1. About Me
  2. Links
    1. Home
    2. Archives
  3. Sites I Dig
    1. Twitter
    2. GitHub
    3. Agile Alliance
    4. Agile Iowa

Social Learning in the Enterprise: The Next Big Thing?

I recently posted on Twitter about my "love" for social learning. Due to the responses I thought I’d at least brain dump why I said what I did about the topic.

I spent several years in the Learning Management System business and over the last few years I’ve continued to be bombarded by the term "Social Learning". The industry is talking, and I’m not listening. I believe that Social Learning is the latest marketing gimmick to sell an LMS and nothing more. Unless we change a thing or 25 within our organizations, many companies will be sucked in by the hype and never achieve any of its purported benefits. Don’t get me wrong, social learning is real, we all continuously learn from our peer groups through our interactions, both active through the use of conversation, Twitter, and other collaboration tools, as well as passive, through the reading of blogs or other media. It’s just that social learning is not a fit within the enterprise.

Huh? We work with our peers every day! Certainly social learning exists in my organization!

Yeah, keep telling yourself that. The problem with social learning within the enterprise has nothing to do with the idea of a repository of blogs, forums, and wikis for locating and consuming content in a just in time manner. The problem is not with consumption but production.

The Success of Social Learning Hinges on Production

If no one ever posted to Twitter or Facebook, they would be pretty boring sites. The fact is that people are motivated to post to these sites. Motivations vary, but some post to tell their old friends what they’re up to and otherwise keep in touch, others post about their interests in order to connect with others that share their interests. These are true social structures that are formed and enhanced with the use of social networking sites. Organizations, while they are social structures, are different; the people in an organization don’t self select, in fact, they don’t have anything other than a paycheck and benefits package holding them together. What would motivate an employee to publish a wiki or blog post to the corporate intranet to share a little nugget they learned with the rest of the organization? Is it to spread knowledge to the rest of his/her team or company, resulting in a net increase in performance of the group? I’d like to say yes, but corporate America doesn’t exactly reward team performance on a regular basis. Many of us claw our way to the top of the corporate ladder by doing exactly the opposite: hoarding knowledge so we can be seen as the "smart one", invariably leading us to an offer of a management position and a fat quarterly bonus. Why is it that the best developers with the worst people skills that get promoted to "lead" status over people with moderate to above average development skills with fantastic people skills? Where’s my motivation again? Maybe that’s a far fetched example, so I’ll try another… Imagine you’re the go-to person when it comes to maintaining the legacy commission system. When things go wrong or deadlines approach, they call you. You’re the one who gets the call, you can come in and pull off the save, you’re the hero. What do we do to heros? We praise you publicly, we give you spot bonuses for pulling all-nighters, and we also strip you of your motivation to share your knowledge for fear of losing the highly-sought after hero status. Without motivation there is little production. Without production, there is little knowledge transfer.

Corporate Training Rarely Supports True Employee Development

What is the last corporate training course you took? Did it encourage you to learn? Did it evoke critical thinking on your part? Most corporate training is strictly pushing the corporate status quo. Here’s a course on Policy 347, another on Drug-free Workplace, and another on our latest and greatest Widget. These courses are typically designed to impart knowledge, not support learning or development. In these courses the content is predefined and immutable, a one way stream of information at best.

What Needs To Change

In order for this corporate social learning trend to actually work, we need to change our corporate cultures and reward people for sharing and collaborating rather than stack ranking individuals against each other with SMART goals and Likert scale ratings. Call me a skeptic, but that won’t happen any time soon. The corporate training courses need to begin transitioning from one-way information dumps to continuously evolving exchanges of information between learners and producers. No more Flash videos please.

Once these change, I think Social Learning has a chance. Until then, I’ll stick to looking to other ways of exchanging knowledge within an organization.