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…
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!
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.
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.
So 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.
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.
There’s a lot of talk about social intranets these days. It even threatens to overtake the blogosphere’s current obsession with gamification.
But what exactly is a social intranet…?
Everyone seems to have a different opinion, from a human-centred platform, to the intersection between portals, team sites and social sites, to a system that ties the business’s processes and data to the employee’s social behaviour.
Which one is correct? They all are.
You see, a “social intranet” is simply an intranet with social media elements that allow the users to interact with the content and with each other.
While everyone’s definition covers this functionality more or less, what is different is the degree of the functionality.
So, to introduce a common language and some standardisation to our discourse, I propose the “Social Intranet Index” (SII) – a metric that denotes the degree of social functionality afforded by an enterprise’s intranet.
From 1 through 10, the SII represents an increasing level of sociability…
An intranet with an SII of 1 is the traditional, old-fashioned broadcast medium. Its content is published by a select few (usually members of the Communications team) and remains read-only for the target audience.
An intranet with an SII of 2 accommodates special account holders outside of the golden circle. These are typically highly motivated individuals, because the backend is clunky and illogical.
Unfortunately these individuals tend to find themselves in the unenviable position of publishing content for other people, because said people are either too dumb or too lazy to learn how to do it themselves. Strangely, though, they all know how to use Facebook.
An intranet with an SII of 3 introduces a star rating or a “like” facility. The target audience can interact (albeit minimally) with the content by judging its quality and relevance.
An intranet with an SII of 4 introduces a commenting facility. Beyond a reductionist score, the target audience can now post free-form comments in response to the content.
An intranet with an SII of 5 bolts on third-party social applications such as Yammer, Compendium and Confluence. While these apps aren’t components of the enterprise’s intranet proper, they’re accessible from there and thus form part of the network. The target audience is empowered to generate their own content within these ringfenced zones.
An intranet with an SII of 6 integrates social media elements such as a discussion forum, blogs and wikis into a single sign-on solution. The user experience is seamless.
An intranet with an SII of 7 maintains a bank of user profiles that includes everyone in the organisation and is accessible by anyone in the organisation. The profiles are rich (including photos, contact details and subject matter expertise) and integrate with the other components of the intranet (eg the discussion forum) to facilitate social networking.
An intranet with an SII of 8 enables the users to personalise the interface. This typically involves the selection and arrangement of social widgets (eg a particular blog, a discussion sub-forum), a filterable activity stream, plus external functionality such as a customisable RSS feed.
An intranet with an SII of 9 empowers anyone in the organisation to publish and edit “regular” informational content beyond the aforementioned social media elements, though still within certain ringfenced zones. For example, a team site may host user-generated content pertinent to that team.
An intranet with an SII of 10 is the poster boy of heterarchy. All content is easily publishable and editable by everyone in the organisation. Devoid of ringfences, the platform effectively becomes a giant wiki. The corporate community pitches in to produce and maintain organic knowledge.
Outlandish and unworkable, or innovative and game changing? At the very least, I say an SII of 10 is aspirational.
From 1 to 10, the Social Intranet Index represents a series of concurrent trends.
Most radically, the direction of publishing shifts from one-way to two-way to multi-way. This is typically associated with an increasing ease of use, which in turn encourages an increasing number of content producers.
Knowledge contained in silos is increasingly shared, and a broader community blossoms. As governance loosens, the organisation puts more trust in its own employees. Effectively, its hierarchy flattens.
As more control is relinquished by the company to its people, however, the risk of something going wrong increases. The content that is generated by the users might be flawed, and in extreme cases an individual might abuse their privileges and do something malicious.
On the other side of the coin, though, loose governance does not mean no governance. Sensitive content may still be locked, while an approval process and a reversion facility can prevent disaster.
Moreover, it may be argued that the shifting paradigm places an increasing obligation on the SME not only to share their knowledge with the wider organisation, but also to maintain its currency and relevance. Those who can’t or won’t will soon get found out.
Clearly, a “social intranet” is not just about the technology; it’s about the culture of the organisation. Just because sophisticated functionality is available does not necessarily mean it will be used!
Notwithstanding this truism, I submit that culturally speaking, an SII of 1 is poles apart from an SII of 10. The former is characteristic of a restrictive, distrustful, clunky organisation, while the latter is characteristic of an open, empowering, nimble one.
Which organisation do you think will be more collaborative?
Which one is more adaptable to change?
Which one will ultimately perform better in the market?
Closer to home, what is the SII of your organisation’s intranet…?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.