Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

4 April 2012

Social Learning, Strategically

Clark @ 10:15 AM

Increasingly, as I look around, I see folks addressing learning technology tactics; they’ll make a mobile app, they’ll try out a simulation game, they’ll put in a portal.  And there’s nothing wrong with doing each of these as a trial, a test run, some experience under the belt.  However, in the longer term, you want to start doing so strategically. I’ll use social media as an example.

Talking with my ITA colleague Jay Cross at lunch the other day, it occurred to me that I was seeing the same pattern with social media that I see elsewhere.  When I think through many instances I’ve seen, heard of, or experienced, I see them addressing one issue. “We’ve put in a social media system to use around our formal learning.”  “We’ll buy a social  media platform to use for our sales force.”  And these aren’t bad decisions, except for the fact that such an initiative has broader ramifications.

What I’m not seeing is folks thinking enough along the lines of “social media is a platform, and we should be looking at how the investment can be leveraged.”  I’m not seeing enough focus on using every tactic as a step on the way to a ‘workscape’ (aka performance ecosystem).  You want to be building the infrastructure for working smarter, and every move should be developing that capability.  You want to be getting closer and closer to workers having tools to hand, the resources they need to get the job done.

To empower workers, you want to have the tools for communication, e.g. video sharing, blogging micro- and macro-, discussion forums, etc as well as the tools for collaboration, e.g. shared documents and expertise finding, arranged around tasks and interests, not around silos.  To free folks up to get the job done, they need to be able to work smarter.

And you want to align what you’re doing with organizational goals, define metrics that will impact key business metrics, provide governance with partners both fundamental and strategic, leverage other organizational initiatives (oh, you’re putting in a CMS?  With just a small additional effort, we can use that to facilitate sharing of information…), etc.  It’s time to start thinking strategically, if you want to really move your organization forward.  There’re a number of steps: advanced ID, performance support, mobile, each taking on another facet, but arguably the biggest benefit will come from bringing together the talent in your organization.  Why not?

Probably the best first step to take is to start using social media in the learning unit, so folks there ‘get it’ (you got to be in it to win it, as they say re: the lottery; guess that’s why I wasn’t one of the 3 winners :).  That’s a strategic step that can drive the rest.  And you can take the slow path and figure it out yourself, or accelerate with some assistance, but it’s really time to get going.  So, what’s stopping you?



  1. See my comment on Google+ https://plus.google.com/u/0/113173288673338357626/posts/DXDMBDsK2fp

    Comment by Blair Rorani — 4 April 2012 @ 11:52 AM

  2. At first glance, it seems as though most people are not at a level where they can greatly influence the strategy of their organization. (I say this since most people work for others, and most employees work in organizations with hundreds if not thousands of employees.)

    This explains the top-down approach, the idea that if you can influence the C-level folks, they’ll say “make it so” and the rest of the gang will eventually fall in line.

    I think the tactical things you mention are among the first thing that the non-C-level people try as part of improving the workscape that’s under their immediate control. And because these things can have an immediate effect, they spread pretty rapidly.

    So that’s bottom-up.

    The real transformation comes when leaders in an organization are able to articulate a vision that the group as a whole understands and values. There’s a little gem of a scene in Saving Private Ryan. The beachhead has been secured, and Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is talking to Captain Fred Hamill (Ted Danson). Miller complains that General Montgomery is “takin’ his time movin’ on Caen.”

    As the two captains walk along, they articulte the Allied strategy in under 40 words:

    Hamill: You gotta take Caen so you can take Saint-Lô.
    Miller: You gotta take Saint-Lô to take Valognes.
    Hamill: Valognes, you got Cherbourg.
    Miller: Cherbourg, you got Paris.
    Hamill: Paris, you got Berlin.
    Miller: And then that big boat home.

    Ike would have been proud. Maybe Monty, too, once his ego recovered.

    Comment by Dave Ferguson — 4 April 2012 @ 1:00 PM

  3. I think you’ve touched on an important thread – so often L&D professionals are caught up addressing short term emergencies, with their pants on fire, that long-term decision-making falls off the top of the to-do list. It can be difficult to refocus on being strategic and proactive when much of the work is problem-solving in nature. That’s obviously a broad point – but your post makes excellent suggestions about reframing decisions with a strategic lens.

    Comment by Kelly Meeker — 4 April 2012 @ 2:34 PM

  4. All great points here, thank you for sharing. I think there are 3 real challenges that cause people to behave tactically…

    1 – They want it now. Quick delivery (short time frame with deadlines and accountability to an enterprise blue chip being my favorite), major adoption (portals, social media, usage cannot be forced or driven), ROI or results they can measure before their performance reviews.

    2 – They want it “their” way. Command & control training with compliance vs viral self-regulated communities of practice, business intelligence vs user experience, just-in-case (the company needs it, training for everything) vs just-in-time (the learner needs it, performance support, etc).

    3 – It’s easier. Path of least resistance. Comfort zones.

    Comment by Ali Shahrazad — 5 April 2012 @ 4:21 PM

  5. In my days, I used to stress that Corporations are not democratic institutions. Opening up the decision making to social media may encourage greater individual participation, but I wonder what the consequences are going to be when all is said and done. I don’t remember who said “A bad decision is better than none”.

    Comment by Rene Pouteau — 11 April 2012 @ 3:45 PM

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