Saturday, May 23, 2009

Promoting Social Learning

You've got the cool new informal or social learning tool up and ready to go now you're ready for the masses to arrive and start using it. Then comes the harsh reality that it is hard work promoting the use of informal or social media tools within an organization. Not everyone is as quick to jump on the bandwagon as many tech savvy instructional designers are. So, what are some ways to encourage the use of social media tools that are obviously beneficial to the workforce?

I come across so much information conveying how effective social media/web 2.0/informal learning is the wave of the future in instructional design. Well, I am having a hard time riding that wave. I recently implemented a Wiki and discussion forums for different uses. The Wiki is used to retrieve process and procedural information while the discussion forums are used to share best practices much like LinkedIn forums. Now that I have these resources implemented I am attempting to get past the more challenging hurdle of getting the workforce to use them.

While I still have a long way to go, I have had marginal success promoting these social media resources by providing Formal Learning opportunities where the workforce is directed to use these resources for a specific activity. The end goal is to create Informal Learning opportunities where the workforce is seeking out these resources and pulling out information on their own but I have come to learn that this does not just happen, at first learners need to be directed and guided through social media resources. Here is what I have tried so far in my pursuit to reach the tipping point.
  • Formal Training - Including social learning tools in formal training courses early in the employees career helps to ingrain the use of the tools into the organizations culture. For example, if you are rolling out new software and these social media tools contain instructions for the software, it is crucial that the social media resources are covered in the formal training for the software rollout. The learner is going to see more benefits in the resource while they are still struggling to learn the software. If they experience a few "wins" by solving issues using these resources then they are likely to continue to use the resources in the future.
  • Assignments - One of the most difficult challenges in promoting social learning is providing opportunities for the learner to have a positive experience with the resource. A great way to do this is to design a formal learning assignment or activity that helps the learner to experience the benefits of the resource. This goes against the end goal of having the learners pull the information on their own rather than being directed but I have found that a formal learning solution can help jump start informal learning. Once the user has become familiar with the resource and seen the benefits through an assignment such as a scavenger hunt, or a structured online discussion, they are more likely to go back on their own.
  • Contests - Another form of a formal learning activity that can help promote the use of social learning tools is to create some kind of a contest. This can be a little more difficult to design but adding a little competition into the activity adds motivation for the learners. Examples for contests could be the greatest contribution made to a wiki or something like the most questions answered in a discussion forum.
It all comes down to motivating the workforce to make the effort to use the informal or social learning tool you have developed. Explaining the benefits is not enough, learners need to experience the benefits on their own. A great way to help them experience "wins" or positive experiences with informal or social learning tools is through formal learning activities such as assignments, fun activities, or contests.

I'm sure that I am not the only instructional designer struggling with social or informal learning tools. If you have experienced any "wins" or "losses" in promoting social learning please leave a comment and let us know what has and has not worked for you.


Unknown said...

Hi Joe,

I've had similar experiences with several initiatives over the years and it makes me wonder:

1. If change is such hard work, why are we blogging and twittering and doing a thousand other things we didn't dream of 10 years ago?

2. Don't we adopt things that provide high value and avoid things that don't?

3. The most current thinking is that loyal customers emerge when you provide excellent solutions and make it easy for them to use your services.

4. People in organizations are really busy these days...partly because so many of them are running skeleton crews. Do I have time to contribute? And what's the incentive?

5. Maybe the problem is that wiki's don't have much value until they're populated...and discussion forums may make me think about organizing information. Most everything I need to know I can Google, in theory.

Just thinking out loud here.


Joe Deegan said...

Hi Joe,
Thanks for the comment and food for thought. I agree with many of your points. People like us see the value of things we were not doing 10 years ago like blogging and twittering. Unfortunately the vast majority of the organization has yet to start using these tools and for many of them, their first experience with any social media tools is at work. If it was an organizational culture that was accustomed to using social media tools outside of work then change wouldn't be quite so hard. To people like us it is a no brainer that we need to be using tools like this to improve our performance but how do we help others experience the value we are getting from these tools when it is new to them?