Sunday, October 19, 2014

Social Learning is Voluntary; Collaboration Platforms are Enablers

I love this description from Jane Harts post: 
FAUXIAL LEARNING is about forcing people to use social media in courses – or even in the workplace –  and then confusing compliance with engagement (and even worse) learning.

This totally hits the nail on the head. As an Instructional Designer and L&D Consultant, I am often asked questions like:

1.What social collaboration platform should we use? 
2.How do we get people to collaborate
3.Oh, but they don't want to share. How do we make them share their learning?

My  first reaction is to say: "You can't make people share or get anyone to collaborate." Then, I take a deep breath and start a dialogue.

And in the course of my many conversations with different organizations and their L&D departments, I see an emerging pattern of thoughts and behavior.

Most organizations (there are exceptions like Buffer, Etsy, and Community Sourced Capital) see themselves as isolated players in competition with others in the same field. There are very few generative businesses like the ones mentioned above who see themselves as part of an ecosystem where cooperation and collaboration enables growth for all. This feeling of being in competition leads to an internal organizational culture of knowledge hoarding as a source of power and growth. This is futile of course. 

What this eventually leads to is a culture where sharing and collaboration is internally stifled. Someone up there is constantly monitoring what is being shared and who is it being shared with. Some organizations go to the extent of monitoring and reviewing posts that will be put up on their collaboration platform! Employees at all levels are not entrusted with key organizational information that will empower them to take the right decision at the right time. And the spirit of learning, cooperation and collaboration is in effect killed.

Then comes the dichotomy of having an enterprise collaboration platform where no one is sharing, where there are no conversations happening, no debates and questions. It's a ghost town. At the end of the day, the platform doesn't matter. The culture of the organization does. An organization with an essentially command and control approach, an overly competitive outlook, and a repressive environment is not yet ready for social learning.

Does this mean the employees are not engaging in "social learning"? Not at all. Learning has been social ever since human life was born on this planet and will continue to be so, with or without technology. Individuals will get their work done by talking to peers, reaching out to their network, and bringing their #pln and #pkm to work. What will be missing are: 
  • a thriving internal ESN (enterprise social network) where the organization could have benefited from having their experts share their tacit knowledge; 
  • an ecosystem where peers mentor and guide each other on an open platform; 
  • a culture of working out loud (#wol) such that mistakes made along the learning journey are fearlessly shared;
  • an environment of continuous learning 
As we move into (have moved into) the 21st Century, organizations need to take a hard look at themselves and see if their operating style still harks back to the 1970s. Here's an illuminating post on employee disengagement that ties in neatly with why many organizations just don't get social learning. No amount of fancy technology platforms and ubiquitous mobile devices can turn an organization into a truly social and learning one if the org culture is not ready for it. Employees will continue to operate in a shadow organization, do what is required to get the work done and move on to more open organizations when the opportunities present themselves. 

It's time to recognize and accept that the business landscape is rapidly changing. Organizations can no longer exist in silos -- either internally or in relation to the external ecosystem. Cooperation and collaboration will yield greater benefits than competitiveness. Employees will no longer tolerate being treated like replaceable cogs. This HBR article talks about three key features of generative businesses that should be the mantra for all forward looking, truly social orgs, and I have quoted them here:  

  1. They design their work processes to power their own growth while sharing what they know, creating opportunities for other businesses to learn, experiment, or challenge themselves.
  2. They build an ecosystem of mutually supportive relationships with and between their stakeholders, so the group as a whole can benefit from interactions across the network.
  3. They create financial value as well as social value, which includes non-financial positive outcomes such as purpose, meaning, community, expression, and learning.

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