Friday, March 2, 2012

Social Learning in the Corporate World

By Danielle Slatinsky

Karen O'Leonard, a principal Bersin & Associates analyst, recently wrote an interesting article titled “Investments in Social Learning.” This article discusses how corporate learning is becoming social, employee-driven, and collaborative. According to O'Leonard, an effective learning environment should incorporate collaborative problem solving. Basic content is not enough to produce fruitful employees, and that is why corporations need to provide context for the content in an interactive manner.

Here are some other points she made.

The Need for Mixed Learning Environments

Learning organizations are finding that they need to create new learning environments with a mixture of formal and informal learning instead of simply redesigning programs they already use. Formal learning entails instructor led learning, testing, e-learning, simulations, and other more traditional forms of instruction. Informal learning can be broken up into three categories: on-demand (search, books, articles, podcasts, etc.), embedded (performance support, rotational assignments, after action reviews, etc.), and social (wikis, blogs, social networks, expert directories, etc.).

Examples of Informal Social Learning

In the article, O'Leonard mainly focuses on the social category of informal learning and gave three primary examples: communities of practice, blogs/wikis/discussion forums, and expertise directories.

Communities of practice are a very popular tool for social learning. They allow learners to share ideas and interact with others about a specific topic of common interest. The goal of this interaction is to provide learners with a way to further their knowledge on a subject and build relationships with
members of the group. O’Leonard cited Cisco, a company that has developed and implemented hundreds of these communities to supply support information to their employees.

Blogs, wikis, and discussion forums can also be very effective tools for social learning. Blogs are typically used to share information with a large audience; for example, Symantec created a blog right before launching a new product and this allowed employees to gain a basic understanding of the product before receiving formal training. Wikis are also used to share information, but wikis are created and modified by a group as opposed to an individual. And online discussion forums provide an outlet for employees to discuss specific topics, similar to communities of practice.

Expertise directories are another form of social learning that are an extension of corporate contact directories. These directories provide a searchable database of employees and their areas of expertise. This allows employees to find people in the database that can inform them about a specific subject. Employees are able to send an email or start a discussion about a question, and then the directory sends the question to experts on the topic.

New Vision of Social Learning

O'Leonard writes about how The Cheesecake Factory is successfully using social learning to improve their corporate training in regards to employee performance and engagement. Before The Cheesecake Factory implemented this new social learning, employees were learning content through volumes of paper-based checklists and workbooks.

Now, a new video-based and YouTube inspired platform called “VideoCafe” allows employees to access short videos about an array of work and social topics, such as an executive chef depicting the flavor and origins of a signature dish. Core vignettes supplement the videos, and employees receive attached knowledge checks.

The response to this new style of video-based learning has been encouraging and extremely positive. After a recent addition of new menu items, employees of The Cheesecake Factory commented on how the videos really helped them connect to the content they were learning as well as to their leadership team. They reported that they were able to master skills much more quickly and effectively than they would have by reading and studying a workbook.

The Growing Amount of Money Spent on Informal Learning

O'Leonard concludes her article by commenting on how a growing number of corporations are spending money on tools for informal learning. This new era of learning environments is leading the way for social learning in the corporate world.

Has your organization put any of these into action?

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