Social learning is what managers do already

Here are some more questions from our Working Smarter conversation on 30 March 2011, followed by my comments. Feel free to weigh in.

Q1: Our Legal department discourages social learning because the communication cannot be reviewed by them before being presented. How has this been addressed by others?

Q2: What social media/social learning methods are effective in regulation heavy business where a single mistake can cause business-wide repercussions.  I am actually afraid of peer-to-peer education because often even the most respected peers just don’t get it right.

Q3: How can any of this really be implemented effectively in an organization that is bound by confidentiality and regulatory red-tape such as healthcare?

Q4: Do you need to be concerned with a technical answer being wrong by non-experts in social learning and be responsible for that error.

I wonder if a legal department would also recommend that people don’t talk to each other in passing, use the phone or send email? The real problem may be that the legal department doesn’t understand social media. Social learning is already happening. Any organization that is not social is not human.

One of the posted responses was that when social learning environments are done right, the community becomes self-correcting. When the community is transparent, with no anonymous posting, people tend to behave. Inaccuracies are found and corrected. As developers say, given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

Here’s an example of a well-used wiki in what one could consider a confidential, highly controlled and regulation-heavy organization:

During a typical workday, Intellipedia—the Intelligence Community’s version of Wikipedia—receives about 5,000 contributions. The third anniversary of Intellipedia on Friday, April 17, was anything but a typical workday. Intellipedia users broke the record for contributions in one day with 15,046 edits.

If clear “answers” are necessary for regulatory or safety purposes, then these are not the areas where you let anyone respond and make up answers. However, there are many places where people can learn with and from each other. Much time is wasted in finding information, locating expertise, scheduling meetings and dealing with redundant communications. Social media can help and concurrently free up time for learning and innovation. I have yet to find an organization that has too much innovation going on.

Q5: “social learning reduces waste of time” would be viewed as paradoxicial by our senior leaders who believe people waste time in social tools 🙂

The posted response said: “I’ve had success in asking senior leadership how often they learn and exchange information using social rather than formal mechanisms. Once they put their own learning experiences into this context, they are often more likely to accept the value of social mechanisms.”

For example, according to a UK white paper on How Managers Learn, respondents reported that their most-used as well as the most effective informal learning method was: informal chats with colleagues. Other top-rated methods include the use of (external) search engines; trial & error; informal on-the-job instruction; and professional reading.

That’s in their own words 😉

One Response to “Social learning is what managers do already”

  1. Kelly Meeker

    Thanks for outlining useful arguments when discussing informal learning and social media. While I come from a family chock-full of lawyers, I often giggle at the outdated perspective that comes from legal departments – as if they can stop the winter from coming or the sun from setting! People share inaccurate information all the time, informally. The benefit of putting it in some kind of wiki/social media format is that the conversation is visible to even more people, who can correct misconceptions and add even more expertise. It’s the best fact-checking around.

    Thanks again for a great post!


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