Diffusion of social learning

Paul makes an excellent comment to my article on social learning in the enterprise that Jon Husband kindly posted for me on the FASTForward Blog:

I see the critical aspect to social learning to be ‘diffusion’. Knowledge ‘flows’ at specific speeds, and complex, technical details have high viscosity. Some nodes are efficient at in-flow (fast learners), some at out (teachers). Excessive turnover removes nodes before their knowledge has spread to the rest of the group. Isolated groups fail to transmit their knowledge. Again, if I were debugging a company I’d want to measure this. How long before a new product feature is well understood by sales? by management? Does R&D know about current marketing efforts? How much does a idea change as it’s communicated through the company? Are there particular points where ideas get stuck, or particularly garbled?

There is a lot to unpack from this paragraph and it highlights many of issues around learning in the enterprise. It’s not just about having access to knowledge or people but getting ideas flowing throughout the organization. Redundancy comes to mind as a principal for supporting social learning diffusion. There has to be more than one way to communicate or find something.

Just because something was blogged, tweeted or posted does not mean it will be understood and eventually internalized as actionable knowledge. The more complex or novel the idea, the more time it will take to be understood. Often I have revisited articles and only understood them when I have read related views or had a chance to find examples of some new concept. Understanding networks, for instance, is easier when you live and work with them and can see examples of network effects.

Diffusion – Viscosity – Flows – Redundancy

8 Responses to “Diffusion of social learning”

  1. Tim Kastelle

    That’s an incredibly useful way to think about it. I’m coming to believe that idea diffusion is a key problem to solve in many different realms. There’s a lot to think about in that short comment from Paul. Thanks for sharing the ideas!

  2. Jon Husband

    I believe (but would have to confirm) that Valdis Krebs’ more recent work on SNA, and perhaps the most recent version of InFlow (his SNA software) can help get at these issues.

  3. virginia Yonkers

    Part of it also is being ready for the knowledge and/or having a reason to know something. Often, I’ll read something or more likely skim it. At the time, it may not be pertinent. Then something will happen and I will remember having read that. This is where tools like delicious come in, because I save something that may be useful later, but I don’t really need now. I make sure that i include notes so I’ll be able to find it later.

    Even then, I may remember reading something, but can’t find the source. The fact is that it just was not relevant at the time. I filtered it out, but not completely.

    There are some good organizational communication tools, such as a communication audit, that allows a company to see the ebs and flows of ideas.

  4. Dan Pontefract

    ” The more complex or novel the idea, the more time it will take to be understood.”

    Is that why it’s taking me so long to drive change within the company that employs me? 🙂

    BTW: how do you personally categorize all of the blogs, articles, learning, etc. that are out there? Do you have a system you can share with us?

    • Harold Jarche

      My categories keep changing, Dan. Currently my feed reader has these folders for about 200 sources: Business of Learning; Internet Time Alliance; Learning; Technology; Social Issues; Local Blogs; French Blogs.
      On delicious I use many more tags http://delicious.com/jarche
      On this blog I have several categories plus a few tags.

  5. Jon Husband

    So .. I see Harold’s system as the feed reader, delicious and the blog, and they are in dynamic evolution as the flows of information and context move forward. I would take it that the names of his daily-use folders in the reader are the core categories or spine of his system, and delicious and the blog are two different kinds of output.

  6. Jon Husband

    so .. input and output.

    Harold and his relationships, thinking, writing and client work, is the throughput 😉


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