For nearly two decades one of my primary job responsibilities was researching new technologies for learning; choosing the ones that seemed most useful/relevant/likely to have a long life, and introducing them to our workforce. I find it fascinating that in 2019 so many things that once were struggles are now just status quo: The Internet is nearly ubiquitous in the developed world, with Wi-Fi so freely available that I no longer buy a data plan when I’m traveling to other countries. Our parents and grandparents suggest we FaceTime instead of call, and they know how to upload photos to any number of places online. Even people who don’t like Facebook know enough about it to explain why. I recently ran across this CMSWire piece by Sam Marshall that reminded me of lessons learned across my years of selling new technologies to a broad user base.
- Offer supported exploration. I’ve seen countless instances of tech-happy users telling others to “go try Twitter” or “just go surf around YouTube”. By contrast, sites running versions of the famous “23 things” initiative ask participants to familiarize themselves with assorted digital tools—one at a time—and include a discovery exercise for each. For example: learn about blogs, and set up a blog. Explore YouTube for keywords related to your interests, and choose a video to embed in your blog. Review these three tutorials about using Twitter, and create a Tweet with a gif or a poll.
- Solve a problem. Years ago I accidentally found that our support staff didn’t realize how much one could do with images in PowerPoint. Getting them to see that you could remove backgrounds from pictures was a revelation, and whetted appetites to learn more. Showing a past boss how a shared Google doc could save her 18 email responses that she’d need to weed through and collate ended my ever having to “sell” the idea of collaborative documents again.
- Lead a horse to water (aka “Pull, don’t Push”). Rather than immediately make a new technology some avenue for just more work, find some work-related activity that will spark interest. Pinterest: “Share a pin to your favorite movie in which a character demonstrates leadership.” Twitter: “Let’s try a book chat based on your favorite book about customer service.” Facebook group or Yammer: “Post photos of signage that sends a message to customers.” New users will need to create accounts and learn basics…and next time, when you want them to participate in something more closely resembling a work task, they’ll be ready to go with no ramp up and cajoling. Look for opportunities—like employee wellness fairs, charitable giving campaigns, safety initiatives, or employee activities—to pull people into a technology without just adding tasks to their workload.
- Be careful of geekspeak. As Marshall notes: ”If you ask the average office worker to ‘upload a dozen digital assets into the cloud and add metadata’ many would say they don’t know how. Yet they probably taught themselves to add photos to Dropbox or iCloud and sort them into albums—these are the same skills.” What do workers know how to do, and how can you connect that to workplace use?
- Familiarity breeds adoption. Try, when you can, to push for tools that are, or are close to, things your users already use and like. As Marshall notes, workers may be quicker to embrace Workplace for Facebook rather than Yammer just because the interface and functionality is more familiar. By the way: Do you even know which tools your learners like? The eLearning Guild 2018 survey Using Social Tools for Learning revealed that more than a quarter of respondents didn’t know what social tools their learners preferred.
- Make room for newbies. A common problem: When I introduced a new technology it was usually no longer “new”. By the time I had learned about it, found its relevance to our work, and made a determination about whether it would have reasonably long legs, the tools—particularly social tools—were already overtaken by super-users, high achievers, and the like. It’s intimidating to new users who don’t feel they’re part of the club, and worry about making novice mistakes. I got a big taste of this for myself when I finally checked out Snapchat. I’m usually pretty early to tools but admit I’d dragged my feet (“Another one? Really?”) on that, and it took a long time, being much more tentative than usual, to get my head around it. It can be especially intimidating to step into a new community where you don’t yet know jargon, in-jokes, and unspoken rules. When possible, consider offering sandbox spaces to new users, with a few friendly, experienced folks willing to help. If there’s an existing community, try to ease joining in. During each weekly #lrnchat we ask new users to identify themselves and request help, if they need it.
- Lower your expectations. Manage management’s. Think about groups or clubs or communities you’ve belonged to. Did every single person participate equally? When you’re in a face-to-face class, does everyone contribute? Do you even expect that? Same with “technology” solutions. Not everyone will use everything, and even if they end up using it, they may never love it.
- Corollary to the above: Some people can make anything not work. “It won’t load…it kicked me out… my password isn’t working…” ad nauseum. Help them until it becomes evident that needing help is not the problem, and move on.*
- Use ambassadors, not “champions”. Watch out for just rah-rah positive talk. I recall the HR recruitment manager who was always pushing: “We need to do social! All the recruiters need to be on Twitter!” She had 12 Twitter followers, followed a couple dozen famous writers and politicians, and never tweeted herself. The people who can help you with implementing new tools and ideas are the ones who’ve actually embraced them. Find the people who demonstrate use of tools, who engage, who participate in chats and share articles and tips, and ask for help. Those are the ones who show what a tool can do, can help build the community that is using it, and help it get uptake in the workplace.
*Note: My editor is going to ask that I make it clear this last comment is tongue-in-cheek. It is, mostly. (Noted: Ed.)