Conversation Brings Change, Naturally

I’ve been thinking about Media Naturalness theory for some time. Well, more often it just pops up because it’s not like I’ve invested all than much effort into it. In short, if you’re not familiar, Media Naturalness Theory is the idea that human beings were built for face-to-face communication over thousands of years of evolution. Our gestures, voice inflection, eye movement, body language all contribute to giving and receiving information. Therefore anything that shifts away from this “medium” impacts our ability to effectively communicate. There was a lot of study around this with the introduction of email. To learn more I found this Wikipedia article a pretty good place to start.

Being more into the media rich New Social Learning (i.e. learning through social technology), I haven’t put much stock into Media Naturalness theory but I had a bit of an epiphany at a recent meet-up here in Syracuse. I’m a member of a local Bloggers Facebook group. We comment and exchange posts as well as ask for advice, etc. I was wanting to meet some of these fine people in person and pick their brains about blogging and why they do it, how they do it, tools, approaches, etc. I think I’m somewhat of an outlier in this space as I don’t blog for money, I do it for myself (although if the occasional speaking gig arises I usually don’t say no), my topic is a bit fringe, and I’m a bit of a purist in that I focus exclusively on my writing/reflecting and do nothing in regard to researching tags, SEO and monetization.

Meeting virtual friends face to face is always pleasant and since we didn’t engage much in long discussions in our Facebook group the opportunity was there to sit, have a beer and just hear each others voices if nothing else. Upon my arrival I moseyed up to a trio and introduced myself. After exchanging pleasantries I was asked by one, Joe I believe, “So what is it you write about exactly?” Without missing a beat I rattled off something like “I write about organizational social. How increasing transparency and openness can improve performance. You know, how social tools can be used inside an organization for sharing and collaboration.”  As I sputtered out my final words I realized, but didn’t feel compelled to add it in, that I said nothing about learning. I hadn’t even whispered the term that has defined my career for over 20 years now. No ID. No elearning. No L&D. No training. Nothing.

Blogging has a unique pressure that really only strikes you when you hit “publish.” Even as comments to your posts come in, you can pause almost indefinitely and ponder a reply. But in the heat of a face-to-face conversation, with real human eyes cast upon you and ears finely tuned, your response is unrehearsed, visceral and probably the most honest you can give. I write so much on my interest, beliefs, observations, efforts, etc that I really haven’t even given conscious thought to the transformation I have been undertaking. In reflecting on this moment over the past week I started looking back at my conversations online, my blog posts over the past few months and years and the pattern was obvious; I have slowly shifted away from being L&D-centric and have been seeing the whole organization’s role in impacting individual performance. Learning is a part of the work not apart from it. And thus learning is mostly indistinguishable from the other activities that make up the work we do, it is an unconscious underpinning. No longer does learning, in the formal sense, dominate my thinking and practice any more than communication, human interaction, culture, leadership, and trust.

Change happens one conversation at a time or in this case, change is made obvious through conversation. And why not – we’ve been learning about others and ourselves this way for thousands of years.

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.

L&Ds Business Is Not In Driving Social Business

I’m becoming more convinced that organizational efforts to help people build social networks and personal knowledge management skills should not involve L&D any more than the Accounting department. And it appears it not just me. Sam Burrough and Martin Couzins recently co-led a MOOC on Social Learning and asked the question in a final Tweetchat: “What role should L&D play in Social Learning?” which for me is a small one. Additionally, in a recent Tweet, JD Dillon made the point that in organizations, many are really doing similar things:

However, I think James Tyer put it best in his blog post titled “Who Owns Organizational Learning? You.” and I encourage you to read it.

My take? As social tools become more commonplace many people today are already (unconsciously) building networks and have developed processes (undocumented) to manage fluid knowledge without much assistance. These people may not be as effective as they could be, or will be, but the way to learn this is not through training which arguably L&D still looks to as the first choice. What people need is to be more conscious of their behavior and then they need encouragement to make their tacit knowledge (processes) explicit for others. This should not really be exclusively L&Ds charge, which organizational leaders tend to default to because when the word “learning” is uttered all eyes tend to turn to L&D. 

Social learning is structureless, the opposite of formal learning. Social transcends the traditional organizational boundaries of departments and divisions. It knows no hierarchy or roles. To help social tools and behaviors to be more a part of worker’s activity, it must simply become more a part of the worker’s work. Learning the work is done by doing the work and this happens best within the work itself not outside of it where L&D typically sits. 

My thoughts on this were further cemented by Dion Hinchcliffe‘s recent article in ZD Net “The Growing Evidence for Social Business Maturity“. This article highlighted the move of organizations from social adoption to adaptation (of open, collaborative work). It spoke of the importance of organizational culture, the significance of executive commitment, business partnerships with operations and IT, goals and KPIs as keys to progression. It was all about the business, the business leaders, the use cases, ambassadors, CoPs, and community management. There was no direct mention of L&D… but for an implied mention when speaking of training – but it was more specifically termed “viral training”; Helping people use the platform’s features and functions peer-to-peer. This would be a significantly minor role for L&D, especially if the tools are intuitive as the should be and even then, motivated folks figure the complex out.
Today there is much focus on trying to convert learning professionals to new understandings and practices using social tools and encouraging social behaviors. This is a mistake in my opinion. Many learning professionals don’t engage or understand the practices any more than any other organizational roles – why assume they will be best suited? Connecting, communicating, curating, etc are not exclusive to a single department. The learning of effective social practices and tools is best done socially; through observation, experimenting, feedback and conversation. This will take time and mistakes will be made of course but I think less control is the best path to longterm success. It’s a higher up decision that patience and trust are to replace command and control. So render unto L&D that which is formal and render unto the entire organization the social efforts that truly surround business execution. 

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.

Morning:

  • 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


Afternoon:

  • 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

Post-Workshop:
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!

Of Social Tools And Toys

Twitter is for morons and b-level actors.” 

I remember reading this in a Newsweek article in 2009. Funny thing is five years later I find many still believe this, and why not? Traditional media and late night talk show hosts do a wonderful job of highlighting only the harmful and the humorous. But what they don’t know is how powerful this and other social tools are too many people for learning and growing through networks.


This got me wondering about who, how many and what in regard to social tool use.  Might there be a 90-9-1 use of social media?  If you don’t recall, the 90-9-1 rule is where 90% of networks are made up of the equivalent of virtual voyeur, 9% contribute periodically, and the golden 1% create all the content that the lurkers and contributors consume or add to. 

I wondered then, when it comes to social tool use, do we have a comparable breakdown?

90% actors
9% marketers
1% makers

The 90%
No doubt social tools are a narcissists dream, where everyone can get their 15 minutes of fame. Traditional media does well to point out the sensationally bad behaviors of individuals and blames the medium as much, if not more than, as those making the blunder. These majority users aren’t morons, as they still widely use social tools to connect and learn, yet much use is for telling their personal story with all it’s comedy and tragedy displayed for the world to see. 

The 9%

Most businesses only toy with social technology. These “9%ers” build social brand promotion campaigns, sterilizing their customer “engagement” and then push so hard for ROI they excrete their humanity in the process. The hemorrhoids, of course, are too numerous to count. These companies rarely seem to get “it” right, but when they get it wrong, they get it really wrong; enduring black eyes for the silly games they play. Their half-baked approaches get chewed up and spit back in their faces like when they hijack a hashtag to sell a dress in the midst of a shooting or get into pissing matches with unhappy customers for the whole world to see. Who’s the moron?

The 1%

The minority however are those getting the greatest value. They are using it in strategic ways that bypass old models, as one group’s toy is another group’s tool. All their activity is happening under the radar of the status quo; not much mainstream press for their success. Through networking, sharing and collaborating, they are silently growing skills and knowledge. They are finding unique ideas, challenging content, and brilliant minds through open sharing and humility. Each of their engagements is a stretch assignment, a mentor meeting or a chance for large group reflection. They are making progress through relationships. 

Of course we can’t be pigeon held to one area. Just like 90-9-1 isn’t a hard and fast rule where we are locked into one of three convenient lables of lurker, contributer, or creator. We are all simultaneously actors, weaving our tale. We are marketers, building our brand if we see it or not. And we are all makers, from time to time bringing value to others.  But I do think, through seeking and sincere interactions, the minority today don’t just retain their humanity with these tools, they learn more about it and how powerful and rewarding it is to be real.