from training to social learning

This video provides an overview of my six-week online social learning workshop. It is focused on moving from training, to performance improvement, to social learning.

Video Transcript

This presentation is an overview of the roles that training, performance support, and social learning play in organizational development. They reflect my own professional development, first as a military training development officer, later as a certified performance technologist, and then on to promoting social learning in distributed knowledge networks.


Modern training has its roots in modern warfare, requiring standard methods to train thousands of soldiers. Prior to the last century, mass training was reserved for the military, and larger scale education was the realm of the church. Training was based on standard methods and best practices. As a training development officer I learned about the multiple facets of training and instruction. Many military practices were adopted by civilian organizations in the 20th century. The systems approach to training that I used in the military included frameworks known to most training professionals today, namely Instructional Systems Design & ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation & evaluation). The military used these models to develop skills and knowledge for soldiers. But the military did not stop there. Unlike most civilian organizations, once soldiers are trained, they are not employable. Being trained is not the same as being ready for battle.

When I arrived at my first operational unit, after one year of infantry officer training, I was told to forget most of what I had learned, as I would learn how to do things correctly now. I would now learn informally, through games, and simulations. I would also learn socially, working with my fellow soldiers. The military calls this collective training. It is not run by training specialists, but rather the operational staff. The civilian equivalent would be that the lines of business, rather than HR or L&D, would develop all training inside an organization. The military understands that collective training, which fosters social bonding, is necessary for the complexity and chaos of battle.

Performance Improvement

Human Performance Technology is a systemic and systematic method to examine workplace performance. HPT looks at individual work within the context of the organization, as well as its environment, in terms of processes and outputs. Organizations can be examined in terms of Inputs, Value produced, as well as goods & services produced. Internal processes can be analyzed and designed within the context of the external environment. An organizational analysis can provide insight on where best to expend resources and effort.

At the individual level, work can be examined to see what is produced, how it is valued, and what type of feedback is appropriate. Many jobs are designed and evaluated in this way. The performance analysis used in HPT, is a good tool to find barriers to workplace performance. For example, a lack of skills & knowledge usually requires formal instruction or job aids. A lack of appropriate tools may require better processes and support. Training is expensive, so it is best to use it only when needed. Combining HPT with instructional systems design, ensures that training is designed only when there is a clear lack of sills and knowledge. Other non-instructional interventions, like job aids and checklists, can then be developed to reduce other barriers to performance. Using HPT methods can save resources and make for more efficient and effective workplaces.

But HPT does not provide much insight into complex systems. Training and performance support are effective to support any work that can be categorized and analyzed so that good or best practices can be developed. However, simple work keeps getting automated, and even complicated work is being replaced by software whenever a process can be reduced to a flowchart. In order to develop emergent and novel practices, people need to collaborate and cooperate as they work on understanding the changing environment and technologies. This is social learning, and it is a necessity when working in complex or chaotic environments.

Social Learning

Training helped us prepare for a relatively stable workplace. Integrating learning and work ensures that we can adapt to a changing workplace. By extending the borders of work, through communities of practice and social networks, we can support social learning. Structured and goal-oriented work still needs to get done. However, knowledge workers also need to develop emergent practices through their social relationship outside the workplace. This keeps work connected to the changing external environment, through human relationships and social networks.

Using the 70:20:10 framework, as promoted by Charles Jennings, we can support workplace learning not just with Education, but also Exposure to new opportunities, and actively learning from Experience. Tools are need, as well as skilled workers to use them. In addition, people need opportunities and structures to work and learn together.

A Modern Workplace Learning Framework

I have identified nine methods to support the 70:20:10 framework for workplace learning. There are many other methods available, but beginning with nine provides a manageable structure for any organization. These nine methods are the foundation of the workplace learning workshop.
 Collaboration is working together for a common objective. Collaboration is usually hierarchical, requiring someone to ensure that people stay on course. Cooperation is where people freely share without any requirement for direct reciprocity. Social networks enable large-scale cooperation. Both collaboration & cooperation are needed to do complex work. Defined jobs and roles are barriers to cooperation. Knowledge workers in the network era need to go beyond their work teams in order to learn and stay current in their professions.

Encouraging informal & opportunity-driven cooperation is a significant shift in how we need to approach workplace learning in a world based on knowledge networks. Research shows that an effective knowledge network is open, transparent, and diverse. Social networks are by nature open; they can enable knowledge-sharing; which in turn fosters a diversity of ideas and opinions necessary for innovation. Organizations that enable this cycle build trust. Research also shows that trust is a necessary element in sharing complex knowledge.

From a business perspective, capturing knowledge is only the first step in creating value. People need to share their knowledge, which requires trust, in order to enable some action, like developing a new product. Without trust, there is no sharing and little chance of creating the emergent work practices needed in a complex world. Organizational learning professionals should focus their efforts on encouraging knowledge-sharing. Practices such as learning and working out loud are necessary components of any workplace learning strategy.

Organizational performance improvement is a combination of reducing errors and increasing insights. Training and performance support, like job aids, help to reduce errors. But social learning is necessary to improve insights. While most organizations have good training programs, there is a huge opportunity in every organization to improve social learning. Today, work is learning, and learning is the work.

Implementing the Framework

The Social Learning Workshop, conducted over six weeks, comprises 9 main activities, plus resources, links, and tips. Each Monday and Thursday a new activity is posted in the online community space. Participants can work on their own or share with others as they like. At the end of the workshop, an additional week is provided for reflection or catch-up. The workshop is designed for professionals with some training design experience but little practice with performance support or social learning. It provides just enough structure, without constraining personal and social learning.

7 Responses to “from training to social learning”

  1. Harold Jarche

    I am not sure if I will do it again, as very few people have signed up so far. It’s not worth my while to do this for only a few participants. I will see how this workshop goes and then decide on doing another one after we finish it.

  2. Harold Jarche

    We finally did a get a good number of participants for the workshop, so I will likely offer it again. I will wait until we are finished and then make any necessary revisions, based on feedback. I think early April is a likely start time for the next workshop.

  3. Peter J. Bury

    Too late to join? Better wait for April? Let me know! Grazie from Italy and thanks to Ewen for having pointed me to this. Peter


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