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. 

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