The “Too Many Social Tools” Problem

In a recent morning buzz session I led at the DevLearn Conference titled “Social at the Center“, a few attendees presented a common problem happening in their organization – having too many social tools available and in use. They were frustrated that people were entrenched in small, separated, collaborative pockets with a variety of social tools in use to get their work done. It’s actually a good problem to have, as I have shared in a previous post, Big Social Isn’t Always Best, however their desire was to reap the rewards of a largely connected company. For them, the conversations are happening just as silo’d as before social tools were adopted. Their initial reaction to this was the antithesis of social and sadly the common action of the status quo – shutting down unsanctioned/ unsupported tools.

That is the easy answer.  However it’s not the correct answer.

For starters, give credit to social technology for doing what it does best, making the invisible visible. Social technology can teach you more about your culture than can actually transform it. In this case just the availability of social tools may be revealing that there is no strong desire for these employees to share beyond their immediate team needs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this organization having individual sales goal awards, a single winners of some golden customer service trophy, and a hierarchical system where advancement is made by those who were savvy enough to out maneuver their peers. These are all strong indicators of an organization that values competition over collaboration and cooperation.

It’s rare that organizations significantly recognized those that help one another or  reward the process just as much as the product. Yet this is the correct answer if they want to realize the benefits of a social business. It’s simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy – social tools do not make an organization more social, more transparent, open or connected, people do.

From The Business of Learning to The Learning Business

As you may have heard, about 3 weeks ago I joined the eLearning Guild and will be working closely with the learning community and onsite events. It’s a small step in my employment journey but a large leap in my career. So, how’s it going so far? Really good. I am getting immersed in the processes and people that make up this organization and contributing immediately where I can. I’m also being very patient with myself so I can better ensure that I have a good understanding of all the connected parts.

When I was first approached by the Guild I was of course intrigued and flattered. The eLearning Guild is a leader in this space, the “learning” space. I’ve been a member for years and spoken at several of their events. Of course when I speak, I speak about how I’ve used social technology in the organizations I’ve worked for. Therefore joining the Guild could be seen as a bit of a departure for me as it is the “eLearning” Guild after all. A colleague even remarked, “You’re like the social guy, I wonder how this will be received?” But I and others saw it differently; not as a departure but more like a merger.

eLearning today does not mean what it once did and the Guild gets this. In the early 2000’s the eLearning Guild answered a growing call for more information, ideas, technology and approaches in the then budding eLearning space. eLearning is continually transforming and today, driven by the interest and practices of the community, it can no longer be seen as just courses and classes delivered online. Due to expanding consumer technologies, mobile devices and the advent of Web2.0, elearning has become ubiquitous. The community conversations around eLearning have shifting rightfully to be more about Learning than just the vehicles that deliver or augment it. 

Web 2.0 in particular ushered in a populous movement across the Internet and has given rise to a New Social Learning. Growing learner autonomy and global interdependence has hastened the decline of a dependence on traditional learning approaches. The new Social Learning however will not be the nail in the coffin for traditional elearning or training, nor should it be, as formal learning is still very much needed. What the reinvigorated (or new) Social Learning has done is bring balance to the beliefs and practices around learning and put formal in its rightful, more limited place. Social learning is forcing a community conversation about how formal learning must improve its quality and impact to remain relevant.  

The Guild was designed as a platform to encourage this and other conversations where members can openly share their thoughts and ideas and then the Guild can communicate this back through research, resources, and events for the community. Community and conversation are at the core of the eLearning Guild and because of this they (ah hem…) we are positioned to help hasten the changes needed and help organizational learning to keep up with the speed of business.  

I’m excited to be more a part of this conversation and to be able to bring my own practices and beliefs about learning to the Guild. I look forward to taking part in the larger community, working with you all, and helping to better see and be the future of organizational learning.

Practice Makes Permanent

James Tyer and I co-authored this post to share that we are hosting a workshop in Orlando on March 24th at the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions 2015 conference ‘Kick-start Your Personal and Organizational Social Learning Journey‘. We have created the agenda based on our experiences developing and supporting personal and organizational social learning practices. The workshop has a simple premise: 

If you don’t practice social, you can’t support it.

Why? Social learning is natural, but the addition of social technology adds a layer of complexity for many. Unfortunately, because of the technology used to extend and expand social interaction, the conversations frequently turn to be about the technology rather than learning. Personal social practice is challenging as it requires an openness that may feel uncomfortable. On top of this, if you haven’t developed successful practices, you can’t support others to develop the same. 

How can you make sense of all the information from vendors and consultants? What really works, or doesn’t work? There is no one-size-fits-all answer and social learning is not, as many claim, the solution to all organizational performance problems.

Our workshop is meant to help you find your own answers. Split into two parts, the morning workshop is about your personal practices; in the afternoon it’s about extending these to your organization.

We will draw upon our own experiences to help: stories of success and failure (about 50-50 it always feels!). We invite you to take a look at our agenda and we’ll answer any questions you may have before you sign up.


  • An introduction to digital literacy and fluency and why our changing world requires a new mindset for all (including L&D/HR).
  • Forging your career – finding your purpose, learner autonomy (we can’t depend on organizations to build our skills any more), and mastery
  • The internal and external barriers to personal social practice
  • Identifying the current state of your network(s)
  • Participating in online social learning events
  • Reflective practice: blogging and working out loud
  • Building, growing, and sustaining your personal networks


  • Understanding the barriers to others developing a social practice
  • How social practice fits into newer L&D models: 70:20:10, performance support
  • Understanding your organization (business or purpose) and culture
  • Communicating value to your peers and leadership
  • Identifying and empowering your key organizational partners
  • Some starting points: not just adding social to courses
  • Organizational roadblocks

A significant component of this workshop actually follows the workshop. We aim to continue our conversations afterward in a format decided by the participants, checking on each others’ progress, encouraging new social habits and sharing stories, resources and ideas. 
Let us know what questions you need answering or what you would change to make it more valuable to you!

Learning in 2024: Same As It Ever Was

The eLearning Guild posed the question of: “What will learning look like in 2024?”  Of course I could be snarky and say well, learning is learning and that’s an internal process that’s been the same for thousands of years… but I know what they mean – How will the external influences on learning be different in 10 years.

On Friday they sponsored a Twitter chat (#LRN2024) which got me thinking of how difficult it is today to predict what will be in 10 years let alone in 3 months.  However, regardless of technology and methodology changes, I simply see learning going the way of work.

As the way we work changes, learning will follow suit or better -flow more within the work. Work will continue to change of course due in great part to technological advances and that technology will ultimately automate many tasks. The automation and outsourcing of work will continue and create increased productivity but also reduce the need for certain jobs.  The jobs that will be needed will require more emphasis on cognitive skills.  So rather than look ahead, let’s do look back. And not just 10 years, humor me and think of where we have been as a species in say the last 10,000 years.

Thousands of years ago, during the Agricultural Revolution, I suspect the way most everyone learned was through Observation, Experience, Conversation and Reflection, what Charles Jennings has referred to as “Real Learning”. This learning was individually and independently organized, and happened in the work. The tools for learning were the tools of work. Learning was informal and social, an outcome of the work itself. Later, in the Industrial Revolution, mass production was the work model. People were appendages of their machines and like mechanical parts bolted on, people were bolted to seats for uniform training – which was then mirrored in the academic settings. The products of industry were identical and so was the education. Organized learning shifted to formal and consistent because the work was consistent. The formula was still the same but the mixture was different – Experience, Practice, Conversation and Reflection was mostly managed by others. The time for each dictated and directed by instructors not the individuals.

So again, the work is changing. Rather than consistent and uniform, the real work of people will be inconsistent and growing more complex. Mass production remains but with fewer people and more machines. Machines will handle the simple rote work. The work that requires training, slightly more difficult, is increasingly being outsourced and likely too will be automated. The work then that will really propel organizations tomorrow is creative work, involving critical thinking and problem solving. Fast changes requires fast learning and that can’t be supported by classrooms or elearning courses, it can’t. The learning to support this will be highly independent and individualized. It will again heavily favor social and informal. At it’s core learning will always remain with the same elements of experience, practice, conversation and reflection but like during the Agricultural Revolution, I see it more happening in our work and through and in the tools of our work. This will be critical, as the work of the future will be many people coming together for short periods and disbanding,  a swarming economy. The outputs or products and the collaborative knowledge will be equal in value as “learnings” will not reside in a summary document but in an ever evolving portfolio of various content types to be tapped into and continually added and edited.

Learning is still and will always be an internal process. What will change most will be where the dependency resides; no longer on the organization outside the work but once again upon the individual in their work.