My colleagues and I talk often about social collaboration and its tepid adoption. The fact is that it’s hard to get employees to use a tool unless they see a real use for it. This is certainly true in learning. Most of the learning management vendors have some kind of social offering. The uptake depends on the efforts made by the learning department staff to integrate social, and how appropriate social is to the specific learning content. Another stumbling block for learning and social is that using social tools is a change from a typical online learning experience, and it demands some change management. Most people don’t embrace change; they need help in learning to use the tool and they need to see that social has positive effects on their learning.
The purpose of social learning is to provide an environment in which learners share experiences and resources and work together. A social learning environment supports conversations, discussions, and learning from each other. I see a number of ways that organizations are beginning to use social learning.
Wrapping a discussion group or instructor blog around an eLearning course. An instructor poses a question related to lesson content; learners react to questions and to comments from their classmates. They may agree, disagree, or provide an alternative viewpoint.
Using social learning in project work. Instructors involve online students in project work. They collaborate with their fellow students in planning, developing, and presenting the project results.
Tapping the experts. Often called expertise location, employees use a keyword search of employee profiles to identify other employees who have expertise in a certain area. They contact the expert(s) via social media, phone, or email for an asynchronous discussion.
For Christmas, my daughter Sarah gave me a book of photos of last summer’s family trip to Cape Cod. Each page was beautifully designed with descriptions of the events captured in the photos: the great lobster feast . . . the trip to Martha’s Vineyard . . . the day at Old Silver Beach playing in the water. Each page was a different color and had graphics appropriate for the theme conveyed by the pictures. How did she do this? It was a photo book with backgrounds, layouts, and embellishments that she had customized just the way she wanted them. It was template-based and Sarah rearranged pictures, added captions, and chose preset layouts. Tools allowed her to easily organize the page. There’s even spell check and autofill to instantly arrange pictures on a page.
As I read through the book for about the 10th time today, I thought, “This is what we need in online learning simulations!” Subject-matter experts need to be able to create interactive and adaptive game-like simulation activities through easy-to-use tools that use templates with many design options. We know that when learners engage in a simulation, the retention of learning is much longer because they have been involved in learning by doing. Examples include nurses learning how to use a defibrillator to save lives, machine operators recertifying their skills by operating the machine in simulated activities, or bank management training through a suite of simulated psychological activities.
The data shows that 70% of corporate change efforts either totally fail, have lukewarm results, or the change never becomes an integral part of the company culture. As I talk to clients about their change efforts, what’s worked and what hasn’t, some clear patterns emerge.
Change is not an event — it’s a process. You make plans for the executive to announce the change to employees. The executive talks about why it’s important for the company to make the change, what the change will look like, and the assistance the company will provide employees during this transformation process. The executive responds to employee questions and recommends that employees discuss any additional questions with their managers. A thoughtful speech, well delivered with empathy around challenges of change . . . it’s good, but it’s not enough. The executives have been thinking about and planning this transformation for weeks or months and know it well. The employees are hearing about the change for the first time, in this hour-long, all-hands company presentation. Anxiety, shock, and fear are typical reactions. Rather than this one-time announcement, make sure executives explain that today’s meeting is the first of many that will be held periodically using different media (web, in-person, email, social network, etc.) to provide updates and answer questions. Remember, half the audience may have heard nothing beyond the statement that major change is going to happen. Fear set in and they began to think about how this change will affect them.