We are subjects and investigators in this social media experiment

How to create the next phase of social learning?  Take on simple initiatives, stay focused on measurable and purposeful results, be persistent. That is the practical take away from a day spent with the more than 200 people who attended the ASTD New England chapters’ day-long conference Learning 2.0: Don’t Get Left Behind on April 29.

The well-run event was free of technology-wow boosterism.  But the keynote speakers raised provocative questions about business and demographic trends that are likely to affect learning and development folks.  Twitter is not the answer, even though that summary judgment would fit in a tweet.

By far, the other learning and development pros who attended were the best source of practical ideas. Over coffee, one described how she’d challenged sales people to invite clients to join a company LinkedIn group for those who’d attended (or would attend) client training.  If I got the story right, she is creating a user group, but one that this director can listen in on.  It allows her to take the pulse of those clients: their issues, worries, questions, and ideas.  She communicates with them about follow on training and other news.  Clearly, sales leads will arise, too.  She described the group as an ongoing experiment, but her ideas fit the needs and goals of her group today.  Her persistence is creating value out of the experiment.

Action Research:  No social media were harmed in the making of…

Our experiments have been similarly limited and focused.  The BTP (see other posts about that) brings together learners from across the organization, people who rarely work together.  We’ve established an online commmunity where they can share materials, ask questions, and discuss issues.  It’s easier to offer that shared experience than to actually create it.

We are still learning to use the tools, which don’t deliver all they seem to promise.  One word for disappointment:  wiki.  Lesson:  It’s hard to make a wiki social.  Further contributing to barriers is human nature: 90-9-1 holds true.  Only one percent of people are active creators of content.  Confirming that has been an important lesson of the experiment.

To acheive greater participation, facilitators and training pros will need to become  community gadflies and provocateurs.  Nevertheless, these experiments are setting expectations among learners and, we believe, influencing their view of how and where learning takes place.

The BTP: Confessions, lessons, cont’d. (2)

Training needs to be founded on clear objectives.  Without them, the experience is something else: a meeting, brainstorming, diagnosing a problem, identifying issues, and sometimes, just venting.  In the Big Training Program I’ve mentioned before (the BTP), experience is proving that we’re offering a seminar guided by some broad and noble goals.  It’s a better program for it.

For background, the BTP was planned as a comprehensive review of the role and responsibilities of folks who head day-to-day operations in most departments.  That means they oversee financial management and many aspects of compliance in spending about half the revenue here.

Efforts to create activities that reflect a common experience of the work have been thwarted by the very different local organizations, projects, and funding sources.  These differences make it impratical to create more than a few scenarios that realistically reflect their work.

The facts are the facts

On the night of the 13th you were, where exactly, mam?The fact that can’t be wished away is that the people in the target audience have too little in common to practice a set of procedures or prescriptive decision-making.  The BTP is accommodating all these differences by featuring them as a learning opportunity.  Folks will reflect on their own experience to extract lessons, rather than as a problem to solve.  And problem solving is what these folks excel at.  The facilitator’s challenge is to manage the learning in such a way that cohort members don’t feel dissatisfied because they don’t solve the problem once and for all.

While we secretly aim to achieve clear learning objectives throughout the BTP, in fact, we’re not solving a performance problem or creating the conditions for performance.  We’re supporting decision-making and focusing on the critical features of good results. That makes the BTP less rules-driven than envisioned.  It  makes the learning less predictable.  It’s a great, if sometimes wild, ride.

More on how we do this and learners’ discomfort next time.