Social Learning Handbook

This post is an excerpt from Jane Hart’s recently published  Social Learning Handbook 2014.

social learning handbook 2014It’s all about people.

Today’s digitally connected workplace demands a completely new set of skills. Our increasing interconnectedness is illuminating the complexity of our work environments. More connections create more possibilities, as well as more potential problems.

On the negative side, we are seeing that simple work keeps getting automated, like automatic bank machines. Complicated work, for which standardized processes can be developed, usually gets outsourced to the lowest cost of labor.

On the positive side, complex work can provide unique business advantages and creative work can help to identify new business opportunities. However, complex work is difficult to copy and creative work constantly changes.

But both complex and creative work require greater implicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge, unlike explicit knowledge, is difficult to codify and standardize. It is also difficult to transfer.

Implicit knowledge is best developed through conversations and social relationships. It requires trust before people willingly share their know-how. Social networks can enable better and faster knowledge feedback for people who trust each and share their knowledge. But hierarchies and work control structures constrain conversations. Few people want to share their ignorance with the boss who controls their pay cheque. But if we agree that complex and creative work are where long-term business value lies, then learning amongst ourselves is the real work in organizations today. In this emerging network era, social learning is how work gets done.

Becoming a successful social organization will require more than just the implementation of enterprise social technologies. Developing, supporting, and encouraging people to use a range of new social workplace skills will be just as important. Individual skills, in addition to new organizational support structures, are both required.

Personal knowledge management (PKM) skills can help to make sense of, and learn from, the constant stream of information that workers encounter from social channels both inside and outside the organization. Keeping track of digital information flows and separating the signal from the noise is difficult. There is little time to make sense of it all. We may feel like we are just not able to stay current and make informed decisions. PKM gives a framework to develop a network of people and sources of information that one can draw from on a daily basis. PKM is a process of filtering, creating, and discerning, and it also helps manage individual professional development through continuous learning.

Collaboration skills can help workers to share knowledge so that people work and learn cooperatively in teams, communities of practice, and social networks. In order to support collaborative working and learning in the organization, it is important to experience what it means to work and learn collaboratively, and understand the new community and collaboration skills that are involved. “You can’t train someone to be social, only show them how to be social.” Practice is necessary.

The power of social networks, like electricity, will inevitably change almost every existing business model. Leaders need to understand the importance of organizational architecture. Working smarter in the future workplace starts by organizing to embrace networks, manage complexity, and build trust. The 21st century connected enterprise is a new world of work and learning.

For example, traditional training structures, based on institutions, programs, courses and classes, are changing. Probably the biggest change we are seeing is that the content delivery model is being replaced by more social and collaborative frameworks. This is due to almost universal Internet connectivity, especially with mobile devices, as well as a growing familiarity with online social networks.

Work is changing and so organizational learning must change. There is an urgent need for organizational support functions (HR, OD, KM, Training) to move beyond offering training services and toward supporting learning as it is happening in the digitally connected workplace. The connected enterprise will not wait for the training department to catch up.

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