Category Archives: Social Learning

Through the Workscape Looking Glass

Your Workscape is everything in your organization except the training department. It’s where work is done and where people hone the skills they need to add value. It’s the biggest frame of the big picture. It’s relationships and culture and secret sauce. It’s the organization as organism. To prosper, you need to nurture it, plant seeds, pamper the ground. It’s your job to help the system thrive.

Learning Ecosystem, Learning Ecology, and Learnscape mean the same thing as Workscape. I don’t use the word learn with executives, who inevitably think back to the awfulness of school and close their ears. “Let’s talk about performance.” 


The Workscape is a systems-eye view of the workplace. Everything is connected. Rather than try to control nature, we do what it takes to keep the environment thriving.

In the same vein, I talk about Working Smarter instead of informal learning, social learning, and so forth. Some people denigrate informal learning but nobody’s against Working Smarter.

Your organization already has a workscape where people are learning to work smarter. That’s where all the informal and social learning we hear about is taking place. The problem is that the learning processes are haphazard, often a paving of the cow paths. Many employees and stakeholders miss out—and stumble. Most companies’ systems fail to get the job done. Our Workscape ecologies are entering a do-or-die phase like global warming. Management is demanding that the workforce be more effective. “What got us here will not get us there.” We must nurture the Workscape or face corporate meltdown.

Global warming signals in Workscapes

clarkWe hear that if “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” yet most corporate learning and development is broken. 77% of the senior managers surveyed by the Corporate Leadership Council reported they were dissatisfied with L&D. 76% said L&D was not critical to business outcomes. Only 14% would recommend working with L&D. Clark Quinn’s recent book, Revolutionizing Learning and Development, slams L&D, which should be named Performance and Development, for seriously underperforming.    

Time is speeding up. More happens in a day than your grandmother experienced in a week. Keeping sharp and up to date is now a continuing part of everyone’s job. Corporate learning must expand from focusing on the classroom, which provides at best 10% of learning, to the entire organization  where learning while doing is the rule. Training a novice may lead to  productivity gains in the future. Helping an experienced person impacts the bottom line immediately. Little wonder that the training department is underperforming: they only touch a minority of employees, most of them newcomers.

transformationAs many as four out of five large multinationals report they are undergoing a digital transformation. It goes by many names, from Enterprise 2.0 to Radical Management or simply Going Paperless. Altimeter Group defines digital transformation as: “the realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”* The digital transformation of workplace learning involves moving from the limited training department to the holistic Workscape framework view of the world.

The input may be establishing social learning networks; the output is improvement in the business overall.

Scope of the habitat

Put on your ecologist hat. Let’s examine the diversity of species among those people in your Workscape drawing paychecks:

Novices and newbies have been the main focus of training. This includes new hire on-boarding and provision of basic and technical skills (we’re all novices at something). This minority uses a disproportionate share of the training department’s resources and mindshare.

Experienced producers bring home the bacon yet training departments overlook them. Training departments have single-shot solutions: courses. Courses are rarely appropriate for experienced workers. Many old hands will not tolerate them nor learn from them if they do. They know that experience is a better teacher. Tuning the learning environment to make systemic changes for this underserved population has fantastic upside potential, perhaps enough to get CLOs a real seat at table in the C-Suite.

Top performers are the 20% of the team that generate 80% of the results. A 1% improvement at this level makes waves. This species needs special handling, sometimes including personal service.

Compliance is a red herring that people point to when discussing how deep “training” goes into the organization. However, compliance is not learning. Sure, it’s required, but no body’s expecting much performance improvement in the area, particularly in its present primitive form.

Alumni are an overlooked opportunity in many organizations. IBM invested in keeping former IBMers abreast of what was going on back at Big Blue. The alumni connected over social media and saw demos in Second Life. The result? An on-going flow of leads from true-believers and those who contract with IBM.

Subspecies. L&D has traditionally focused on the needs of employees on the payroll exclusively, disregarding the fact that partners, customers, subcontractors, temps, service agencies, outsourcers, suppliers, and others are equally part of the value chain. Take the Workscape view. Let’s go up to a balcony overlooking a model of your business. Look at the flow of business. You can see that the product is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. Think carefully about who you want to be co-learning with.


The Workscape should address the needs of learners throughout the extended enterprise.

Theoretically, your Workscape — the realm where you’ll be wielding your influence on performance and learning — could stretch way beyond your firewall to include nearly everyone the organization interacts with. Imagine how much cooperation will improve if they all read from the same page.

Reading the temperature

The climate for Workscapes is changing, forcing a re-think of how things are connected.

Decision-making is migrating from institution to individual, from training to pull learning, and shifts “power to the people.” This is how digital transformation works: digital democracy first. Digital citizens exploit connections and take power. Making the shift is an enormous change management task.

Informal, experiential work is three times more effective than formal, top-down training. Experiential earning is migrating into the workflow at a very fast rate. Spread the footprint of the Workscape to the optimal size.

Workscapes are complex and unpredictable, in perpetual beta. Experiments are cheap. Plant lots (hundreds, thousands) of Workscape experiments and nurture those that catch on. Watch out for monoculture (using only one solution) and the echo effect (making judgments from a narrow spectrum of reality).

Nurturing the Workscape requires competencies such as business problem analysis, collaboration experts, community managers, and moxie. I foresee learning process SWAT teams attacking connection gaps. You don’t have these people on board now.

Forget about the traditional way you’ve trained people. Unlearn your assumptions about courses and top-down learning. Break with the present by looking ahead five years. Start with a blank piece of paper. Take a Workscape perspective. Assess the organizational benefits of:

  • embedding learning in work, covering a much larger audience
  • setting up learning as a continuous activity, not an event
  • leveraging self-sustaining processes instead of one-time courses
  • pinpointing high-return activities such as manager coaching
  • embracing social and experiential learning
  • changing the learning philosophy from push to pull
  • employing business metrics to gauge success
  • canvasing the organization for opportunities instead of waiting for requests
  • focusing on overall business outcomes
  • building self-sufficient teams
  • extending the Workscape to cover partners, customers, and outsourced services
  • making learning a driver with business impact

The learning conservationist toolkit

L&D’s collaboration experts and SWAT teams are digital MacGyvers who weave techniques like these into Workscapes:

Make Management responsible for development

  • Issue stretch assignments to grow staff
  • Mentors, coaching
  • Action learning

Personal Learning Network

  • Collaboration and cooperation
  • Friends and colleagues provide answers
  • Peer learning

Performance support

  • Job aids, bookmarks,
  • FAQs, aggregation, curation

Access to information

  • Wiki, inhouse YouTube, internet
  • Self-study catalog, portals

Enterprise social network

  • Activity stream keeps one up to date
  • Platform for conversation
  • Opportunity to share knowledge

Communities of Practice

  • Professional growth
  • Knowledge repository
  • Create knowledge


  • Individual publishing (Learn out loud!)
  • Follow thinking of others

Social learning

  • Make conversation easy
  • Collaboration


  • DIY

Performance feedback

  • Is it working? How can we do better?


  • Learning in tiny bites

Instead of taking requests, the traditional role of training departments, learning conservationists actively seek out opportunities where learning will have the most impact.

One group of L&D special agents posted this set of beliefs to explain how it worked to its internal clients:

  • We are open and transparent.
  • We narrate our work. Need to share.
  • We support continuous learning, not events.
  • We value conversation as a learning vehicle.
  • We drink our own champagne (or mimosas).
  • Business success is our bottom line.
  • We are not a training organization.
  • We value time for self-development and reflection.
  • We establish business metrics for every engagement and report back publicly on outcomes.


Changing the physical environment can improve learning.

The staff will use any tool available to improve learning, right down to moving the furniture. A computer manufacturer discovered that its chip designers learned from overhearing conversations among their peers. They replaced a cube farm with comfortable sofas, rolling white boards, and espresso machines — and watched the production of innovative ideas skyrocket.

Environmental impact report

In a 2011 book, A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown described the kind of learning necessary in this new environment as “whitewater learning”—the ability to acquire useful knowledge and skills while at the same time practicing them in an environment that is constantly evolving and presenting new challenges. They argue that our learning environments need to match the speed and degree of change happening in the world around us.**

The emancipation of both nature and the human imagination depends first on the capacity to ‘unsay’ the world and, second, on the ability to image it differently so that wonder might be brought into appearance.***

Over a hundred CLOs told us what they were currently doing was insufficient to prepare them to deal with the future needs of the business. Obviously it’s time to do something different.

Our People Growing Fast Enough

One way to accelerate people’s development is to optimize learning by looking at the organization as an organic, unpredictable, complex system. It’s time to fix the big picture by working on the level of the Workscape.


*Digital transformation by any other name, Jason Bloomberg in Forbes

**Aspen Institute, The Learning Ecosystem

*** James Corner, “Ecology and Landscape as Agents of Creativity,” in Ecological design and planning, George F. Thompson and Frederick R. Steiner, editors, (New York: John Wiley, 1997), p.99. quoted in Design Education and Innovation Ecotones by Ann Pendleton-Julian


Research funded by Litmos


My professional interest is shifting to helping knowledge workers learn and flourish without training. There are millions of harried people out there who don’t appreciate that learning is a skill that you can get better at. It’s the underground passageway to success. I’d rather work with them directly.

Thinking about learning from the learner’s point of view is different from looking on it as a learning executive or instructional designer. Well, most knowledge workers don’t know they have an CLO and certainly never heard of instructional design.

Anyway, I am on the lookout for useful metaphors to propel the new book on DIY learning and intelligence.

Experiential learning is the biggest lever in the learning toolbox, so let’s start there.


Picture two territories, FamilarLand, where you already know everything and the Unfamiliar Territory which is loaded with people doing things you don’t know how to do.

The Unfamiliar Territory is where you can grow. Staying in FamilarLand all the time is stagnating. There’s no excitement when there are no surprises.

Since you have all your predetermined opinions, ways of doing things, and beliefs along for the ride, you’re happy when lazing around FamiliarLand. Many will be stuck in place there, non-learners who couldn’t keep up with the flow. They are slouches; we’ve got to hang out with the others.

Go-getters will continuously rewire their brains with dashing adventures in the Unknown Territory. With perseverance, they will grow into the roles they’re shooting for.

Increasing border crossings will boost organizational knowledge.

Is the metaphor of a journey from FamilarLand to the Unknown Territories and back a useful way to look at things?


howardIn his keynote presentation at Online Educa Berlin last week, Howard Rheingold emphasized co-learning.

Since the teacher learns more than the student, let’s all be both teachers and students. Esteemed co-learners, your job is to create new co-learning communities. If a group doesn’t exist for facilitate your informal learning, make one.

Peeragogy is a set of techniques for collaborative learning and work. It’s a both a discipline and a living book. Howard kicked off the Peeragogy project, many authors contributed to the work, and now a team is dedicated to making it ever better. Housed on a wiki, Peeragogy keeps on improving. Peeragogy walks its talk.


Version 2.0 of the book is out now. Free pdf & brand new softcover for $20.

Version 3.0 is in progress and you can help! Join “Peeragogy in Action” on g+.

I made a contribution on Peeragogy in the corporation for an early version of the book two years ago that presaged some of the current buzz about learning ecosystems.

The Workscape, a platform for learning

Formal learning takes place in classrooms; informal learning happens in workscapes. A workscape is a learning ecology. As the environment of learning, a workscape includes the workplace. In fact, a workscape has no boundaries. No two workscapes are alike. Your workscape may include being coached on giving effective presentations, calling the help desk for an explanation, and researching an industry on the Net. My workscape could include participating in a community of field technicians, looking things up on a search engine, and living in France for three months.

Developing a platform to support informal learning is analogous to landscaping a garden. A major component of informal learning is natural learning, the notion of treating people as organisms in nature. The people are free-range learners. Our role is to protect their environment, provide nutrients for growth, and let nature take its course.

A landscape designer’s goal is to conceptualize a harmonious, unified, pleasing garden that makes the most of the site at hand. A workscape designer’s goal is to create a learning environment that increases the organization’s longevity and health and the individual’s happiness and well-being.

Gardeners don’t control plants; managers don’t control people. Gardeners and managers have influence but not absolute authority. They can’t makea plant fit into the landscape or a person fit into a team.

In an ideal Workscape, workers can easily find the people and information they need, learning is fluid and new ideas flow freely, corporate citizens live and work by the organization’s values, people know the best way to get things done, workers spend more time creating value than handling exceptions, and everyone finds their work challenging and fulfilling.

The technical infrastructure of the Workscape

When an organization is improving its Workscape, looking at consumer applications is a good way to think about what’s required. Ask net-savvy younger workers how they would like to learn new skills, and they bring up the features they enjoy in other services:

  • Personalize my experience and make recommendations, like Amazon.
  • Make it easy for me to connect with friends, like Facebook.
  • Keep me in touch with colleagues and associates in other companies, as on LinkedIn.
  • Persistent reputations, as at eBay, so you can trust who you’re collaborating with.
  • Multiple access options, like a bank that offers access by ATM, the Web, phone, or human tellers.
  • Don’t overload me. Let me learn from YouTube, an FAQ, or linking to an expert.
  • Show me what’s hot, like Reddit, Digg, MetaFilter, or Fark do.
  • Give me single sign-on, like using my Facebook profile to access multiple applications.
  • Let me choose and subscribe to streams of information I’m interested in, like BoingBoing, LifeHacker or Huffpost.
  • Provide a single, simple, all-in-one interface, like that provided by Google for search.
  • Help me learn from a community of kindred spirits, like SlashDot, Reddit, and MetaFilter.
  • Give me a way to voice my opinions and show my personality, as on my blog.
  • Show me what others are interested in, as with social bookmarks like Diigo and Delicious.
  • Make it easy to share photos and video, as on Flickr and YouTube.
  • Leverage “the wisdom of crowds,” as when I pose a question to my followers on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Enable users to rate content, like “Favoriting” an item on Facebook or +!ing is on Google or YouTube.

Some of those consumer applications are simple to replicate in-house. Others are not. You can’t afford to replicate Facebook or Google behind your firewall. That said, there are lots of applications you can implement at reasonable cost. Be skeptical if your collaborative infrastructure that doesn’t include these minimal functions:

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 organization 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, 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. Bonus features: persistent meeting room (your office online), avatars.

Blogs – for narrating your 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, discover what sources other people are following, locate experts

Mobile access – Half of America’s workforce sometimes works away from the office. Smart phones are surpassing PCs for connecting to networks for access and participation. 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.


Learning used to focus on what was in an individual’s head. The individual took the test, got the degree, or earned the certificate. The new learning focuses on what it takes to do the job right. The workplace is an open-book exam. What worker doesn’t have a cell phone and an Internet connection? Using personal information pipelines to get help from colleagues and the Internet to access the world’s information is encouraged. Besides, it’s probably the team that must perform, not a single individual.  Thirty years ago, three-quarters of what a worker need to do the job was stored in her head; now it’s less than 10%.




Retreat gear

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:

carpet boules
German magnetic Continue reading

Your social wishlist

How will you take advantage of your in-house social network?

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:

  • reduce time to market
  • increase the level of innovation
  • speed up access to knowledge
  • reduce operating costs
  • make in-house expertise easier to tap
  • increase employee satisfaction

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.

Social business is the flavor of the day
in the C-suites of the Fortune 500.


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.


What Universities Must Learn About Social Networks

What Universities Must Learning About Social Networks


Increasingly, businesses are looking to more social approaches to employee learning and development. Higher education institutions must capitalize on this shift.

Co-written with Chris Sessums | Director of Educational Research, Internet Time Lab

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:

  • Improved business performance (profit, productivity, margins, etc)
  • Increased operational efficiency
  • Stronger outcomes from knowledge intensive work
  • Easier methods of capturing and retaining institutional knowledge
  • Better awareness about business opportunities and colleagues needing help
  • Richer cross-department contamination and collaboration
  • Reduced email traffic and information overload
  • Cheaper and quicker mechanisms to connect colleagues, find and reuse knowledge
  • Improved cross-departmental communication
  • Reduced travel expenses
  • Facilitating the emergence of collective social capital and limiting duplication of effort
  • Stronger employee engagement and motivation
  • Increased satisfaction of partners and suppliers
  • Reduced supply chain costs
  • Lower on-boarding and talent retention costs
  • New levels of business agility and faster cycle times

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.

Practical considerations.

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.


The Evolllution

Isn’t this how organizational learning cultures progress?

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?



How to Replace Top-down Training with Collaborative Learning (2)

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.

White paper      |      Slideshare