Posted tagged ‘social learning’

The dawn of a new generation

22 July 2014

User-generated content (UGC) is not a novel concept, but most of us in the corporate sector have barely scratched its surface.

Beyond enterprise social networks – which are hardly universal and face substantial challenges of their own – UGC in the broader sense is beset by concerns about content quality, accountability, organisational culture, job security and power dynamics.

And yet… the world is changing.

Notwithstanding either the validity or the importance of our concerns with UGC, the traditional training model is becoming increasingly unsustainable in the modern workplace. And besides, I think most of our concerns can be addressed by a change in mindset, a little imagination, a dash of trust, and a collective commitment to make it work.

To explore the practicalities of user-generated content, the Learning Cafe sponsored a webinar entitled Learner Generated Learning Content – Possibilities, mechanics and chaos? The event was hosted by Jeevan Joshi and presented by myself, Andrew Mazurkiewicz and Cheryle Walker.

My part comprised a proposed solution to a fictional caselet. Both the caselet and the transcript of my proposal are outlined below…

Call centre

Ron is the manager for a 250 seat contact centre at an insurance company in 3 locations. Ron has made sure that there is a comprehensive training program to cover all aspects of the job. However in the past 6 months improvements have plateaued despite improving the content and structure of the training workshops. Ron did an analysis of contact centre data and concluded that further improvements were only possible if practical knowledge and better practices known to the team were shared in the team.

Denise, a team leader suggested that operators would be keen to share how they dealt with difficult or complex calls using the web cam on the PC and post it on the intranet. Ron was concerned that recording may be a distraction and may be perceived by some as monitoring performance. Kit, the Learning Consultant insisted the videos should be loaded on the LMS so that the time spent and results could be tracked. There were also concerns that inappropriate videos may be posted. Denise was however convinced that it was a good idea and the only way to improve further performance. What should Ron do?

Formal training

Well firstly I think Ron should retain his formal training program. It’s important for the organisation to cover off its “must know” knowledge and skills, and formal training can be a quick and efficient way of doing that. Besides, moving away too radically from formal training would probably be a culture shock for the company, and thus counter-productive. So in this case I suggest it would be best to build on the foundation of the training program.

Training is the front end of an employee’s learning & development. I know from first-hand experience that there is a lot for contact centre staff to take in, and they can’t possibly be expected to remember it all. So the formal training needs to be sustained, and a powerful way of doing that is with an informal learning environment.

Formal training complemented by a content repository

A key component of the informal learning environment is the content repository – such as an intranet or a wiki – that contains content that the employee can search or explore at their discretion. The logical place to start with this content is with the existing training collateral. Now, I don’t mean simply uploading the user guides, but extracting the information and re-purposing it in a structured and meaningful way on-screen.

If Denise knows operators who are keen to generate content, then I would certainly welcome that. These people are the SMEs – they live and breathe the subject matter every day – so they are the obvious choice to add value.

However, I’m not sure if web cams are necessarily the way to go. In the case of dealing with difficult calls, audio would be a more authentic choice; visuals wouldn’t add anything to the learning experience – in fact, they’d probably be distracting. The operator could request a particular recording from the quality system and write up in text how they handled the call. And if they used a tool like Audacity, they could easily cut and edit the audio file as they see fit.

Another way of generating content – especially for process and system training – might include Captivate or Camtasia, which are really easy to use to produce handy tutorials.

An important point to remember is that the operator on the phone might need to look up something quickly. For example, if they have an angry or abusive caller on the other end of the line, they won’t have the luxury of wading through reams of text or listening to a 7-minute model call. So it’s important that the practical knowledge be provided in the form of job aids – such as a template or a checklist – that the operator can use on-the-job, just-in-time.

I don’t agree with Kit that this content should be put on the LMS. Frankly, no one will go in there – and in my opinion, that’s not what an LMS is for. By definition, an LMS is a Learning Management System – so use it to manage learning. It makes sense to use the LMS for the formal training program – for things like registrations, grading, transcripts, reporting etc. In contrast, what we’re talking about here is the act of learning – not its management. The operator needs a resource that is easy to access, easy to navigate, to learn what they need to do their job in the moment.

We must remember that the point of learning is performance – so the focus of our measurement and evaluation energies should be on the performance stats. The employees would have been thoroughly assessed during the formal training program, so now is not the time to go loading the LMS with more stuff just for the sake of tracking it. The real tracking now should be done with the business scorecard.

Formal training complemented by a content repository, which in turn is complemented by a social forum.

OK, a missing link in this solution is a social forum.

If an operator can’t find what they need, a social forum enables them to ask their crowd of peers. And again, because these peers are themselves SMEs, someone is likely to have the answer. Not only does this approach service the operator with the information they need, but other operators can see the interaction and learn from it as well.

Also, by keeping tabs on the discussions in the forum, the L&D professional can identify gaps in the solution, and review the content that is evidently unclear or difficult to find.

So in summary, my solution for Ron is an integrated solution comprising his formal training program, complemented by an informal learning environment including a structured content repository, which in turn is complemented by a social forum.

Those among us who like the 70:20:10 model will see each component represented in this solution.

Formal training (10) complemented by a content repository (70), which in turn is complemented by a social forum (20).

Do you agree with my integrated solution? What else would you recommend, or what would you propose instead?

Are we witnessing the dawn of a new generation? Can user-generated content be a core component of the corporate L&D strategy? Or is it just a pipe dream?

Is the pedagogy of MOOCs flawed?

26 August 2013

This is a question that I tackle in my Udemy course The Wide World of MOOCs.

Almost immediately after I uploaded this preview to YouTube, someone on Twitter politely challenged me.

She took umbrage to my assertion that MOOCs are pedagogically richer than “regular” online courses.

Her counter argument was that the pedagogical devices that I cited – readings, online discussion forums, social media groups and local meetups – are the same learning and teaching functionalities available in any LMS.

While this claim is partly true, I wish to share with you my [elaborated] defence of my initial assertion. Why? Because I think it’s important to hear all POVs, and I’d like to know whether you agree…

Hand on keyboard

Right off the bat, I don’t believe that all the pedagogical devices that I cited are available in any LMS. They may be available in many LMSs, but certainly not all of them. Moreover, although an organisation may have a subscription to an LMS that offers these devices, it may not have them activated.

That of course is not to say that the e-learning designer is prevented from using these devices; for example, he or she might leverage other non-LMS technology within the organisation or in the cloud. However, in my experience and in conversations with others, it is clear that they often don’t.

Again, that’s not to say that no e-learning designers integrate devices such as online discussions and social media groups into their LMS-hosted courses, but even if they do, the target audience tends not to play ball. How to encourage active participation on social platforms is a hot topic in the L&D sphere, and there is no easy answer because it’s a question of organisational culture which can’t be “fixed” over night.

As for local meetups, in all my years I have never seen this offered in a regular online course!

Network Analysis of the EDCMOOC Facebook group

MOOCs, on the other hand, are the polar opposite. All of the MOOCs I have experienced include readings, online discussion forums, social media groups and local meetups. And the participants do participate. Sure, that’s to be expected given the massive scale of MOOCs, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Case in point, the University of Edinburgh’s E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC is one of the best online courses I have ever experienced. While it had its fair share of pro’s and cons, it was a hell of a lot richer than the boring page turners that too many among us have learned to associate with “e-learning”.

And there was no LMS in sight.

Everyone is an SME

20 August 2012

One of the recurring themes on my blog is a call for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to share their knowledge with the wider organisation.

In my view, this isn’t just an expectation: it’s an obligation. Organisations whose people embrace collaboration will prosper, while those who don’t will be left behind.

While the stereotype of an SME is a Sheldon-like character with superhuman intellect, the convenient truth is that we’re regular folk.

Of course the level of expertise in a particular domain will vary across a population, and the label of “expert” will naturally be assigned to those who have the most. However, it would be a folly to assume that the eggheads are the only ones who have anything to contribute.

You see, everyone is an expert in something. When humans work in a domain day in, day out, they familiarise themselves with it; they grow to understand its subtleties; they think up ideas to improve it; and they recognise the difference between business reality and academic fallacy when other people talk about it.

SamSo while they might not be experts in the entire domain, they will be experts in parts thereof.

Take Sam for example. He’s an administrator in the back office of a financial services organisation.

He’s no expert in superannuation, but he sure knows how to process a unit switch – even complicated ones. He processes dozens of them every day.

So when you need someone to record a unit switching tutorial, who you gonna call? It sure as hell won’t be Carl the CFP, or Mary the MBA, or anyone else with an acronym after their name. It will be Sam, the unit switching expert.

Spectacles

When we view the concept of subject matter expertise through this lens, we realise our roles as learning professionals need to change:

  • We need to stop deifying the few. This creates an “us & them” mentality which – even if affectionate – discourages the participation of the mortals.
     
  • We need to empower the many to share their expertise. In the modern workplace, this will involve social technology.
     
  • We need to cultivate a participatory culture. The best technology in the world is useless in an organisation with inhibitive policies and attitudes. Tools are meant to be used.

So unless they are doe-eyed novices, all the employees in your organisation have knowledge and skills to share. And if they don’t or won’t, let them find alternative employment with your competitors.

Drivers of Yammer use in the corporate sector

18 June 2012

Yammer has been quite a success at my workplace. Not off the charts like at Deloitte, yet very much alive and growing.

It warms my heart to see my colleagues asking and answering questions, sharing web articles, crowdsourcing ideas, gathering feedback, praising team mates, comparing notes on where to buy the best coffee, and even whining a little.

Every so often I’m asked by a peer at another company what they can do to increase the use of Yammer in their own organisation. I’m happy to share my opinion with them (borne from my experience), but thus far I have been cognisant of the fact that I haven’t cross-checked my ideas against those of others in the corporate sector.

So I recently invited 14 community managers from around the world to rate the key factors that drive Yammer use in their respective organisations. The results are summarised in the following graph.

Yammer drivers graph

While my sample size is probably too small to infer any significant differences among the factors, observation reveals a tiered arrangement.

The front runner is business champions. These enthusiastic users encourage the use of Yammer with their colleagues across the business. The importance of this factor is unsurprising, given the effectiveness of WOM in the marketing industry. Employees presumably trust their team mates more than they do HR, IT, or whoever “owns” Yammer in the workplace.

The next one down is another no brainer: internal promotion. Typical promotional activities such as newsletters, testimonials and merchandise not only raise awareness among the users, but also act as ongoing reminders. If WOM is the steam train, promotion is the coal that keeps it chugging.

Intrinsic motivation is obvious to anyone who knows the saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. In other words, you can unleash your business champions and push all the promotion you like, but if the individuals who comprise your target audience lack a collaborative attitude, they won’t use Yammer.

Rounding out the top tier is top-down support and participation. Not only is it important for the user’s direct manager to be enthusiastic about Yammer and participate in it him- or herself, but it’s also important for the CEO, CFO, COO, CMO etc to do the same. They must lead by example.

Yammer icon

At the next tier down, informal support resources have some importance. I guess self-paced tutorials, user guides, tip sheets etc are less of an imperative when the system is so damn easy to use. Not to mention that just about everyone knows how to use Facebook or Twitter already, so in that sense they have prior knowledge.

User acknowledgement is also somewhat important. Everyone wants their questions to be answered, and perhaps attract a “like” or two. Otherwise, why would they bother?

The placement of Community Manager at this tier pleasantly surprised me, given the pool of respondents. Nonetheless, some sort of management of the forum is considered important in driving its use.

Integration of Yammer-based discourse into L&D offerings was also placed surprisingly low. I suspect that’s because only intrinsically motivated learners participate in it anyway.

Rounding out this tier, it appears a decent sense of netiquette is the norm in the workplace. You would be a clown to behave otherwise!

Yammer icon

At the lower tiers, we see the factors that are considered less important by the respondents.

I guess a formal usage policy is irrelevant to intrinsically motivated users, while prizes, points and other forms of extrinsic motivation are similarly redundant. Same goes for activities and games such as “fun facts” and trivia quizzes.

And one thing’s for sure: a traditional project management approach characterised by a hard launch and follow-up training misses the mark.

Yammer icon

In summary, then, we see that enterprise social networking is multifaceted. There is no silver bullet.

If your objective is to drive the use of Yammer in your organisation, you would be wise to focus your energy on the factors that offer the greatest return.

In the meantime, bear in mind that social forums grow organically. It takes time for individuals to see what’s in it for them and jump aboard.

Having said that, if the culture of your organisation is bad, it either needs to change or you should shift your efforts to something else.

The 10 Commandments of Microblogging

7 February 2012

As microblogging solutions such as Yammer sweep across the corporate sector, a melting pot of social media veterans and newbies inevitably begins to boil.

And this is a wonderful thing. Loads of new people from disparate areas of the business┬ácommunicating and collaborating with one other, usually for the first time ever? I’m all for it.

Having said that, many of the noobs have never microblogged before. Some don’t even have a Facebook account, let alone Twitter.

This in itself isn’t a problem. They don’t need to qualify to participate, and their views are just as valid as anyone else’s.

However, it probably means they don’t know the ground rules.

And this can be a problem, because it frequently distracts other participants, discourages other noobs from joining in, and generally makes the whole process of peer-to-peer knowledge sharing much less efficient than it otherwise could be.

So what is good practice?

Good practice is a subjective concept, but some universal principles have emerged over the years.

If we set aside the obvious – bullying, belligerence, condescendence, and generally being an a**hole – then we have what I call the 10 Commandments of Microblogging

We'll need a supreme court or something to interpret these.

I. Thou shalt use a real profile photo.

It’s really important in the workplace – especially the virtual workplace – that we know what you look like. At the very least it signifies you’re proud to be a member of the team.

II. Thou shalt respect other people’s opinions.

You might not always agree with us, but that doesn’t make you right. Consider our contexts and circumstances before pulling on your Captain Correct lycra.

A subset of this commandment is: Thou shalt not put words in other people’s mouths. Be careful of how you respond to our messages. Be mindful of what we did – and more importantly, what we did not – say.

III. Thou shalt steer clear of politics and religion.

We don’t care what you do or don’t believe in. Nothing you say in this forum will change our minds.

IV. When linking to an article, thou shalt explain why it’s relevant.

We’re busy people. We won’t click a link just because you say it’s “fantastic”.

V. When praising someone, thou shalt describe the outcome.

Saying that one of your team members was “really helpful” is really nice. If you explain how and why it matters, you’ll encourage the rest of us to be really helpful too.

VI. When running a poll, thou shalt include all the options.

If our answers aren’t options, we won’t pick another one to humour you. We’ll just ignore the poll, and you’ll be left with skewed results.

(Hint: “None of the above” is often a get-out-of-jail-free card.)

VII. Thou shalt not post many messages in quick succession.

This is known as “flooding”, and it makes you look like a douche. If your messages are truly valuable, then spread them out over time so that we can digest them and formulate constructive responses.

VIII. Thou shalt create a group.

It’s great that you’re so passionate about medieval basket weaving, but you’re polluting our feed with irrelevance. Create a group and party like it’s 1399.

IX. If you appreciate someone’s message, thou shalt “like” it.

It’s called professional courtesy, and it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. It also shows your boss that you have a brain and you’re not afraid to use it.

X. Thou shalt answer questions like an angel.

If you don’t know the answer to one of our questions, refer it to someone who does. The point of an enterprise-wide microblog is that it generates value. If that value is not realised, then why would we bother coming back?

Revelation

Of course, I’m not going to pretend that social media veterans role model these 10 Commandments like modern-day disciples.

We’re all human, and we stray across our lanes every once in a while – sometimes with good cause.

Nevertheless, I hope they provide some semblance of order that will extract the most out of our corporate communities.


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