While I was reading the book on my Kindle, I was possessed to share all the wonderful insights I was getting from the book. It felt natural to tell my friends and connections about this awesome book. As I've posted stuff to my network, I've realised how being social is inherent to not just my personality, but also to everyone of us. We've always been social learners, and modern social media is just helping our natural tendencies. From the time of cave paintings to the modern age of of microsharing via Twitter, our way of learning and sharing hasn't changed -- only the landscape is different. In today's blog post, I want to share some of my thoughts about building a social learning culture in your organisation.
Think Big, Start Small and Iterate
People are social in many different ways and depending on the goal they need a different social paradigm to communicate. I think of this as the way people play a game of Mafia when they are in a party, try karaoke at a bar and just sit around and have a nice little chat when over an intimate dinner. In a similar manner, your social learning infrastructure isn't complete with just an online forum or mailing list. One of the reasons I found Marcia and Tony's book really interesting is that they've looked at the social learning phenomenon from various angles, ranging from media sharing via channels like YouTube and going to immersive environments such as Second Life. When people want to share a stream of consciousness, they can use a Twitter style microblog - mimicing a constantly abuzz watercooler in the pantry. When they want to reach out to other practitioners they use communities of practice - much like special interest groups of yesteryear. When they want to work together, they use collaborative tools such as Google Apps and when they want to build their collective intelligence they use a wiki such as MediaWiki to build that together.
Some common pitfalls with social learning implementations is to either implement narrowly or to over engineer! The key here, is to work as startups do -- think big, start small and iterate from there. It's important to have a vision of the various ways you see people interacting. At the same time it's important to start with small, high impact rollouts, iterating constantly towards the final goal. One of the highlights of my talk at DevLearn will be around how ThoughtWorks has iterated over the last decade or so, to come up with a learning infrastructure that meets our organisational needs.
Don't just think Technology
If you follow this blog, then you may have read one of my older posts about social learning patterns that are not technology dependent. The key to remember that social learning is not entirely about the technology that enables it. The beauty of technology is that it helps transcend geographies. That said being social is hardly dependent on technology alone. It depends on the culture you create and the opportunities they get each day to learn in a social context. In that blogpost, I've outlined seven patterns to facilitate social learning in the enterprise without an over-reliance on technology:
- Reface your team spaces to encourage conversations, sharing and collaborative problem-solving.
- Try brown bag lunches where people can share the latest and greatest that they've learnt about in recent days.
- Try Pecha-Kucha nghts to provide people a forum to share their ideas in a fun way, in a short amount of time.
- Open Space conferences can be a light-weight mechanism for people to pull learning in a group setting.
- Offsites are a great way to socialise and learn from a large number of people with varying expertise.
- Bar Camps and similar unconferences are an excellent way to self-organise learning amongst large groups.
- Internal Conferences could be your way to have people share good practices in a contextualised setting for learning.
Find the Evangelists, Ignore the Bozos, Respond to the Critics
Social learning strategies are nothing without the people behind the scenes. Nothing that you do is likely to be everything to everyone. It's important to seek out the people that believe in the power of the social media approach to not just evangelise the methods but also to community manage in the initial stages. It's a huge mistake to believe that if you put usable tools in place, adoption will follow. It's crucial to get the people most excited about your approach, behind the initiative.
Guy Kawasaki, in The Art of Innovation advises us to not let the bozos grind us down. The idea is to understand that you can't make everyone happy and there'll be those who will tell you it can't be done. For starters at least, it's important to ignore them and move on. If your ideas are good enough, the evangelists will help you win and adoption will follow. That being said, your critics (not the bozos) are the ones telling you they care for your success. So respond to your critics' concerns over time - don't pressure yourself to do it all in one go, but commit yourself to addressing their concerns. Critics can often be opinion leaders too - so winning them over is a way to get a new evangelist!
Todays post is inspired by Marcia and Tony's new book and I strongly recommend you pick up a copy. The amount of research the two authors have done is quite amazing and is well worth your reading time. I'll leave you at just that and remind you to catch me up if you bump into me at DevLearn 2010 in two weeks. Some news about that - I'm facilitating two Breakfast Bytes in addition to my concurrent session:
- Thursday, Nov 4, 2010: Social Learning Patterns in the Enterprise
- Friday, Nov 5, 2010: Vampires, Werewolves and Silver Bullets - Understanding and Dealing with the Myths of e-Learning