Introducing the LINGOs Learning Collaborative

Guest post by LINGOs CEO Chris Proulx

Chris_ProulxEleven years ago, six international NGOs interested in improving their learning technologies and training for field staff began meeting informally, to co-invest in and learn from each other. From those early meetings LINGOs was born, and it has since evolved to become a learning and capacity-building community of over 80 international NGO “members.”

Now in its second decade, LINGOs continues to grow: In the past several years, we’ve developed our first sector-wide credential, PMD Pro, and partnered with other NGOs on deeper learning initiatives. Even so, in the eyes of many in the sector, LINGOs remains a “membership organization.”

Starting today, we are taking big steps towards expanding our community and the concept of what learning in NGOs (and beyond) can mean. I am pleased to announce that after a three-month search, we have selected Ross Coxon as our first Director of the Learning Collaborative!

First, a bit about Ross: While he has been with LINGOs for a year in our Project Ross_CoxonServices group, facilitating PMD Pro training and developing and enhancing our curricula, many of you may also know him from his nine years as the Head of Learning and Development for Islamic Relief. While at IR, Ross grew the L&D department into the highest-ranking internal department on staff surveys, co-authored an entirely new management development program grounded in the culture and values of IR, introduced LINGOs to IR (thanks!) and was active in the various L&D communities in the UK.

Ross stood out as the ideal candidate to lead our transition from “membership” to the “Learning Collaborative” based on his passion for learning, experience in the field, ideas and vision for a broader and more engaged community, and his overall tenacity and energy for results. Congratulations, Ross, and we’re excited to see all that you’ll do in this new role!

So, what’s behind the idea of the “Learning Collaborative”? For those of you who attended our Annual Member Meeting in Portland last year, you heard me discuss my concept of the “learning ecosystem.” Following that meeting, I spoke with members, field staff, CEOs, and learning providers about the future LINGOs learning ecosystem, and found that three key points emerged from our conversations:

  • It’s about learning; no matter where, how or by whom it is deployed. LINGOs got its start in technology, yet it’s clear that the distinction between e-learning and learning has blurred. Our focus needs to be on the broader spectrum of learning – while highlighting and providing solutions for the powerful role that technology can play. The sector has also recognized that learning is being created both inside and outside traditional L&D departments, at headquarters and in the field. As a result, LINGOs can and should work to meet the needs of this wider community of professionals engaged in learning and development. The decisions to launch the Global Learning Forum this year as an open event and to focus a Forum track on local capacity building are just a few of the ways that we’re bringing innovative ideas and new practitioners into the conversation.
Learning leaders from NGOs in Asia gathered in April at IUCN Bangkok with LINGOs CEO Chris Proulx and Project Services Director John Cropper.

Learning leaders from NGOs in Asia gathered in April at IUCN Bangkok with LINGOs CEO Chris Proulx and Project Services Director John Cropper.

  • Geography matters. When I joined LINGOs, 75% of our members were headquartered in the United States – a fact which did not reflect the geographic distribution of NGOs, or the breadth of innovative learning practice in the sector. So, we’ve committed to proactively expanding our reach and inviting a much broader range of development actors into our community: NGOs and non-NGOs, US-based organizations and global ones. As a result:
    • Two-thirds of our new members this year are based outside the US and the UK.
    • With Ross’ selection as Director of the Learning Collaborative, half of our leadership team is now based outside the US, and most on the team have significant field experience in the Global South – another step towards building a more global LINGOs. (We are currently in four countries and six time zones – not bad for a small team!)
Two-thirds of our new members this year are based outside the US or UK.

Two-thirds of our new members this year are based outside the US or UK.

  • The sector needs deeper community and collaboration. The desire for more frequent, richer, and more diverse ways to build community, share best practices, and co-create solutions is strong. Coming later this month, we will beta-launch the LINGOs Community Site, where you will find and create new solutions, how-tos, and best practices while informally connecting with the community. And at the Global Learning Forum, we are dedicating part of Day Two to designing a shared work agenda for 2016 – with the goal of collaborating to create tools that will benefit the entire sector.

As part of this transition, Marian Abernathy will be assuming a new role as Marian_Abernathyour Partner Engagement Manager (when she has finished planning and managing the Global Learning Forum)! For the first time ever, we will have a person dedicated to recruiting and managing our private sector partners and supporters, with a focus on finding new ways to maximize the value and benefit for our members. At the same time, she will have a little more free time to spend with her family, which is richly deserved after five years as the Director of Membership. Please congratulate Marian on her new role and join me in thanking her for leading our community with so much enthusiasm and energy.

Speaking of the Global Learning Forum:

  • Our session schedule is live!
  • We have the same number of people now registered that we had in Portland last year—with six weeks to go. If you are not yet registered, now is the time…and if you are already registered, invite a friend or colleague who is working on learning in our sector.
  • We have three partners this year who will be providing content, analysis and/or expert facilitation. Look forward to conversation and insight from Brandon Hall Group, the Learning and Performance Institute and the Bridgespan Group.
  • Our lead sponsor, Microsoft, will be showing off some cool technology for learning using the Office Suite at our evening reception (I got a sneak peek last week while in Seattle – you’ll want to see it)!
  • We will be announcing the first ever winner of the Eric Berg LEAP Award for innovation and risk taking in our field.
  • Thanks again to Heifer for hosting us at their fantastic campus. See you there!

Does Your Organization’s Online Learning Strategy Make the Grade?

On October 13, Dr. Sarah Steinberg (of Frogstone Strategies LLC) and Ariela Rosenstein (of Rare) are leading a Pre-Conference Workshop at LINGOs’ Global Learning Forum. Entitled “A Blueprint for an Online Learning Strategy,” this one-day workshop is designed to provide expert guidance as you develop or revamp your organization’s custom online learning strategy.

Blueprint-e1434637111415Accessible and highly adaptable, online learning can play a key role in engaging staff, driving innovation, and forging links between organizations, partners and stakeholders. The road leading to these positive outcomes, however, can be a confusing navigation of buzzwords (MOOC, social, or gamified, anyone?) –and a pyramid of decisions about technology and content sourcing.

So, you need a map. And if you’re already underway but know that your strategy isn’t maximizing reach or ROI, then it’s time to recalibrate the path that you’re on.

In October, Dr. Sarah Steinberg and Ariela Rosenstein are leading a Pre-Conference Workshop at LINGOs’ Global Learning Forum on developing a blueprint for an online learning strategy. We caught up with them earlier this month to discuss online organizational learning, and two “foundational” questions that serve as helpful starting points for Workshop participants – and for anyone charting a path for online learning in their own organization. Take a peek!

  1. Why Online?

Here’s the secret that’s too important to keep: As you consider online learning options, your answer to the question “Why are you going online?” will be your driving force, framing all of your other critical decision points – and your discussions with stakeholders. In a landscape as wide and intangible as the field of online learning, your reasons for steering your organization there in the first place can quickly get buried in conversations about how you’ll get there – and if you’re still gathering your thoughts, it’s probably too early to be talking technology, languages, and content.

So ask yourself: “Why should my organization take its learning online?” In doing so, you’ll start to analyze some of the tradeoffs, a critical move given the variety of options available. For example: Are you willing to forgo a certain amount of impact for the cost? Is your focus on low-bandwidth field solutions, or a high-resolution classroom environment? Who in your organization would benefit most from online learning? Chances are you’ll spark some ideas about your organization’s specific goals and potential blended solutions, which leads us into the next question:

  1. What are your best-case scenarios?

This runs close to the simpler question of “What are your organization’s needs online?” but it varies in one critical, theoretical sense. Framing your new strategy purely as a solution to your organization’s needs can ground you in the logistical everyday – and start you plodding forward based on the building blocks of your identified essentials, a slow process at best.

No, better here to wonder, “What are the ideal outcomes of online learning for my organization?” This can help you envision your strategy as a line of best fit between your current position and your ideal outcomes. Your answers to this question (there might be a few) provide goals from which you can trace direct lines back – as the crow flies – to your current drawing board.

In the Pre-Conference Workshop, your answers to these questions will become part of a larger toolkit designed to help achieve your organization’s ideal outcomes, not just its needs. Under Sarah and Ariela’s expert guidance, you’ll assess your baseline resources, identify key activities and decision gates in your strategic planning process, and discuss implementation with colleagues who share similar goals and contexts – before leaving the workshop with your own blueprint for an online learning strategy.

Register for the Workshop and find additional details on the Global Learning Forum here.

Questions? Contact Sarah and Ariela – we’re all looking forward to seeing you on October 13!

Is Traditional L&D Still Relevant?


mikeGuest post by Mike Culligan, LINGOs’ Director of Last Mile Learning

Last month we published a survey, based on Jane Hart’s recent blog post, that asked readers to rate 10 different ways they learn at work. We did not receive 3,500 responses from 55 countries (as Jane did), however, 69 individuals from our sector responded to our survey. Their responses reveal a number of interesting trends about the way development/relief organizations learn, identify the similarities/differences between “our learners” and learners in other sectors, and raise the challenging question, “Is Traditional L&D Still Relevant?”

First, there is one very strong area of alignment between development/relief learners and learners in other sectors. Both surveys’ results identified knowledge sharing within teams as the most important source of sharing in the organization. Over 90% of LINGOs respondents identified team knowledge sharing as either “Essential” or “Very Important.” In Jane Hart’s survey, this category also took the top prize, with 87% of respondents identifying it as Essential or Very Important.

Interestingly, while respondents to both surveys agreed on the importance of knowledge sharing, they disagreed significantly on other points.

In Jane Hart’s survey, the second most useful source of learning was identified as web searches, while company training/e-learning was the lowest-rated way to learn at work. Respondents to LINGOs’ survey did not agree! LINGOs respondents identified general conversations and meetings within their teams as the second most important source of learning (which Jane Hart’s blog respondents put in third place.) However, what is probably the most interesting contrast between the two surveys is that LINGOs respondents identified Training/eLearning Provided by Your Company (73%) as the third most important source of workplace learning, just behind general conversations and meetings (77%)! In contrast, only 37% of Jane Hart’s respondents identified Training/eLearning as Essential or Very Important.

What does this mean? While it is clear that LINGOs survey data needs improvement, beginning with more respondents from more locations, representing a wider variety of backgrounds, there are several very interesting takeaways. First, Social Learning is king! Both surveys identified knowledge sharing and conversations in teams as being the most important avenues of learning. Secondly, it appears that eLearning and Trainings continue to be very important in our sector (while not nearly as much in other sectors). Why this discrepancy in results?  It could be because our offices are so remote that eLearning a pragmatic/practical approach to reach staff on limited budgets. It could be that the social components of our training events allow for the hallway/watercooler conversations that are critical to social learning in our agencies. The survey does not ask why, but it clear that respondents still value eLearning and Training.

Below you will see a summary of the responses from the two surveys. They are definitely thought provoking. LINGOs will also be discussing the results of these surveys at the LINGOs Global Learning Forum (Little Rock, Arkansas; October 14-15, 2015.) There, we will review the challenges these responses pose to our agency learning strategy, and explore approaches and products that will allow LINGOs members to better serve the next generation of learners in the workplace.

LINGOs’ survey results

Mike's survey data

Jane Hart’s survey results, available at C4LPT.uk

Jane Hart survey

Making the Most of eCornell: A Conversation with George Nyamao of MSH

george nyamaoGeorge Nyamao, an Operations Associate at Management Sciences for Health’s Kenya office, has completed a number of certificates in management and human resources through eCornell’s generous partnership with LINGOs. A self-described “family man” who loves people, music, nature, and his work, George also holds a Diploma in Management from the Technical University of Mombasa and an MBA in Finance from the University of Nairobi – a testament to eCornell’s versatility for learners of all educational backgrounds. George was kind enough to speak with us by email about his learning experience, the value of continuing education for his organization, and the colleagues he’s inspired along the way (our words, not his).

George, you’ve earned 5 separate certificates from eCornell through MSH’s program with LINGOs. What led you to seek these certificate programs?

It all started as a compliance effort in my first year at MSH, where it was a requirement for all employees to do the course “The Power of Managing Your Time and Personal Priorities”. I learned many practical approaches to increase my output by just thinking through how I could spend my time to achieve more and still maintain great working teams around me that are supportive and equally productive. Further navigation of this eCornell course showed me it was part of a series of other interesting courses leading to a certificate in Supervisory Skills. [Ed: more about the certificate here]. I discussed with my supervisor Peter about my interest and sought his approval, which he gave readily, and he pointed me to the fact that MSH offers great opportunities for quality personal development. The rest is where I am now!

How has your experience with the eCornell courses impacted you?

I have changed the way I work. It is evident. I have learned to listen more. I have learned to be more assertive and focused on what matters most on my priority list and also the team’s priority list. More importantly, I have gained satisfaction from having to execute my roles even in the midst of time and resource constraints. My interpersonal relations have greatly improved. I can team up with anybody and achieve great results, even the most difficult individuals. I now perceive challenges positively as opportunities for me to offer a solution. Solutions reside in the midst of challenges. Everyone can be enabled to lead in their locality and harness local resources to perform great work that improves the social wellbeing of the people.

George quote 1What has MSH been able to do or do differently as a result of your experience with eCornell?

The most commendable is that staff in MSH have appreciated that it is possible to grow their skills while working and impact the delivery of service. During my studentship at eCornell, I encouraged my colleagues Martin Githungo (driver), Brian Ayugi (Office Assistant), Irene Kihara (Administrative Assistant), Roseline Wandera (Operations Associate) and Rosemary Njue (Procurement Officer) to enrol with eCornell. I am aware that most of them have achieved certification and others are at various stages of their certificate series program. The MSH model with LINGOs is an open cheque to all MSHers to put their names on at total benefit to them and no cost to them. I commend MSH and encourage it to keep offering these courses to employees.

George quote 2

Any thoughts you want to share with LINGOs and other LINGOs member organizations (80+ international development/humanitarian organizations)?

There is growing demand for skills in monitoring and evaluation, program evaluation and assessment/audit. This is an area to target for course offerings to improve skills in the NGO sector for setting realisable targets/goals.

To existing and potential LINGOs members, eCornell courses are great models for leveraging value, by spreading the benefit of staff development programs over a big team. eCornell offers high quality courses at unbelievably low budget costs per staff member compared to conventional individual staff sponsorship programs.

Anything you want to express to eCornell?

The quality of training materials and faculty is commendable. The print course materials offer great reference. The animated presentations and videos are great learning aids, as are the array of multicultural Teaching Assistants and students who enrich the courses with global cases and experiences shared during discussions and forums. I am glad to remain an active Alumni of Cornell University.

George, thank you!

And to all LINGOs members: it’s always great to hear how member benefits have made a difference for your organization, whether they’re LINGOs learning programs or products donated by our corporate partners. If you have a story you’d like to share, please email marian@lingos.org

LINGOs member organizations have access to an unlimited number of subsidized seats for their staff in eCornell’s award-winning courses and certificate programs. For more information on eCornell, please visit www.ecornell.com and reach out to your organization’s designated contact to LINGOs.

DevLearn: from geeks to witches and everything in between…

Guest Post by Shannon Cavallari, PATH; Samantha Hackett, Save the Children; Catriona Moriarty, Conservation International; and, Jenn Soliman, Ipas

 Introduction to DevLearn

We had the wonderful opportunity to attend DevLearn 12: Embracing Technologies, an event that is targeted for like-minded geeks who use new technologies to make us better at what we do. A second and equally beneficial opportunity was to strengthen relationships among the LINGOs members attending the conference.

It was important for us not only to get the most out of the conference, but also to ensure that we were frugal with costs given the location. As a partner of LINGOs, the eLearning Guild donates one Premium Membership, which also includes one admission to a conference and pre-conference workshop (a cost savings of almost $1500!). Continuing our cost-saving strategy the four of us shared two rooms, a decision which would yield way more benefits than splitting the bill. If you know anything about this group, you know that networking and sharing does not stop once you leave the conference room floor.

The eLearning Guild always hosts a fantastic conference and this year’s DevLearn was no exception. Located in the Aria Resort and Conference Center on the Las Vegas Strip, it was hard to show up the glitz and glamour of all the lights, but they did.

Favourite moments

Samantha Hackett, Save the Children UK

Wow, what an amazing week, there were some fantastic speakers at this year’s conference, and I was both excited and a little freaked out to be counted among them presenting on the Mobile Learning stage for a session called The Potential for Cloud Learning with an amazing co-speaker Gerry Griffin from Skill Pill M-Learning. The session looked at the challenges organizations like ours face both culturally and technologically and how to best approach these challenges using innovations like mobile learning, how delivery mode impacts the style and shape of the learning content and how best to take advantage of the cloud.

What a great opportunity this was and looking back on my first eLearning Guild conference three years ago, where everything seemed so new and complicated, it highlighted to me, how far we as LINGOs members have come over the last few years. I was subjected to the usual challenges of a speaker (failing equipment, background noise, dessert trolley arriving mid-way through), but I really enjoyed it and I would encourage other LINGOs members to think about taking the plunge and becoming a speaker at the next eLearning Guild event- as we really are doing some innovative “stuff.”

This was a truly wonderful week with some great sessions, but it also provided many networking opportunities. I met some really fantastic people who were very interested in the work that we do, so I saw this not only as an opportunity for ourselves to look at how we could support our own individual work, but as a way to highlight the work that LINGOs is doing and encourage people to get involved. After the Welcome Reception Halloween night, it seemed that everyone knew about the LINGOs witches.

Finally, it was great to use the DevLearn app to keep up-to-date on agendas, vendors, speakers, and thankfully, maps . I hope next year, we can do away with paper all together.

Left to right: Samantha Hackett, Catriona Moriarty, Eric Berg, Jenn Soliman, Shannon Cavallari.

Jenn Soliman, Ipas

There are two moments that stick out in my mind about this conference: the pre-conference workshop and the Tin Can API session.

Full of confidence, Samantha, Shannon and I initially enrolled into the Intermediate to Advanced Storyline workshop. After all, we were confident in our Articulate Studio abilities, had downloaded and played in Storyline and even watched a few demos and tutorials. Unfortunately, this was not enough and at the first break, with our heads down, we moved to the Introduction to Storyline workshop led by Ron Price of Yukon Learning. The Yukon Learning team led us through exercises to gain knowledge on the basics of Storyline.  I feel much more confident in my Storyline skills and look forward to putting my skills into practice on my next course. Our lesson learned: just because you are confident in one tool doesn’t mean those skills or knowledge will easily translate to another. Articulate Studio and Articulate Storyline are significantly different.

Tin Can API is an entirely new concept to me, one that I probably still don’t fully understand. That being said, it is moments like this that excite me the most about attending these conferences. I feel like I am on the edge of innovation and I can’t wait to learn more. I attended a session with Tin Can experts and their knowledge and explanation of Tin Can API enticed me to learn more.

Here is a shortened explanation of what Tin Can API is from their website: The Tin Can API is a brand new learning technology specification that opens up an entire world of experiences (online and offline). This API captures the activities that happen as part of learning experiences. A wide range of systems can now securely communicate with a simple vocabulary that captures this stream of activities.

I think this learning technology creates many opportunities for data to support our programs and is something we should not miss out on.

In addition to learning at DevLearn, we were also able to build our relationships by spending time together. On Saturday, after the conference ended, Shannon, Samantha and I drove to the Hoover Dam. We arrived just as the sun was starting to set. The reflection on the water was magnificent and the mountains looked like they were painted pink. It was a beautiful sight.

This was the first time I have attended DevLearn and let me just say, I completely geeked out. I attended the conference with two specific objectives in mind: to walk away with a better skillset and use of Storyline and to wrap my head around the term gamification. And of course, network.

As Jenn pointed out, the Introduction to Storyline workshop was excellent. The trainers, the materials, and the hands-on activities were exactly what I needed to start to think about how and when I would use this new tool within PATH.

There were a ton of interesting sessions, sometimes overlapping. It wasn’t a problem identifying what to attend; it was identifying which session I wanted to attend more. In some instances, this is where teamwork paid off as some of my LINGOs friends would attend one session while I attended another. Later in the evening we would debrief and share notes.

I attended a few sessions on gamification, a term used to describe the use of game mechanics and game design techniques in non-game contexts. One particular session, Understanding the Value of Games and Gamification for Serious Learning, not only presented on the topic but demonstrated how to incorporate games into learning. Dividing the room into two teams, we used a polling technology and texted our answers to questions the presenter asked. I’d like to point out that my team won J I walked away from DevLearn with an understanding on how, when and why you would try to incorporate gamification into your design.

We used the LINGOs booth as our central meeting place during the conference. On more than one occasion, I spoke to interested designers and vendors who wanted to know what LINGOs was, how I was affiliated and what they could do to get involved. It’s an amazing feeling to sing the praises of LINGOs and the member agencies. To discuss with confidence the Last Mile Learning initiative, Global Giveback and what the consortium does as a group. I think I may be pretty good at this gig, for I was abandoned by Eric at least once to man the booth due to a “meeting” he had. Either that or he knows I have no problem asking people to donate their time or resources to such a worthy consortium. Next time, I think Eric owes me dinner! ;)

Catriona Moriarty, Conservation International

It’s early Wednesday morning, and I’ve finally arrived in the glistening Las Vegas desert! With Hurricane Sandy a swirling blur behind me, I am ready to dip a toe into DevLearn! As anticipated, it is an enticing mix of techies, hash tags, QR codes, and innovative TECHNOLOGY! My red-eye wander shifts to wide-eyed wonder after the first of many coffees in the hall. My first session is Tracy Bissette of WeeJee Learning! She is brilliant. Tracy introduces an instructional design challenge, and three different panelists. They each pitch their unique methodologies for planning, designing, and delivering training solutions to solve for the challenge. It’s super interesting to see their different approaches, mock ups, and the platforms they leverage to launch! It gives me unique insight into the questions one needs to ask up front before moving eLearning ideas into design, introduces me to iBooks authoring (love!) and reinforces the importance of understanding your audience. With each concurrent session, I settle deeper and deeper into the dizzying and dazzling technology dose that is DevLearn!

After hours, we do find some fun! It is Vegas, after all… Our LINGOs crew rallies and we find ourselves sharing new insights, knowledge, and many questions! What is this Project Tin Can thing all about anyway?!? We are messaging and tweeting and connecting and most importantly, inspired by everyone around us. It’s all very sparky and cool! And yes, there are some costumes and cocktails involved!

After three days of tech madness and stimulating discoveries, we are poolside, perusing the DemoFest guide, and soaking up some serious sun. Aaaaaaaah! DevLearn. See you next year!

Closing thoughts

A conference is just that…a conference. It’s what you make of your time while you are there that matters; what sessions you choose to attend, soaking up new information and skills, networking, and strengthening relationships. We each came to the conference with our own objectives, but I think we not only made the most of our time while we were there. We also strengthened the relationship between each other and are still using “whatsapp” to group text regularly in preparation for meeting up at the Lingos conference.  A special thanks to David Holcombe from the eLearning Guild for your and the Guild’s participation in LINGOs.

Left to right: Catriona Moriarty, Shannon Cavallari, Samantha Hackett, Jenn Soliman.

LINGOs grows in community and resources

Posted by Marian Abernathy

 We are pleased to welcome 14 new member agencies to the LINGOs community so far this calendar year. We’ve added capacity on our end to continue to provide top notch member services to each agency. In addition to our LMS Administrator, Joey Watkins, whom many of you met at last fall’s member meeting, we just welcomed Lourdes Islague, as part time Administrative Support.

We plan a series of posts here on our blog to provide tools and resources to our newer members. We hope they will be of use for more seasoned members planning new learning initiatives, as well!  We will pull examples and case studies from other members’ posts on our LinkedIn group, as well as from discussions at the ongoing “Virtual Coffee Breaks.”

In addition to the expertise and experience of the LINGOs community, readers will benefit from the expertise of Ruth Kustoff, an independent learning and development consultant, who works with organizations to identify what learning, knowledge and skill-based training is required to meet business/organizational goals. As a guest blogger, she will share her expertise on the front-end of identifying needs, strategizing an approach to learning to meet identified goals, and developing organizational blueprints or learning roadmaps.

In this series, we’ll cover topics that many of our members have touched upon in LinkedIn, Virtual Coffee breaks, on skype and in person! Subscribe to this blog if you haven’t yet – and stay tuned for upcoming posts on:

  • Identify top learning needs and develop a plan
  • Tips for Selecting Content a challenge given the wealth resources available just through LINGOs!
  • Build Awareness of the Learning Program: Communications plan
  • Learning Liaisons in the Field
  • Getting Senior Management Support
  • Assessing Learning Impact

This post will be seen on the LinkedIn Discussion board. Please share your questions, comments or experience on any of these topics and more, please join the discussion on LinkedIn… and the upcoming Virtual Coffee Breaks.

 

 

 

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.