I speak at a lot of conferences, with most presentations lately based on Social Media for Trainers. Conference participants often ask about the specifics of choosing and managing particular tools, but it seems sometimes they are missing the point.

The crux of using social media in any endeavor, as Gina Schreck has said, is, “Social media invites and allows interaction from others. How are you inviting that interaction?“ The popularity of social media tools means that sooner, rather than later, those of us in the field will need to examine what this means for us. Among other things, as noted by Taleo’s Tom Stone, use of social media tools is an excellent means of making learning more transparent. As he says, “It’s captured, searchable, and has much greater reach beyond the two people talking in the hallway.”

We know a great deal of workplace learning is informal; but without the tools to make it more evident, management may not be aware of informal learning in the workplace at all. But at the same time, this activity will require a quantum leap for many of us in L&D, used to developing and delivering and vetting and tracking content. What are some ways we can invite interaction and develop something more akin to a partnership with our learners?

Watch for “teachable moments”

In the past, those of us in L&D would go ask the SME (subject matter expert) to show us how to, say, assemble the widget. Then we would invest a lot of time, using expensive equipment, to make a training video on widget assembly. But the world of video production has changed, with most of us now having digital video cameras on our phones, and most of us being comfortable with amateur-level video, thanks to sites like YouTube.

So why should L&D have to make the widget video? Film the exemplary performer or technical expert (or have her film herself), and put it on the company’s YouTube or other video channel. The Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain has done this with great success in an initiative called “Video Café” as a way of showcasing good performers and practices. The short videos cover everything from customer service to food preparation. They make them available to staff via internal channels, and they incorporate some into more formal training materials.

Google’s Julia Bulkowski offers another example: When a star salesperson gets a big sale, ask them to take a few minutes to sync audio over the presentation they used to close the deal. Have them mention critical success moments, objections, and responses, and embed that session into a wiki, intranet, e-mail, Google doc, Slideshare, or enterprise social network.

Try setting up some “learn together” sessions. Last spring, members of Insync Training’s Facebook community realized that the popularity of handheld devices was bringing in a new age of apps for conducting virtual classroom sessions via smartphone and tablet. Organizers invited group members to an online “rodeo” to test out the apps with the explicit caveat: “There will be no instruction, and we cannot troubleshoot. We’re learning, too.” Thirty people came, on their own time and of their own volition, to participate in something pretty much guaranteed to be frustrating. But learn we did. See http://realworkplacelearning.com/2011/07/16/this-is-how-we-learn-the-insync-app-rodeo/.

Help learners become more aware of learning

So much learning is informal and unconscious; often learners don’t think of it as “learning something” but as “solving a problem.” Research from Allen Tough tells us that the typical (in the research, middle-class) adult engages in five self-directed learning projects a year, investing an average of 100 hours in each. The problem is, most adults don’t think of themselves as embarking on self-directed learning projects. They think of it as figuring out how to build a deck, or how to win at World of Warcraft, or how to get the best deal on a new car. They choose their own methods, from Googling, to practicing, to asking Joe the coworker, to attending workshops at the local hardware store.

In inviting interactions about learning, it’s useful to help workers recognize when they are learning. Doing worker status reports or callouts in meetings? Add the item, “What did you learn this week?“ Encourage management to make this part of conversations, open meetings, and open classes. Incorporate it into the performance review process: “Learning x helped me perform y.” Articulating it surfaces it.

Become a Partner

  • Go where they are. Workers are already talking to each other, online and elsewhere. Watch for communities that already exist, and gently join those. Too often L&D wants to set up new, separate silos that compete with communities already in existence.
  • Listen. Pay attention to what employees are talking about. No one on the planet, except maybe HR, cares about your “sexual harassment policy forum.”
  • Offer a space for “user reviews” on the L&D department’s site.
  • Ask leaders to share the best advice they ever received, ask call center staff to offer their tips for handling challenging interactions, offer a space for “user reviews” on the workplace training catalog.
  • Invite new hires to contribute to an ever-evolving “FAQs for New Hires” wiki.
  • Structure questions and conversations to encourage use of a public discussion area instead of burying conversation in one-to-one e-mail.
  • Host a “Work-Life Balance Blog” populated with content from invited workers.

In The eLearning Guild’s recent Social Media for Learning Report, a finding was that many organizations experiencing success with social media for learning were doing it via the use of “ambassadors” from within the organization – those people likely to write or otherwise contribute to endeavors. So: Who is talking, what do they want to talk about, and how can L&D support and facilitate that without overcontrolling or killing it?

Really, the best way to invite interaction?


Want More?

Allen Tough’s site is http://www.allentough.com/ and three of the early books are now available there for free download.

Tough, Allen. 1971. The adult's learning projects: A fresh approach to theory and practice in adult learning. Toronto: OISE.

 Tough, Allen. 1982. Intentional changes: A fresh approach to helping people change. Chicago: Follett.

The Cheesecake Factory Video Café showcase is at http://www.workforce.com/article/20110620/NEWS02/306209997 . Accessing article requires setup of free account.

See Jane Hart’s Social Learning Handbook at http://c4lpt.co.uk/social-learning-handbook/ .

And: Join me for more conversation at http://www.facebook.com/SoMe4Trainers and at Learning Solutions 2012 on Monday, March 19, for a full day preconference session, “A Manager’s Guide to Social Media for Learning.”