Jay Cross helps people work and live smarter. Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. He wrote the book on it. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix.
Thursday I’m off to a retreat in Texas. People are talking about what they will bring. Coffee, vino, whatever.
I think of UTAOU people as life designers, not instructional designers. Surely we can bring something beside stimulants and depressants. I’m going to bring a bag of weird stuff to try to get our motors running:
In the bag are:
German magnetic (more…)
Use networks to create services and share collective intelligence
Your company will install an in-house social network. The only question is how soon. Wise Chief Learning Officers are thinking about how social networks will augment learning & development.
Imagine that a Senior Executive in your company returns from Thanksgiving weekend having read white papers from IBM that say social business is the next step in the overall evolution of business. Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Fast Company had already told him that brainpower has become the engine of innovation. It’s inevitable that businesses will construct networks that connect everyone in their ecosystems to co-create and deliver services that delight customers and share collective intelligence. Social business is the flavor of the day in the C-suites of the Fortune 500.
The allure of social business is captivating. McKinsey, MIT and others report that companies that embrace social business models:
The social business juggernaut has arrived and the time to get on board is now. Front-running companies are installing social networks like Chatter, Jive, Connections, Socialcast, Yammer, Socialtext, Sharepoint, Ideo, and HootSuite like there’s no tomorrow.
The exec secured a mandate from the executive committee to experiment with social networking in three areas of the company, international sales, manufacturing resource forecasting, and learning & development.
You’re Chief Learning Officer. You’ve been doing your own research on “Enterprise 2.0” and learning networks. You appreciate that social business — connecting everyone in the organization in networks makes sense. You’ve also sensed a groundswell in the learning and development community favoring social, self-directed, “pull” learning.
You recently read a compelling argument that people in knowledge organizations learn three to four times as much from experience as from interaction with bosses, coaches, and mentors. And they learn about twice as much from those conversations with others from in classrooms and formal learning programs.
You could deliver a much bigger bang for your training buck by greasing the skids to make experiential learning more systematic, coached, and attractive.
The senior exec called you to his office and explained, “We’re going to experiment to find out how in-house social networks might strengthen our L&D and a few other areas in the company. Several vendors of social network suites have offered us incredibly deep discounts if we make up our minds in the next two days. I know it’s a sales gimmick and they don’t think we can do it. I need you to give me a one-page list of the capabilties you require from social software to make the most of social learning and carry out your vision of what we need to do. It’s an outrageously short fuse request but do your best.”
Let’s test your skills and ability. What functions would appear on your list?
Close the magazine, take out a sheet of paper, and jot down your requirements. What features would you need and why?
Here’s an example
Mobile access – Half of America’s workforce sometimes works away from the office. Smart phones have surpassed PCs for connecting to networks. More people Tweet from their phones than from their computers. If we don’t have mobile capabilities, we’ll lose more than half of our audience.
Jot down what you need. Turn to page ____ to check your list against the nine features on our wish list.
EDITOR.* This answers section goes on a page further back in the book.
Requirements for in-house social learning network
Profiles – for locating and contacting people with the right skills and background. Profile should contain photo, position, location, email address, expertise (tagged so it’s searchable). IBM’s Blue Pages profiles include how to reach you (noting whether you’re online now), reporting chain (boss, boss’s boss, etc.), link to your blog and bookmarks, people in your network, links to documents you frequently share, members of your network.
Activity stream – for monitoring the organizational pulse in real time, sharing what you’re doing, being referred to useful information, asking for help, accelerating the flow of news and information, and keeping up with change.
Wikis – for writing collaboratively, eliminating multiple versions of documents and email, keeping information out in the open, eliminating unnecessary email, and sharing responsibility for updates and error correction.
Virtual meetings – to make it easy to meet online. Minimum feature set: shared screen, shared white board, text chat, video of participants, ability to record. Bonus features: persistent meeting room (your office online), avatars.
Blogs – for narrating work, maintaining your digital reputation, recording accomplishments, documenting expert knowledge, showing people what you’re up to so they can help out.
Bookmarks – to facilitate searching for links to information, discovering what sources other people are following, tracking down experts.
Mobile access – Half of America’s workforce sometimes works away from the office. Smart phones have surpassed PCs for connecting to networks. Phones post most Tweets than computers. Google designs its apps for mobile before porting them to PCs.
Social network – for online conversation, connecting with people, and all of the above functions.
Search - for locating needles in haystacks.
* Note: This is the version of the article I submitted to CLO under the title H0w Will You Take Advantage of Your In-House Social Network? The article that appears in the magazine was edited by CLO editors. The edited version is always close but rarely the same as what I send in.
Increasingly, businesses are looking to more social approaches to employee learning and development. Higher education institutions must capitalize on this shift.
THE ISSUE IS NOT whether you are going to become a socially networked university but how soon.
Businesses are being transformed into social businesses.
Social business is the flavor of the day in the C-suites of the Fortune 500. A social business is one where all the members of the corporate ecosystem (employees, customers, partners, and customers) network with one another to delight their customers
IBM describes socially networked corporations as the next step in the overall evolution of business. Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Fast Company say collaboration and collective intelligence are the engines of innovation. The first question from new hires, accustomed to doing their homework and living their lives with friends on their networks is “Where’s the social network? Where do I post my profile? How do I search for information?”
Networks are the glue that connects us. No one works alone. It takes a team to get things done. No one learns alone either. Others show us the way, share their know-how, and help us make meaning of the world. We rely on colleagues and social networks to separate the signal from the noise; their advice makes our experiential learning productive. Collaboration is the key to success in both working and learning; they usually take place simultaneously.
The social business bandwagon has arrived and companies are installing Chatter, Jive, Connections, Socialcast, Yammer, Socialtext, Sharepoint, HootSuite, and more to replace outmoded intranets and improve the way they transact business. McKinsey & Company reports that implementing social business creates:
Social and informal learning are the hottest trends in corporation learning and development. Social networks empower workers to engage in self-determined “pull” learning. People learn their jobs while doing their jobs. They learn more in the coffeeroom that in the classroom. Some training departments see this as learning being out of control; workers flock to it for the same reason.
Many companies rely on Facebook, Twitter, and other consumer applications to connect their people. Others will never do that for reasons of security, lack of the ability to customize, limited feature sets, or the risk of relying on a wildcard like Mark Zuckerberg.
The question you have to face is not whether or not the university needs to provide the social networks that can supplement our educational offering whille at the same time bringing us together to operate more effectively.
Universities have a mandate. Most students, faculty, and administraters use social networks extensively outside of school. They will use them with your blessing or without it. Mobile devices route around IT; amateurs can bid software slaves do their will.
Some schools are comfortable encouraging students, faculty, and adminstratoin to use consumer apps on the open web. Most universities we’ve talked with are concerned about their responsibilities protecting students. But beyond making alternative social network connections available, a school with no internal networks is pushing its consitutents out into the street. It’s like hosting a teenage party. You don’t enjoy being chaperone for a messy event but if you don’t like the thought of the kids partying down at the beach on their own.
A handful of universities have adopted some aspects of web 2.0 but none have taken it all the way. Students everywhere joke about pre-historic systems. What universities need to do is make up their minds about the inevitable and get on with it.
Universities will transmogrify into networked universities.
Students, faculty, and staff share numerous benefits of social networks. Furthermore, universities need to become networked to meet the needs of businesses seeking training. Their employees already know how to use the networks and will adapt better to the learning experience.
By introducing social networks, corporate students will be able to organize study groups, share notes, and better prepare for exams and projects by using these networks to foster peer-to-peer collaboration.
It isn’t just to the benefit of students, though. Faculty use social networks to support communication and information sharing among committees, teams, and research projects. Institutional staff use social software to improve communication with students for both recruitment and retention purposes. Development offices use social networks to stay in touch with alumni and support them with news, information, and networking opportunities.
Each of these areas of the university may benefit from sharing next practices, facilitating cross-department collaboration, facilitating collaboration among departments or teams, streamlining business processes, building support for strategic initiatives, and reducing internal email.
Universities face many of the same pressures to embrace social networks as corporations. It simplifies and streamlines the transactional aspects of administration, it encourages open communication and shared decision-making, and it provides a learning ecosystem that enables students to co-learn in order to supplement the formal aspects of their education.
If you’re with us thus far, you next question is “Now what?” You have four or five options for turning on your social network.
Here are some suggestions that draw on Chris’s experience developing and purchasing university-level educational software and Jay’s work with corporations using social networks to implement experiential learning.
Don’t boil the ocean. Start with one team, unit, or department with a crying need and potential social network champions. Build on that success to inspire other groups to join the effort.
While institutions could get help from their LMS vendor, we advise they don’t. Social networks do different jobs than a Learning Management System (LMS). As social learning began to create a buzz, LMS vendors have responded by tacking blogs and microblogs (tweet streams) onto their registration and delivery systems. A bloated LMS suffers the same downside as a Swiss Army Knife. It may be handy to carry a leather punch and Phillips screwdriver in your pocket, but if you plan to do a lot of cutting, you’ll be better off with a single-purpose knife.
While it may be easy to develop a rudimentary social networking system in-house, it is advisable for higher education institutions to bring in a contractor who can develop a specific type of network and protect its security and growth.
Beware of any supplier who is not dedicated to building social networks. The tools of the social web are in constant flux. It takes a dedicated software provider to keep up with evolving user interface conventions and emerging technologies. Activity streams, a “river of news,” are the lifeblood of today’s social networks. Activity streams were virtually unknown until Twitter popularized the format a few years ago. “Favoriting” popular content so the cream can rise to the top caught on after Facebook made it de rigeur. In the last six months, mobile access has become essential. Six months hence, HTML5 will be an absolute requirement. Keeping up is a nightmare unless network software is your primary line of business.
Don’t use software developed by a faculty member (unless you’re Carnegie Mellon, Duke, or maybe Stanford.) The ease of assembling software applications from plug-and-play modules and checkboxes has led numerous faculty members to build social network systems in-house. This is like building a factory with Erector Set. Relying on such “free” software is penny-wise and pound foolish. Homebrew software is difficult to maintain, and often breaks when volumes increase. Keeping everything humming may require access to the author.
Choose the tool/application based on the types of relations/relationships you want to foster and build, not on the features of the tool. Prepare simple guidelines for implementation so that participants know what’s expected of them.
Very much like the continuous changes in social network software, network security is a day to day concern. Security experts work 24/7 to keep a step ahead of crackers trying to crack into their systems. Student and faculty privacy are sacrosanct. It’s vital to have pros lock the doors shut and be ever vigilant. We’re amazed when we find elegant software written by faculty that misses something so fundamental as privacy protection.
You have to weigh the values and culture of your institution to decide whether to provide a protective “walled garden” or the rough-and-tumble of the social internet.
Generally, we suggest: Design for short and long term goals. Measure gap closings, not simply engagement. Define clear objectives. Solve nagging problems. Pay attention to relationships. Get leaders involved. Create rewards and incentives for participation.
Where do you turn for your in-house net?
Sign up for one of the commercial social networks solutions like Jive, Connections, Socialcast, Yammer. Downsides: can be very pricey. Also, someone’s going to have to map your terminology and ways of doing things. These packages generally start life as a blank canvas. Do a pilot test with a moneyback guarantee to get a feel for things. Pick an area where communication has been a major stumbling block and there are enthusiastic
Several groups are preparing social networks built particularly for universities with academic and administrative starter kits already on board. these are start-up companies, so you have to put up with some rough edges but in return you can probably make a good deal. one of the more mature efforts, San Francisco-based GoingOn, has installations in this area, that area, whatever. A lot more of these will be popping up.
We both understand Moore’s Law: everthing gets faster, better, and cheaper at an exponential rate. If it hasn’t fully sunk in, Moore’s Law is what made you feel stupid when you recently bought a computing gadget, only to find a faster model for less money a short while after.
Open source “social network in a box” software is under development that will cost less than a nice learther sofa. That’s a one-time fee, not a subscription. Just as you shouldn’t avoid buying new technology, because there will always be a better and less costly alternative on the market in the future, don’t hold off experimenting today. You might as well start reaping benefits now.
Jane Hart’s post yesterday on The differences between learning in an e-business and learning in a social business got me thinking about the evolution of learning culture in organizations.
It’s all to0 easy to mistakenly think of formal learning as the antiquated, primitive way of doing things, something an organization shucks off as it becomes enlightened and gives its people the autonomy to work on their own. The notion of stages suggests that a corporation hops from one stage to the next, abandoning past approaches as it advances.
What really happens is that one innovation is built on top of what’s gone before. Just as bicycles did not eliminate walking and cars did not do away with automobiles, informal learning doesn’t snuff out formal learning. That’s why models like 80/20 and 70:20:10 retain the 20 and the 10.
Think of it this way. Most organizations begin life with classroom learning and experiential learning:
As organizations mature, they take advantage of other methods of formal delivery, for example eLearning. Often this gives the worker more say-so about when to attend and sometimes whether to take part at all. They also improve the effectiveness of experiential learning by enlisting managers as coaches who give stretch assignments to develop their people and by developing practices that nurture self-directed learning.
Take a core sample of overall learning and you still find classroom training for newbies, compliance, and technical subjects. As the organization progresses, it adds more layers to the mix of learning going on. The newer approaches often diminish the importance of the lower layers but does not eliminate them.
Bear in mind that all learning is part informal/part formal and part social/part solo. These diagrams are conceptual, not derived from actual measurements.
The ultimate stage is the convergence of work and learning. As Jane points out, you don’t get this far just unless the organization has become a social business. Check her list of learning practices (the right column). Jane describes both the way people learn and the way the business functions; the two are inseparable.
Be careful not to confuse the progression of learning for the organization with the progression of learning for the individual:
Typically, the individual does phase out of most formal learning over time. Been there, done that, moving on.
Bonus question: Where would you place your organization in the progression to the convergence of work and learning?
Second post in a series. In case you missed it, here’s the first.
Who’s going to be involved?
Every Kind of Employee – Temps Included
In the Hierarchical organization, employees were the only people who received corporate training. Aside from compliance training and new product introductions, most training focused on novices – either newhires who needed orientation or workers mastering a new skill or subject.
It’s not that seasoned and elder employees weren’t learning; we all learn all the time. Rather, they weren’t learning as well as they might. HR and training departments overlooked experienced employees because they learn experientially, from stretch assignments and mentors rather than from courses and workshops. Learning by experienced employees was left to chance.
Two out of three Chief Learning Ofﬁcers neglect experienced employees, but these are the very people who make money for the company. New hires and novices aren’t very productive. Raise their proﬁciency by 20 percent and next to nothing hits the bottom line. Raising the proﬁciency of top performers by 20 percent can double the bottom line. A wise Collaborative organization focuses its efforts where they’ll have the most impact.
Pre-employees and alumni
Talent managers advocate pre-employment training and internships. As an example, they encourage college students with an interest in banking to participate in bank training and perhaps work at the bank during summer break to see if they enjoy it. The bank gains a leg up in recruiting and knows more about job candidates before making an offer. On the other hand, many former employees remain loyal to their ﬁrms, and sometimes even provide leads for new business. Andersen Consulting, IBM, and Goldman Sachs pay attention to so called “offboarding” as well as onboarding. They have set up social networks for alumni and help them keep up with new developments. Many alumni are future customers.
The Extended Enterprise
We need to start thinking of businesses as extended enterprises, especially when it comes to learning, because really, each business includes distributors, suppliers, temps, partners, contractors, and, importantly, customers as well, all in addition to employees.
Michael Porter’s concept of the value chain taught us that the values and costs generated by your suppliers and distributors are passed along to your customers. Since learning improves performance, it’s in your interest to help these people learn to do better work. Customers and prospects
“An educated customer is the best customer,” said retailer Sy Sims. Colearning with customers may be learning’s new frontier. Google is teaching people to use more of its services in online courses. Google could have produced a slick, buttoned-down, tech-oriented training program, like they did for Google Wave, but this time around, Google chose a friendly, avuncular fellow to lead you through the ondemand session. He’s not a salesperson; he’s a research scientist, a true-blue Googler! He gives encouragement: you’re on the path to being a Power Searcher! He’s casual, very approachable and looks like he’s talking to you from his living room. He stumbles occasionally. He comes across as authentic, the type of guy you’d enjoy talking to at a bar.
By doing this, Google is building customer loyalty. Co-learning builds trust. As other companies realize the potential of learning as a marketing tool, we’re going to see a lot more programs like this.
Help your customers become better at serving their own needs. Beyond that, learning with one another forges of trust and goodwill. Co-learning – adapting to the future – with customers is an unexploited marketing strategy.
Who should control learning?
People are at their best when they’re doing things for themselves, when they “pull” what they need rather than have things “pushed” on them.
Hierarchies work well when the future is predictable and things aren’t prone to change. The objective in a stable situation is to get better at what you’re currently doing. Organizations develop programs, training among them, that promote conformity.
Collaborative organizations outpace hierarchies when the future is unpredictable and change is rampant. The objective in a dynamic situation is to get better at whatever comes along. Wise organizations develop platforms with standard interfaces to maintain ﬂexibility and spark innovation. These organizations give workers a say in what they learn and how they learn it. They provide a variety of means of for workers to get the information they need. Instead of rigid training sessions, the organization supplies a platform that nurtures self-directed learning.
Companies accomplish the transition from Hierarchy to Collaborative by handing over more control to those that are closest to the customer. This may seem radical, and change can be unsettling, but this is a key to becoming a Collaborative organization.
How self-directed learners learn
When given the choice most workers prefer to learn from experience. Experiential learning takes place in the course of trying to accomplish something, often by mimicking what other people do, by trial and error, and by asking colleagues and experts; this means experiential learning is often informal learning, done outside of the classroom. Mentors and coaches give assignments that provide new challenges and therefore require learning.
Conversation is the most important learning technology ever invented. People love to talk with each other. Conversations have magic to them. Look at a written transcript of a conversation and it sounds incoherent; true conversation is a mix of empathy, emotion, body language, shared understanding, nuance, and cultural norms. Conversations are the stem cells of learning. Improve the availability and quality of conversation, and you automatically improve the amount of learning taking place.
A survey last year asked managers how they learned their jobs. Informal chats with colleagues ranked #1, followed by Internet search, and trial and error. Workers value social learning (collaboration, networking, and conversations) and informal learning (community membership, Internet search, blogs, curated content, and self-study). Both social and informal are deemed more important by employees than company documents and training.
Jane Hart offers great advice on how to design a learning ecology to match the way contemporary workers learn. It’s no longer about delivering courses in training rooms.
Here are some tips from Jane on this subject.
• Think activities, not courses.
• Think learning space/places, not training rooms.
• Think lightweight design, not instructional design.
• Think continuous ﬂow of activities, not just respond to need.
• Think social technologies, not training technologies.
Digital Natives are the generation that grew up glued to computer screens. For them, networks and technology are second nature. Stanford psychologist Phil Zimbardo says that by the time the average boy reaches the age of 21, he has spent at least 10,000 hours playing video games. This alternative reality rewires their brains. They’re accustomed to living in a highly stimulating environment where they are in control. Their world is made up of decision making, researching and collaborating all at the click of a button, anytime, anywhere, so they won’t put up with traditional training which says what they will learn and when. If Digital Natives aren’t allowed to act, they will refuse to play the game.
Digital Immigrants are those who grew up before interactive computing took hold. Some are in denial, trying to get by without going digital; they will become fossils. Elders who do want to join the Network Era have an opportunity to barter with the Digital Natives, something called reversementoring. Immigrants swap their organizational savvy and deep smarts for the Natives’ help in using technology.
The learnscape, that overall platform on which learning takes place, must accommodate both Natives and Immigrants. It must be easy to access and understand. It must let people take control of their learning and participate actively.
The next post in this series will address how to build an infrastructure to optimize collaborative learning.
The Twenty-First Century Corporation
Businesses around the world are transforming into extended enterprise networks but their training departments are stuck in the previous century. In the pursuit of trying to ﬁx what’s broken, let’s imagine what ideal corporate learning would look like if we could start over from scratch.
In the 1800s and 1900s, successful companies ran like well-oiled machines. Workers were mere cogs in those machines. The people were interchangeable parts. Companies paid them to follow instructions and do the same thing over and over again.
Workers have since replaced machines as the primary means of creating value. Companies rely on them to solve problems, delight customers, and stay ahead of the game. They are what make a business go and grow. A company’s market value echoes the ingenuity, know-how and reputation of its people.
Twenty-ﬁrst century employees have to do complex, unpredictable work. They have to keep up with a torrent of new products and services, not just their own but also their competitors’. They have to stay sharp in a
world that’s going ever faster. They have to grapple with a barrage of new information and demands on their time. Continuous learning is the only way they can keep up. Their work has become learning, and learning is the bulk of their work.
And, on top of this, technology has connected the world, making it possible to connect with just about anyone, anytime, anywhere. The ease of sharing of information has lead to a cultural phenomenon, which relates to our topic at hand; people are used to being able to get the answers to their questions – to learn – of their own accord through
research and conversation. But this way of learning – autonomous searching and social collaboration – has not yet been reﬂected in corporate learning, demonstrating that corporate learning has fallen behind.
To keep things simple in our following exploration of how corporate learning needs to change, let’s call the industrial-age (old school) companies Hierarchical and the network-era (2012) companies Collaborative. Control in Hierarchical companies resides at the top. Orders and instructions are pushed down through the organization. Control in Collaborative companies is distributed throughout the organizations. Workers and supervisors have a large say in what they do and they pull in the resources they need for themselves.
So, imagine the training department just disappeared because our organization has shifted from Hierarchical to Collaborative, and learning has become everyone’s business.
Where should we focus to improve learning? It’s a matter of people and infrastructure. Those will be the topics of my next posts on this subject.
Join Jane Hart and me for an online conversation on Wednesday 23 May 18.30-19.30 pm GMT, 13.30-14.30 pm ET, 10.30-11.30 am PT.
We will talk about whatever you want to talk about. Leave your questions below. Better still, become a member of the Social Learning Centre (free) and leave your questions in the In Conversation with Jay Cross group there.
Sloan Management Review has a great interview with Andy McAfee on What Sells CEOs on Social Networking. CEOs excitedly agree with Lew Platt’s old observation about Hewlett-Packard: “If only HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more productive.” They understand the power of weak ties in enterprise social networks. They appreciate the incoming generation’s new approach to working without limits. Sure, there are fears of losing control, the fact that hierarchy and social networks are not comfortable bedfellows, and the inevitable paradigm drag. But in the long run, people are eager to express themselves and enterprise collegiality is the path to “knowing what HP knows.”
Yesterday IBM presented a compelling case for social business excellence at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Paris. Social networks are so patently good for business that managers are routing around IT to put them in place. The social business captures value through capturing tacit information, fostering collaboration & discovery, filtering information flow & finding patterns, and transforming exception processing & making processes resilient.
David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know convinced me that networks have radically changed the notion of what constitutes knowledge. Lots of our previous concepts about knowledge were due to the limitations of paper, not that there’s some absolute truth out there. On the net, facts don’t stay on the page. There are no isolated ideas; there never were; there are only webs of ideas. We can improve those webs through open access, good filters, metadata, linking everything, and opening up institutions.
David describes leadership as an emergent property of an organizational network. Leadership resides more with the group being led than the purported leader. Strong leadership is simply a means for a group to accomplish its objectives.
Yesterday on Dan Pink’s Office Hours, Gary Hamel described the irrelevance of 100 year old models of management and the growing impatience of disgruntled workers, customers, and shareholders. Hamel has said that the future model of management looks a lot like web 2.0.
So networks underpin leadership, business performance, knowledge, and management.
It’s undeniable that the internet is an unprecedented game changer. People and ideas and knowledge and happenings are connected as never before, and there’s no end in sight. The omnipresent network makes us look at processes instead of events: everything has a precedent and an antecedent. Murphy’s Second Law kicks in: You can never do just one thing. Institutions that block connections, be they schools or close-lipped corporations, are increasingly out of step with the times.
But I have a question about this: Why isn’t anyone talking about learning networks?
Neither McAfee nor IBM nor Weinberger nor Hamel talks about networks for learning. This parallels the situation with informal learning and eLearning. Even after people accepted that informal learning is the primary way people learn to do their jobs, few corporate training organizations lifted a finger to do anything about it. eLearning — the boring, one-way, content slapped on pages for self study variety — was a total flop because learning involves more than exposure to information. Two major opportunities to boost performance were squandered. I don’t intend to stand idly by as business thought leaders repeat the same mistake with learning networks.
Networks were made for learning. And in a ever-changing world, learning is a survival skill.
Business people face novel situations every day. Solving problems and making progress require continuous learning. To be successful, a social business’s learning function must break out of the humble training department and spread throughout the organizational infrastructure. Increasingly, learning is the work and the work is learning. Smart organizations will get good at it.
Installing social network software and encouraging people to exploit their connections is only the beginning. The fabric of the social business must incorporate structures and guidance to help people learn. After all, learning underpins continuous improvement and helping to create a culture of continuous improvement is what this is all about.
ENGINEERING THE INDIVIDUAL’S LEARNING NETWORK
Learning originally meant finding the right path. Paths are connectors; people are nodes. The world is constructed of networks. We’re back where we started.
In networks, connections are the only thing that matters. We network with people; we use networks to gather information and to learn things; we have neural networks in our heads.
Learning is optimizing our connections to the networks that matter to us.
This satisfies both the community concept of learning (social networking) and the knowledge aspect (gaining access to information and fitting it into the patterns in one’s head).
To learn is to adapt to fit with one’s ecosystems. We can look at learning as making and maintaining good connections in a network. Cultivators of learning environments can borrow from network engineers, focusing on such things as:
• Improving signal-to-noise ratio
• Installing fat pipes for backbone connections
• Pruning worthless, unproductive branches
• Promoting standards for interoperability
• Balancing the load
• Seeking continuous improvement
This echoes a white paper, Informal Learning – the other 80%, I wrote nine years ago.
We need to think of learning as optimizing our networks. Learning consists of making good connections.
Taking advantage of the double meaning of the word network, “to learn” is to optimize the quality of one’s networks.
Learning is optimizing our connections to the networks that matter to us.
A sustainable social business provides the means and motivation for workers to learn what they need: the know-how, know-who, and know-what to get things done and get better at doing them. This takes more than access to social networks, blogs, and wikis. Organizations must provide the scaffolding that focuses on discovery, practice, sharing, and reinforcement. Organizations that lack a clear understanding of their learning architectures are doomed to descend into an aimless world of social noise and meaningless chit-chat. Facebook-itus.
Next week I’ll release a white paper on the Internet Time Alliance site on how to develop an enterprise learning network.