With increasing complexity in most aspects of a network society, the way that we support organizational learning must change. With low levels of complexity, knowledge can be codified into documentation and distributed throughout the organization. Best practices can be determined and then people can be trained to perform these methods at work. Basic aircraft flight operations can be taught in this way. But complex problems require implicit knowledge that cannot be put into a manual. This type of knowledge is nuanced and dependent on the context and situation. For example, negotiating the creation of the United Nations required many conversations and involved a myriad of social connections. It required social learning, which is how we gain insights, by connecting with others and learning while we work.
Social learning is the process by which groups of people cooperate to learn with and from each other. The network era is creating a historic reversal of education, as discourse replaces institutions, and social learning in knowledge networks obsolesces many aspects of organizational training. It is as if Socrates has come back to put Plato’s academy in its place, but this time the public agora is global.
Complex systems and complex problems cannot be controlled, only influenced. There are no right answers. The essence of social learning in an organization is giving up control. Instead we influence the environment to foster informal and social learning.
As our work becomes more complex, we need faster feedback loops to stay on top of it. Courses, with their long development cycle, are inadequate to meet the learning and performance needs of those dealing with complexity. Social learning can give us more and better feedback if we engage our networks in order to develop emergent work practices. We not only reduce errors but we gain insights.
Social media are a means by which we can share our implicit knowledge through conversations to co-develop emergent work practices. Seeking out expertise, making sense as we work, and sharing with colleagues is the new cycle of workplace learning. Enabling conversations, especially through social media, is a key enabler for organizational learning. Most other methods are just too slow and complicated.
Promoting self-directed learning, supporting social learning, and removing barriers to learning are essential for workplace learning today. Courses are not enough. Social technologies can provide up to date job aids. Enterprise social networks can provide coaching and mentoring so that new staff arrive with a support network and they can continue to learn as they work. Digital media and powerful software can create simulations to prepare for different scenarios. We often have the technology but lack the culture of a real learning organization.
Addressing the need for an integrated approach to workplace learning for a previous client, I developed a framework of nine approaches to focus education, improve exposure, and share experiences while learning at work. These nine strategies cover a broad base and if implemented well could address about 80% of any organization’s learning needs. It’s a pragmatic framework that can be implemented fairly quickly by a motivated team. It is also a flexible framework of various approaches that do not constrain organizational learning.
Social learning works. Try it out at the social learning workshop.
“Wow, this workshop has been a game-changer for me. Thanks so much for leading the way; the background info and actionable steps are really effective.” —Neal Peterson, Senior Learning Designer, R&D
“This workshop helped focus and situate the core elements that needed consideration in the development of a learning transformation strategy at a major financial institution contact center.” —Nancy Slawski, Senior Learning Consultant