It’s that time again. Someone pointed me to a post that touted the benefits of social learning. And I’m a fan! However, as I perused it, I saw that was a bit of social silliness. So, let me be clear about why.
It starts off mostly on the right foot, saying “playing off of the theory that people learn better when they learn collectively…” I’m a proponent of that theory. There are times when that’s not the most effective nor efficient approach, but there are times when it’s really valuable.
What follows in the article are a series of five tips about applying social learning. And here we go off the rails! Let’s go through them:
- A Facebook Group Or A Forum, or both. Well, yes, a group is a good idea. But Facebook is not! Expecting everyone to have to be open to being on Facebook isn’t a good policy. While I’m on Facebook (and no, don’t connect to me there, that’s for personal relationships, not professional ones; go see me on LinkedIn ;), I know folks who aren’t and won’t be. Create your own group in your own tool, so folks know what’s being done with their data!
- Leaderboards. What? NOOOO! That’s so extrinsic ;). Seriously, that’s the second most important tip? Er, not. If you’re not making sure folks are finding intrinsic value in the community, go back and fix it. People (should) come because it’s worth it. Work to make it so. That’s hard, but in the end if you want to build community, start modeling and encouraging sharing, and make it safe. Don’t do it on points.
- Surveys or polls. Ok, let’s put this in context. Yes, getting people to participate and collecting their opinions is good. Is this the third most important tip? No, but no points lost for this suggestion. However, let’s do it right. You can really decrease participation when you’re allowing ‘drive-by’ surveys. Have a policy, be clear, and do it when it makes sense. This would be a subset of a more general principle about stimulating and leveraging the community, I reckon.
- Interactions between the L&D Team and Employees. This requires nuance. Not just any interactions. In a sense, L&D should be invisible, the hidden hand that keeps things moving. Facilitating, yes, where someone needs a nudge to contribute, someone else needs a nudge to not contribute (in that way, or that often, or…), some statement needs some nuance, etc. But ultimately, the community should be interacting with each other, not L&D.
- elearning Courses that Require Teamwork. Back to my point above, yes, sometimes. This is a good idea. And it can build the community skills that will carry over. You want a smooth segue from courses to community. The suggestion included, however, “only that employee can access that particular phase or section” is a lot of extra design. Why not just group assignments with facilitation to participate? It’s not a horrible idea, but not a general one.
Overall, this is nowhere near the first five tips I would suggest about building community. I agree community’s big, but I’d be pushing:
Start small: get it working somewhere (particularly within L&D), then spread slowly to other groups.
Make it safe: ensure that there’re principles in place about what’s acceptable behavior, and that the relevant leader is sharing. If they don’t, will anyone really believe it’s safe?
Ensure value: make sure that people coming to the community will find reasons to return. To get it to critical mass, you need to nurture it. Start by seeding valuable information over time, and inviting (or incepting) some respected folk to contribute. And the surveys and polls are ways to find out what’s going on and reflect that back. It takes effort to kick start it, but it’s critical to get people to stay engaged. As part of this:
Enable sharing: the ‘show your work‘ mentality should be encouraged. Get people showing what they’re doing (once it’s safe) enables long term benefits. This will start providing valuable content, and support the organization beginning to learn together.
Persist: success will depend on maintaining the support until the community reaches critical mass. That means a continual effort to make value, surface value until the community is doing this itself.
I’m not saying this is my official list, this is off the top of my head. However, when I look at these two lists, the problem for me is that the top list is tactical, but creating community is really a strategic initiative. Which means, it needs to be treated as such. No social silliness, it needs to be seriously addressed. So, what am I missing?