Monday, February 07, 2011

4 Reasons Why YOU Don't want to Touch Social Learning with a Barge Pole

So, you recently read Jane Bozarth's Social Learning for Trainers and followed it up with a read of Enterprise 2.0 by McAfee and The New Social Learning by Conner and Bingham. You're excited by the promise of social software for learning. You're already a Facebook and Twitter junkie and life couldn't be better with vendors announcing "Facebook for the enterprise". Wow! You're going to be a hot-shot social learning pro, aren't you? Errrm... think again. Life as a social learning consultant isn't a bed of roses and while the glamour of the Scobels, Hinchliffes, Ghoshes, Schrecks and others is inviting, you're likely to have a rough road ahead. Behind the glitz and glamour is a tough, painstaking albeit eventually fulfilling job, which you absolutely need to know about. So, before you get charmed into this shiny new world read my little disclaimer - it ain't easy!

It's Not Really Facebook for the Enterprise
Ok, ok I know you love Facebook and I know Jane says you could potentially use established tools like Facebook and Twitter for learning. Jane is right, I must say and I personally believe that the most mature social business implementations need to have porous walls. With that said, I have to also note that we're just not there yet! And frankly, there's perhaps a middle ground we need which'll just take some time. In the mean time, while you revel in the glory of Facebook, your employers need single sign on, integration with other systems, security, governance, uptime guarantees, content ownership assurances, and what not. Ah! That doesn't seem as cool anymore, does it? If you're heading the social learning route, remember that showing off the success of #lrnchat or the Learning and Skills Group is just the first step.

You'll be a Consultant with No Direct Control Ever heard of organisational politics? It's the bad phrase to describe the tension between innovation, internal systems and organisational structure. Once you've gone ahead and wowed YOUR boss with that demo of #lrnchat or or that matter your own PKM approach powered by social media, you should really have a free rein. Or should you? Well if you're championing the cause of collaborative learning in the enterprise, you can't do it alone. You need to get IT to buy into supporting you. You'll need to get leadership to champion your proposal, and to do that, you'll need to champion some of their goals. As it turns out, none of them are your puppets - so getting the organisational machinery to start working in the same direction can mean several emails, presentations, meetings, arguments and consultative discussions. Forget about your role as an instructional designer - you're now only a consultant. You have no direct control. Hell, you can't even control behaviours for your 'learners'. At least in the classroom you could set a few rules for participation. Now you need to model their exisiting collaborative behaviours onto your system. You'll often feel that "Click Next to Continue" in elearning or "Let's move to the next exercise." in the classroom gave you more power. Are you happy to live with that for some time?

It's Not the Kool-Aid You've been Drinking
So, you're happy to rough it out - after all there's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! I guarantee you, there is one, but it's far, far away. Before you can get to the wonderful effects that you've only read about it blogs, you'll need to do heaps of hard work. As a start, you may need to create dozens of proofs of concepts for the scores of teams in your organisation. It's not just about getting the executives involved, people are at the center of social business. Be prepared to sit at your desk for hours uploading files, setting up wikis, creating discussion areas and helping people wrap their heads around emergent collaboration. Be prepared to get laughed at and to take the feedback, go back, work and come back more resilient. Even when your community starts to thrive, things won't just happen by magic. There's a lot of unglamourous work involved in community management, I'm afraid. Take a look at what Donald Taylor does for the Learning and Skills Group and what Tom, Dave and Jeanette do for the Articulate community. In fact, with all the content curation, one-on-one support, online facilitation and constant manual gardening that Dave Anderson does, I wonder when he sleeps. It's effective, it's useful and it comes from a genuine desire to help people. It may end up being glitzy and glamourous, but don't count on it.

You've Got To Build Comfort with "Good Enough"
As an elearning pro and even as a trainer, you would have fussed hours, days, weeks and months to get things just right. After all, that slide needs to look polished. That activity needs to be instructionally sound. That elusive goal of perfection keeps you going everyday. Social learning has it's own levels of perfection, but that perfection doesn't come from the quality of content. A badly formatted, abrupt, but contextualised answer is good enough for a social QnA environment. It's not pretty, nor is it the most awesome content - it's just effective and works. It takes great patience to keep looking at gigabytes of user generated content that may not be as good as what you could have created but is so contextualised, that it's far more effective. In social business, perfection comes from being an integral part of the way we work. Perfection is when information flows seamlessly across the internet and the intranet, and people can consume byte-sized content when they want to, where they want to. It's perfection all right, but of a different kind.
If you've read this far, you probably see my point - being a social learning pro involves a lot of hard work. It's immensely fulfilling; after a while a lot more than just doing instructional design or training. Be prepared however, to take the long, hard road there. Put your heads down, think big, start small and keep iterating. And when you really start to deliver value, which could be sometime away, the accolades may come too. I guess it's just a question of being patient. That's just my two cents - what do you think?


5h4d0w News said...

I will admit social networking is has its handy benefits when it comes to business but it can also be dangerous in other personal senses.

Jemma Taylor said...

Well said! Social networks have become the new norm of it or not. I personally think it is fun as well as good for business. Really boils down to how we make use of the advantages!

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