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September 29, 2009 / compassioninpolitics

Challenges and Opportunities for Social Learning

Evaluating the Opportunities for Social Learning
Increasingly enterprises are looking to implement social learning events to increase worker skills and development. As this trend continues it increase opportunities for innovation, while at the same time creating challenges. Initially the opportunity is created by the recession. Eric Davidove the senior executive with Accenture Learning BPO Services and Peter Butler aptly point out a salient analogy to our current economic morass:

Consider a soccer team forced to cut its practice time by 30 percent and its team roster by 20 percent. Such a team must do two things: First, make sure that each practice session is efficient and targeted at the most critical areas of development; second, enable the remaining team members to be more versatile—better able to play different positions and to learn from one another.

They continue:

Effectively improving the social learning environment can meet three urgent needs for companies striving to stay on the path to high performance during these challenging economic times. First, companies can reduce training costs by leveraging employees to produce and deliver personalized learning content that is both relevant and timely. Second, they can improve their return-on-learning investment by compressing the time to competence needed by business-critical workforces. Third, they can create a more nimble workforce, capable of responding faster to marketplace and customer change.

Further, social learning has dramatic impacts on innovation and employee development:

The free-form environment encourages people to experiment, innovate, collaborate, communicate and share their experiences and knowledge in engaging ways. This knowledge sharing has a positive impact on how other employees serve customers, find information or solve problems.

All employees have the opportunity within the learning environment to establish a presence or social profile that reflects their expertise and interests. They can then create and share their knowledge and experience, even search for peer insights, all organized by user-generated tags and topics. People and their content are linked to one another through team sites, instant messaging, blogs and discussion threads. Material is also rated by peers during the sharing process according to quality and applicability.

In fact at the corporate level often the focus should be shifted from traditional e-learning courses to more social learning processes and opportunities for employees including experimenting with and learning from learning 2.0 tools and communities. This is the real face of the next generation of business, organizational learning, and productivity around Enterprise 2.0 platforms, communities, and content.

What are the Challenges of Social Learning and the Social Learning Organization?
In other words how do you create a social learning culture? And how to you ensure that the social learning culture is focused on delivering value and return on investment? (ROI). Mark Sylvester suggests that the three primary challenges to social learning are fear, control, and trust. I think I would widen that to include time and resources. Mark suggets these three questions are critical:

What if they say bad things?
What if they say wrong things?
What if people say secret things?

Realistically the time commitment of social learning and what the exact parameters. For learners and employees who already have time in their workflow for such issues, this is an easy transition, while for others it becomes one more job in the work day. Also, the issue of trust value and expertise of social learning content is certainly a question–however is has always been an issue and when the alternative is less knowledge–generally this is a non-issue. Its more an issue of the time for reading, evaluating , sorting, and storing the social learning content that seems to be the largest time and resource commitment.

End Notes:
For those who want to deal with such issues Slide 13 and 18 of Mark Sylvesters presentation on social learning are helpful with creating a process to deal with the introduction of social media to the training and learning process of an organization. You can see the whole presentation on social learning here.

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