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What Senior Leaders Want to Know about Social Learning

Written by: Bill Sherman on Saturday, 27 March 2010, 11:42 PM

A couple of weeks ago, I explored the concept of bi-directional collaboration within the enterprise. Over the past few weeks, several individuals within various senior leadership positions have initiated conversations with me around the concept of bi-directional collaboration within the learning sphere.

I have heard a recurring pattern to these questions, and I would like to share them here. Call it the first draft of an FAQ, if you will.

Q: My organization needs to ensure its messaging follows compliance regulations, and our legal department tends to be very strict on what we produce. Can we still use social learning?

Yes. However, before you launch a pilot, you will definitely want to have a conversation with your legal department to ensure that you create a set of procedures which meet their requirements.

Q: Do we have to completely cede control to our learners?

For some reason, people who are new to social learning envision a “wild west” situation. However, user-generated learning shouldn’t resemble the mash-up of content on a band’s Myspace page. That’s why I’ve proposed a model of smart learning where the organization partners to produce bi-directional communication and learning.

Q: Will formal structured learning go away?

Not for a very long time. We’ll still rely on classroom training to implement certain soft-skills as well as certain hands-on skills. Social learning serves as an ideal supplement to these ideas. Therefore, learners hear about concepts in class and receive reinforcement from a community after class.

Q: My IT Department has concerns about using open-source software or software that makes calls outside of the corporate firewall.

Some social learning solutions are purely open-source projects that have been built around plug-ins. For example, WordPress Multi-User and BuddyPress offer highly versatile solutions. However, plenty of LMS vendors have also entered the game and added social learning technologies to their product. Your choice now depends on your business strategy and your budget.

Q: This technology seems to be evolving quickly. If we buy a system from a vendor, will it be outdated in just a few years?

We’ve seen a lot of ideas towards a social learning management system, but no vendor has created the “killer app” yet. Honestly, vendors are still protoyping in an emerging market. So, embracing a software-as-a-service strategy (SaaS) may be a savvy approach.

Q: Where do we start?

The best place to start a social-learning pilot is often with a core group of users who have common learning needs, but they are highly geographically distributed. I have seen pilots work exceptionally well with salespeople as well as end-users of software within the organization. Start small and manageable with your pilot, and then let the concept evolve from there.

Q: Where can I see a model of bi-directional collaboration within learning?

In March 2010, I published an article entitled Smart Learning for Smart Grids in Powergrid International magazine. In addition to looking at next generation learning technologies, you’ll find models for SMART learning in figures 2 and 3. Together, these models indicate that learning and development departments will have to rethink how they serve their organizations.

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