Launching SoMe for Learning? – Think L before M

Are you struggling to get Social Media for learning started in your organization?  You might just be going about it all in the wrong order. In the effort to establish a social media empowered workforce, just remember as in the alphabet “L before M” as in “Learning” before “Media”. As my friend and colleague Jane Bozarth has said numerous times – we’ve been learning well before social media for ooooh about 5,000 years! So how come when presented with technology we seem to have forgotten this?

I know it’s hard. Technology changes almost hourly, information comes at us at light speed, knowledge can no longer be seen as within people but between them. The world is being transformed at the speed of the Internet. However, don’t despair this simple order- L before M is undeniable. Like Gravity or Murphy’s Law, the order of the alphabet is pretty much a given (However if you recall, efforts have been made as recent as the ‘70s to change this to the decibet).

I’ve written before about Working within the System to Change It where I propose that rather than a full on attack of training only solutions for performance improvement (where you will typically find resistance from both a well entrenched Training Department and quite possible from key executives who may be suffering from a form of Learned Helplessness) you focus on the fundamental elements of networked learning sans the technology first to build your case. Remembering to put Learning before Media may be your best approach to getting the tools you ultimately want to maximum performance in your organization.

It’s working for me thus far as my initial efforts have reaped some big rewards: 1. I was able to launch an official small-scale Yammer pilot 2. I now head up an internal social media subcommittee and 3. I have been asked to build and present the business case for social media use in our organization.

So what elements am I referring to? The basic elements within all social media: collaboration, sharing and community. That’s really it.  Note that these are also the fundamentals of learning socially too, no technology required. Just visualize what Jane said about how long we have been learning socially –picture the scene about 5000 years ago of a cave painting in progress; a small group of hominids huddled around a fire, painting, contributing, problem solving and leaving a record for others to review, apply, and/or edit then or in the future… collaboration …sharing…community.
So stop pushing the Media for now. Put Learning first and look closely at your organization’s current efforts to improve performance. Find those opportunities to rework them into a platform for social learning or create new ones. In the past I leveraged a Thiagi frame game to be a large scale collaborative problem solving effort with meaningful, impactful results. Yes it was mostly formal in its structure but definitely not training, because training was not the answer.

Today I am once again promoting a social learning initiative by transforming an upcoming training event.  In the past, one full day of our quarterly management meeting has been tagged as a training event. Within the currently defined parameters (space and time) a non-tech social learning platform for learning is in the works. So rather than a blanket training approach, a self-selecting learning conference will be hosted.

Our 60+ member management team will register for and attend several 45 minute concurrent sessions over a period of 5 hours. Each is to be focused on identified business needs with 15 minutes of reflection time between. The sessions will be hosted by field experts (their peers who happen to be regularly exceeding in key metric areas) sharing their keys to success and innovative approaches. Outstanding performance is typically recognized with a certificate, monetary reward and a round of applause but that leaves the attendees wondering “what did they ACTUALLY do to get that recognition?”

What’s the role of L&D then if we are not going to train? We will serve as consultants and organizers not designers and deliverers. Our IDs will help the presenters establish goals, outline their speaking agenda and help craft exercises. And our trainers will serve as coaches offering tips and demonstrating effective techniques in delivery, flow, and transitions.

This approach reinforces the principles of social learning; sharing knowledge and improving performance. It also serves to truly engage our employees; giving exceptional employees an opportunity to share and be recognized by their peers and leaders.

Finally the approach helps lay the foundation for change:

  • making it easier to introduce social media for learning as a means to expand and extend the social learning that was witnessed first-hand.
  • employees seen not as only appliers of knowledge and skill but providers of it;
  • L&D professionals are not just trainers and designers but performance specialist;
  • Organizational learning not as a result of top down, formal training but learning as a result of community, collaboration and sharing.

3 thoughts on “Launching SoMe for Learning? – Think L before M

  1. Frank,

    Yes the time waste argument is a common one. Unfortunately the rel culprit behind those activities are the people themselves, not the tools. SoMe doesn't make people lazy …they were lazy to begin with. Its a hiring problem, not a social media one.

    I think project may be a good idea, but I advocate within actual work flows, not outside of them. Enable social media for sync and async collaboration, problem solving, idea sharing for the benefit of real work. Deloitte Australia used Yammer to have its employees crowd source a new company tagline – saving $$$ on an ad agency. No tricks, real work.

  2. Hi Mark, I linked to this from Jane's Social Learning Community Network, where you commented on Stu Baileys request for help in getting this going in his organisation. I am the CEO of a small but growing e-learning company in South Africa where e-learning is new, let alone collaboration and social learning. We are keen to learn about this so we can help our clients with extended services (both technical and advice). There is resistance all around though. Companies generally do not like the idea as they think it will waste time and distract their staff from real work – they compare it to Facebook. Some learners at these companies say they do not have time for online formal learning either! So I think the only way to get this going is just to do it as part of a project, initially as an online workshop, a blog, and then maybe a forum where learners need to contribute ideas on a specific improvement project, just as they might if they were in a workshop. The tricks I guess are to get them to do this (for that it has to be real and not academic), and then to roll this out as a way of doing this generally. But in the end, you know what? – if the organisation is not ready for this, then it is like trying to make everyone use a new CRM system. If they will not do it then it is the wrong approach. All the best, Frank Smit Bridgewater Learning

  3. L before M, absolutely!

    Farmville and cats playing the piano have given social media somewhat of a stigma. That makes it more difficult for L&D professionals like us to integrate it into our organisation's activities. You see their eyes struggling not to roll in front of you as they think, "Here we go… social media… flavour of the month."

    I've found it fruitful to avoid particular terms. For example, a blog isn't a "blog" – it's a message board. A wiki isn't a "wiki" – it's an information library. I think that can hold true for Yammer too; it's not a "microblog" or "social network", and it's certainly not "like Twitter" – it's a way of working with your colleagues in other parts of the business.

    You may have noticed I didn't even use the term "learning". I've found that in itself can give an initiative or an activity a kind of aura that misses the point. As you say, Mark, it's really about PERFORMANCE. Their role is to perform, our role is to help them do it better.

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