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Top tips for encouraging social learning at work

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DateApril 11, 2012 Posted by: giles smith   Keywords: Ambassadors, benefits, learners, Motivation, Social Media, strategy

Sitting down with Wallace and Gromit, the kids, and lots of Easter chocolate offers a great opportunity to put pen to paper for the Towards Maturity newsletter. Though nowadays it’s rarely pen to paper - more like fingers to keypad, which is just another example of how technology quickly becomes deeply embedded in everyday activities.
 
In our world of learning, the term ‘social’ has quickly become a hot topic for L&D departments, not because it’s new but because technology is such a powerful enabler. Social interaction has always been our most potent means of teaching and learning, and technology now magnifies that interaction across home, work and play. So, how do you harness that power within the workplace through your own corporate social learning platform?
 
I’d love to misquote and say “build it and they will come!” (the actual line was “if you build it he will come”, Field of Dreams, 1989) but actually that would be too easy. Whilst the odds are that over 50% of your employees engage in social networking such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr etc, it’s unlikely they will instantly become active on your platform.  Of course, these well-established social networking sites have a very obvious advantage over corporate platforms – mindshare! For example, Facebook has 850 million global active users.

From my experience, the key factors to focus on are accessibility and personal benefits, plus the value of engaging old and new friends, colleagues, potential mentors and those who have skills you can learn from.  So, here are my suggestions on how you can maximise social learning engagement in your organisation.
 
Accessibility
Technology is an enabler and a facilitator – it makes social learning available to all, on-demand, so don’t restrict it, encourage it! Make it:

  • Accessible - through remote access technologies or Software as a Service (SaaS) models. People engage more frequently in social learning and networking when they’re away from the office – especially when they’re travelling or offsite, so make it available beyond the confines of the desk.
  • Mobile – with the fast growth of both tablets and smartphone use, ensure your platform can be used effectively on both.  91% of mobile Internet access is to social sites (Microtag.com) with 86% of browsing whilst watching TV.
  • Part of your IT infrastructure – I hate passwords and users names, I have more AKAs than the CIA’s most wanted and my pet collection is growing just to keep up with the password changes. So make it simple; Facebook and LinkedIN remember me, and corporate platforms really should take advantage of single sign on - don’t create reasons for people not to log in.
  • Trust-based – a site governed by trust will rise above one governed by rules. Educate those who make mistakes and leave it to willing users to publish corrections to inaccurate information – that’s the best learning.


Personal Benefits
There has to be a reason to go online, make it a natural part of working with your organisation.

  • Blended learning – integrate the platform within other learning activities, i.e. classroom-led sessions or follow-up work. This will encourage users to engage with the platform and also supports embedded learning in the workplace.
  • External content – use your learning partners to provide quality content and articles for the platform; keep it refreshed and interesting so people keep coming back to read updates.
  • Advocates – have leading advocates in the business who can respond to questions promptly and keep discussions going. 
  • Create groups – help people find what they need with specific discussion groups and content libraries, we want relevant information surfaced, not hidden in pages of conversation threads.
  • Business news – switch other forms of media to the site, don’t keep sending everything by email or employees will assume they can do the same. Publish content news, updates, videos, etc online and make the site topical and current.

 
Attraction
It has to be a place I want to go to, not one I’m told to look at!

  • Encourage profiles – encourage employees to have detailed profiles about themselves and their work. This enables colleagues to find and engage with each other.
  • Include everyone – social learning isn’t elitist, include everyone. Often, the help we need will come from teams we’re not familiar with. Don’t reinforce silos in the workplace by creating them online too. I won’t join in if the site offers me no solutions or is not diverse.
  • Help people connect – we simply don’t know what we don’t know, so help people find the right people and content. Highlight great conversations, content and input and include external subject matter experts to provoke conversations and provide alternate views.
  • Make it fun – work takes up a lot of our lives and if we expect people to get involved we need to give back some humour and fun. Include non-business related topics such as clubs, shared interests and activities.

    Overall, remember your first steps into social learning don’t have to be big ones, move forward from where you are rather than leaping head first into the future. Importantly, think about your users and what you want them to do, rather than just the technology.


Further information
If you want to hear more, come and meet Ron Edwards and me, Giles Smith, at the CIPD HRD conference technology centre on the 25th and 26th April.

QA are sponsors of the New Technology for Learning Zone at HRD 2012
http://www.cipd.co.uk/cande/hrd/free-learning-networking

QA HRD free sessions in the New Technology for Learning Zone
The Power of Many: Collaborative Social Learning -  Giles Smith & Ron Edwards
Wednesday, 25th April 13:15:  http://tinyurl.com/qasocial
Thursday, 26th April 09:30: http://tinyurl.com/qasocial26th

Virtual Learning: Engaging and Effective or Sleep Inducing? - Ron Edwards
Wednesday, 25th April 14:45: http://tinyurl.com/qavirtual
Thursday, 26th April 11:00:    http://tinyurl.com/qavirtual26th
 

QA has just published a white paper on How to maximise social learning within the workplace, which is available for download from:  http://www.qa.com/solutions/towards-maturity/

You can also register your interest in receiving the white paper by emailing Marketing@qa.com

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