Workplace Learning Gets Social

Traditional lecture room and laboratory training methods just don’t cut it anymore, and organisations are realising the benefits of enabling their workers to learn by other means. Online interaction, discussion and collaboration are fostering the growth of “social” learning avenues in the workplace.

Social Engagement

In September 2015, author and workplace learning expert Jane Hart published her list of  the “Top 100 Tools for Learning 2015”. Her report highlights trends to watch in workplace learning. One of these is the growing importance of engagement.

Learning content for the workplace is moving away from static presentation to more visually appealing and personally engaging styles. Videos on YouTube, Twitter and the like are now the basis for course content, rather than an appendage to it.

A Management Shift

Enterprise Learning Management Systems (LMSs) may be perceived as a kind of broadcast network, for the voice of management. Fine – up to a point.

Some companies are now moving formal training course content out of the LMS, and into their in-house collaboration platforms. On the likes of SharePoint and Yammer, employees can share knowledge and discuss relevant issues.

A Move to MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are increasingly being used as a resource by management, with workers being given links to relevant courses that can improve their skills.

Professional Learning Networks (PLNs)

Learning from other people in your industry or discipline is the key, here. Social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google Plus are a forum for discussion, comments, blog posts, articles and resources shared by other members of what becomes your Personal or Professional Learning Network or PLN.

Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs)

The management shift from straight instruction to greater involvement for the workforce employs collaborative work platforms like Socialcast, Jive, Yammer and Chatter to create Enterprise Social Networks or ESNs.

These are the same networks used to provide internal communications within the organisation, so learning can take place “within the flow of work”.

An ESN can supplement formal training courses by acting as a discussion and information-sharing platform. Resources made available via the network can assist in guiding the learning paths taken by employees.

Collaborate and Interact

Discussion forums, games-based exercises, group tasks and multimedia are spearheading the shift toward greater participation of workers in learning activities – and in encouraging them to work well with others.

Increased connectivity makes it possible for learners to engage with instructors and each other in real time, using dedicated learning tools and their own mobile devices. Real-time messaging tools like WhatsApp and Skype enable personal and group conversations to be ongoing.

File-sharing tools like Dropbox and Google Drive aid in collaborative work, as do group collaboration platforms like Slack and Trello.

Information on Demand

Online resources like Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and Slideshare make it possible for individual workers to gather the information they need to solve specific problems, without having to undergo a training exercise.

Personal problem-solving is the goal here, rather than knowledge acquisition or retention. But knowing where to find similar or related information in future is where a social element comes in.

Stock in Shares

The belief that “knowledge is power” may lead some people to hoard the information they have in the belief that this will give them some advantage over their less informed colleagues. But there can be value in revealing what you know to others.

Pinning images on Pinterest and tweeting trending topics on Twitter – it all helps. And other users reciprocate. Just don’t overdo it.

On an ESN or PLN, sharing examples of work on current projects can be a source of useful feedback. And viewing or assessing the work of others may lead to a cross-fertilisation of ideas.

Structuring the Learning Experience

It’s not all about social. The workplace learning experience also takes in elements of formal training and personal (on-demand) skills acquisition.

Organised training (formal courses, eLearning, laboratory/workshop experience, on-the-job training etc.) may be provided by the enterprise – and supplemented by access to resources that support the performance of workers.

Departmental forums, associations and work groups may be set up to encourage social collaboration within the workplace – with access to resources within the Enterprise Social Network and beyond to promote the social learning element.

Some Advice for Employers

Workplace learning needs to be an ongoing, daily experience. Employers should make available content and resources for workers to gain access to required knowledge on demand, and in ways best suited to their individual levels of experience and skill.

The social path may begin with induction training, with new staff interacting and learning from those who’ve been with the organisation for some time.

Field staff and workers at remote sites will greatly benefit from increased contact and collaboration with their colleagues, so make sure that social learning channels are open and available to them.

Some workers may hesitate to speak out in social forums, fearing the reaction of their colleagues. So it’s important to set up rules of engagement, put moderation in place for discussions, and at least some level of anonymity for those who participate.

Above all, understand the objectives of workplace learning, and provide instruction, resources, feedback, and encouragement to assist.

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