are a great way to do it.

Espresso shots: the initial menu

Conservation International: New Employee Orientation– Catriona Moriarty presents on CI’s new employee orientation process.

FHI360: Creating Learning Across Sectors and Geographies– Paige Winn shares three strategies FHI360 has implemented to overcome some of the challenges of providing diverse learning opportunities on a limited budget.

Samaritan’s Purse: Simple Online Certificate Tracks– Rich Peavy shares how a simple online course certificate program increased Samaritan’s Purse staff participation significantly

LINGOs: Espresso Shots Explained– Yours truly explains what an Espresso Shot is and how you can create your own to share.

If you’ll be at the InsideNGO 2013 Annual Conference next week, stop by the “Speed Date for Organizational Learning” (session 202A) and learn more about Espresso Shots, and get a sneak preview of some member sessions from PATH, Catholic Relief Services and FHI360 that may be future espresso shots!

Two steps forward and one step back

Guest post by Roger Steele, LINGOs Senior Project Manager

rsteeleAccording to contemporary wisdom (Wikipedia), my title is a catchphrase about a frog trying to climb out of a well; for every two steps the frog climbs, it falls back by one step, making its progress arduous, but progress nonetheless. The catchphrase feels like a fitting title for today’s post.

While I’m making steady progress in my eLearning journey – it is strenuous at times. Exactly two years ago, I wrote a post on the topic of eLearning in Southern Africa. Since those earlier efforts, LINGOs has expanded its PMD Pro work to over 20 countries all over Africa — one (big) step forward. I also contributed to a recent blog on virtual coaching for graduates of PMD Pro courses — another step forward. Upon re-reading those posts, I’m hoping readers didn’t get the impression that we are making continuously smooth and uncomplicated progress. Probably not – as most LINGOs members are in touch with the “frog’s arduous climb.”

Ok, now you should be asking: “what is the one step back, Roger?”

Allow me to start with a story. Last September, I led a successful face-to-face PMD Pro1 course for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) staff and partners in Zimbabwe. To encourage learning transfer and application of PMD Pro tools to real work, CRS asked LINGOs to conduct five hours of online virtual coaching with the class participants – a couple months after completion of the course. We scheduled four one-hour virtual classroom sessions. The participants, both CRS staff and their partners, were notified in a timely manner and all was ready to go.

That’s when we took one step back – or in a slightly different direction. Apart from the usual challenges anyone faces in first time log in to a virtual classroom environment, the Zimbabwean participants had an extra special challenge. Out of the 30 invited participants, we were lucky to have five online at any single time – with several regularly popping off and coming back on at regular intervals.

Now don’t get me wrong, the participants did the best possible. It was just a matter of internet connections that came and went! Sometimes those in the capital city, Harare, were the strongest. Other times we had great connections from Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Bulawayo. Somewhat surprisingly, a participant in the remote town of Chinoyi had an almost perfect connection.

The CRS Zimbabwe story is somewhat typical of our PMD Pro online coaching sessions in African countries, largely because the students are dispersed in numerous locations. As described in an earlier post, the HOTspot approach has shown considerable promise in African locations where a strong internet connection can be secured.

Climbing forward …

We did come up with a solution – a time-tested distance learning approach. Using a software program called Camtasia (techsmith.com) that integrates into MS PowerPoint; I advanced slides and recorded my voice as I talked through each coaching presentation on PMD Pro tools. In total, I produced almost 3 hours of video on tools like Work Breakdown Structure, RACI, Issues Log, Risk Register and Gantt. I ended up with 15 coaching videos with an average length of 10 minutes each. I performed one other step — converting the voice to captions. These were burned under each slide and appear in sync with my voice during video play. The jury is still out whether the captioning step was worth the effort. I know my American English accent is hard to understand for many Africans. English is a second or third language for many. The captions can also be easily translated to other languages.

After some editing of both the voice and captions in Camtasia, I produced the videos in WMV (Windows Media Video) format. I also uploaded the videos to the LINGOs YouTube library. Finally, I added the voice transcriptions as speaker notes in the PowerPoint decks – to assist anyone who wants to use them as a guide to their own Face to Face coaching sessions.

Steady progress

I am writing this blog from Tanzania where I am interacting with some of the World Vision East Africa Operations Directors. After doing a demo of one coaching video, they asked that asked for copies of the WMV files. The World Vision East Africa team plans to burn DVDs for physical distribution to the 800 PMD Pro1 graduates in World Vision East Africa’s 9 National Offices. They seem genuinely excited about this solution.  While not what I initially expected, my eLearning success story is distribution of quick-and-dirty videos on DVDs.  What is most important is that the frog is still making overall progress in the climb.

For more information about LINGOs 4-week PMD Pro1 blended learning course, March 4-28,  see http://4weekpmdprocourse.eventbrite.com

Insights – LINGOs partnership strengthens individuals and teams for global development

Eric Berg, Executive Director, LINGOs

When I was in the software business, there was an engineering manager with whom I never could seem to communicate. Somehow, no matter how much information I gave her, the time it took to make get a decision was always frustrating. After several uncomfortable confrontations I just came to accept that we would always have problems. This was unfortunate because we needed to work together on several important projects. It was only later I realized that what I perceived as procrastinating was her desire to get it right and really was a preference and style difference. Had I been a little more aware of that, I might have been able to provide information that would have improved both our communications and the speed of activities.

I want to share with you my excitement in having Insights (www.insights.com) as a new partner for LINGOs. A global company with many Fortune 500 companies as clients, Insights provides a wide range of products and services that help their customers:

o Develop individual awareness and effectiveness

o Build more productive teams

o Develop high performing leaders.

Insights’ products are based on Insights Discovery, a four color model based on the work of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. It measures a person’s preferences and provides an individual with an extensive personality profile which identifies strengths and areas for development. Each profile includes suggestions for development that can be put into practice the very next day.

Each LINGOs member representative attending the LINGOs Member Meeting in November will gain access to the Insights Preference Evaluator and will receive a custom 20 page personal profile. Members attending the meeting can also register for an all day workshop led by Insights staff to explore the meaning and application of their individual profile.

You are probably familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and may have completed that instrument and studied it sometime in your schooling. You might even remember your “type.” In some ways, the Insights Discovery model is similar in that it analyzes your responses to questions of preference and then feeds back a profile of your preferences and communication style. What is particularly attractive about the Insights’ model is that it has been extremely well “packaged” to make it simple to administer and apply in an organizational setting.

Imagine…

Ibrahim, the CD for Sudan, just sent Simon, the Regional Program Quality Manager, his final monitoring plan for the new microfinance program.

Ibrahim has already sent two versions of the plan, and there’s been a meeting and two tense telephone conversations about its adequacy.

Ibrahim can’t imagine why it is taking so long for a decision to made, while Simon cannot understand why there was such a rush on such an important document.

Both Simon and Ibrahim are considered outstanding in their roles and yet everyone knows they simply can’t get along. Many who know them both say it’s just bad “Chemistry.” 

In fact, it is more probably a question of opposing preferences and styles. With some Insights into these differences, Ibrahim and Simon can take their work and that of their agency to the next level. 

But don’t let the simplicity fool you; it is extremely revealing. I guess the best way to illustrate that is with my personal experience with the tool. Before we began serious conversations with Insights, I was offered the opportunity to complete the Preference Evaluator and get the personal profile I mentioned earlier. Being familiar with the Myers-Briggs and other instruments, I was eager to see the similarities and the differences. I completed the Evaluator and waited for my “report.” When it arrived, I quickly read through the resulting document and was startled with the accuracy and detail of what was produced. This may be best illustrated by the comments of my wife, Kathy, with whom I shared the report. She said to me, “I don’t know who these people are or how they know you so well but they may even know you better than I do after 30 years of marriage!” LINGOs Director of Member Services, Marian Abernathy, (with whom I also shared the profile) echoed Kathy’s comments when she said with a smile in her voice, “They pretty much “nailed” you.”

Some LINGOs members reading this know me well enough to appreciate some of the specific comments from my personal profile that Kathy and Marian are referring to. For example, under the section titled “Managing Eric” there is a list of “What Eric Needs.” One item says “Eric needs objective, direct and honest feedback…” to which is added the caution “- stand well back!” Everyone that has read the profile has stopped and laughed out loud in agreement at the caution.

Other sections identified weaknesses around listening adequately to others, making decisions hastily and my high sense of urgency creating stress for others. You can ask Robb Allen or Marian or other LINGOs staff members about those and I am sure each will have stories verifying the accuracy of those assessments.

So why am I sharing all this? I hope that LINGOs members will begin to realize the potential for using Insights Discovery to improve the communications and performance of the teams working within their organizations. During the LINGOs 2012 Member Meeting, a group from Insights will share how the Insights Discovery model is being used in corporations around the world. You’ll have an opportunity to see how members might begin to think of ways of applying it to staff selection, leadership development, team building, individual development plans and a host of other targeted initiatives. Those interested in a more in depth exposure will have the chance to attend the post-meeting workshop led by Doug Upchurch and the Insights Team and spend the entire day exploring their own profile as well as techniques for applying the model in their organizations.

If you can’t attend the LINGOs member meeting be on the lookout for announcements of how LINGOs Member Agencies can access this new LINGOs benefit. Corporations around the world are spending thousands and thousands of dollars on this tool. Through the generosity of Insights, it will be part of member agencies’ core LINGOs benefits in 2013. We are very grateful to Insights and look forward to sharing stories of how their generous support has made a difference in the impact of the work of LINGOs members.

The LINGOs 2012 Meeting is focused on engagement. For details, check out the Sept 10 post on LINGOs 2012 Member Meeting 

Social Media For Learning and Problem Solving In Disaster Situations

By Kelly Meeker, OpenSesame Social Media & Community Manager

While social media has a terrible reputation for tempting people to waste time and talk about Justin Bieber, social technologies have tremendous capacity for enabling humanitarian and development professionals to learn, iterate and adapt their practices quickly in challenging circumstances.

(For those who haven’t experimented with Twitter yet, check out the six minute crash course I built for friends who were bugging me to help them “learn to use Twitter.” It’s quick and it will cover the basics. Both that course and another entitled “Beginning Twitter for Professionals, Part 2” are available to LINGOs Member Agencies via your LMS. In addition, I’ll be presenting on Twitter for learning at the LINGOs member meeting in October.)

With famine and drought situations in East Africa, many NGO staff members are faced with incredibly challenging, dynamic relief situations, where the best solutions are never obvious and rarely consistent.

With limited resources, social media creates an opportunity to network with peers all over the world. Social media is the gateway to the personal learning network (PLN): A network of peers where you share your challenges and experiences. You may be the only person with your job function in a 500 mile radius, but social media can help you build a support network based on ideas, challenges and topics.

How do I get started building my PLN?

A strong PLN will help you find information rapidly, get advice, learn from experts as you go, and find support from peers. In turn, you will have opportunities to share your own experiences. Here’s how.

 

  1. The first step is to figure out where your peers are hanging out. This doesn’t just mean “on Twitter” or on “LinkedIn”. It’s the next level of analysis from there. Is there a hashtag chat on a topic of interest to you? If you’re a training/learning professional, how about #lrnchat? If you work with social entrepreneurs, how about #socent? If you’re seeking advice on using social media, how about the LinkedIn forum on social media for nonprofits? Still new to technology altogether? Try liking “Gettin’ Geeky” on Facebook, where Gina Schreck shares great tips and how-tos on getting social.Ask your peers, coworkers and friends. Next time you attend a conference, find out what the hashtag is and take part in the conference backchannel. Form online relationships through your preferred social networks to reinforce and extend the relationships you have offline.
  2. Create your profiles and introduce yourself. Whether it’s any of the Quora, LinkedIn forums or hashtag-based chats mentioned above or something you find or found, use your profiles as an introduction to who you are, what your affiliations are and what your experience is. Use the same keywords to describe yourself that you would when searching for people to communicate with. Don’t make it hard for people to understand why they would want to network with you. Provide links to your sites and other profiles to make your network connected and multi-faceted. 

3.    Get involved. Start talking. Don’t be bashful. Many people feel unsure about jumping in conversations (perhaps because they view these conversations like the kinds you encounter in real life). Don’t be. People are having these conversations in open forums because they expect, value and welcome new voices and new ideas. If you have something to say, say it. (For more on this, read on.)

4. Curate and share. Once you’ve started building your networks and engaging in conversations, think about how you can make the network richer and more effective. Can you create Storify records of useful Twitter conversations? Can you introduce new voices? Do you have internal resources from your organization that you could share? Do you have a blog where you could feature new ideas and the leaders in your PLN?

 So once you have started building my PLN and you some online connections, you’re probably wondering what kinds of conversations people expect and want to engage in.

  • Share what happened today. Did you develop a new approach to conflict management? Did you find a great resource, blog post or idea? Curate the resources that you use to succeed, and look for people doing the same.
  • Share your organization’s resources and best practices. Within reason, share the point of view your organization has developed over time. 
  • Experiment. The flipside of sharing the ideas you develop on the job is being adventurous and experimenting with the new tools, ideas and suggestions you encounter through your PLN.
  • Ask for help. Do you need help with finding the right person in a distant country to help you clear a shipment through customs? Do you have a challenge with finding the right application or software package to help you solve a problem? Ask. You will find references to new tools or to people have solved the same problems. I’ve been consistently surprised and thrilled and the new connections and helpful ideas I’ve built on social networks.
  • Say thank you. People appreciate hearing that their advice and ideas are being put to work. Say thank you and highlight how your PLN has made you better at your job.

In closing, you can start by reaching out to other LINGOs members through the @LINGOsOrgTwitter account and LinkedIn forums, not to mention the Oct 2011 Member meeting. These are great starting places to find nonprofit professionals focused on organizational learning.

The well-developed PLN is social learning at its finest: Technology providing opportunities for employees in challenging situations to communicate with peers, sharing the challenges and solutions, and improving performance and programs along the way. 

Start Building Your PLN at the LINGOs Member Meeting

I will be giving a presentation on using Twitter and social media for learning and networking at the LINGOs member meeting next week. If you have specific topics of interest or questions you’d like me to cover, please send me an email.

___________________

Kelly Meeker is the Community Manager at OpenSesame.com, a marketplace for buying and selling elearning courses. Connect with her at @OpenSesameNow. She’s a communications professional and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Mali 2005-2007).

To see Eric Berg’s post about the LINGOs Meeting, please click here.

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.