Implementing Social Learning

Implementing Social Learning

Learning officers at major corporations are increasingly finding that social learning must be embedded into corporate

Learning officers at major corporations are increasingly finding that social learning must be embedded into corporate culture to be truly effective.

During a recent Elearning! Summit seminar, Dan Pontefract of the Telus Corporation and Kathy Valderrama of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland shared their strategies for doing so.

“There’s a lot of hype around social learning today,” admitted David Mallon of Bersin & Associates, who was moderator. “Your challenge is not to go find a specific tool, it’s to promote a certain kind of activity. If you know what kind of activity you’re trying to drive, you can select the kind of tool that best serves it.”

Getting a Start

Social learning includes four activities, according to Mallon:

1) Conversations like blogs, forums, micro-blogs, life-streaming, chat, IM and VoIP;

2) Content like content sharing, content management, tagging, rating, social bookmarking and syndication;

3) Connections like user profiles, social graphs, friends, contacts, people-matching, expert directories and communities of practice; and

4) Collaboration like wikis, workspaces, innovation, calendars and events.

Mallon points out that activities like communities of practice are evolving from being a sidelight into being an anchor for developing certain roles in an organization. What’s happening at Telus and Cleveland’s Federal Reserve Bank are cases in point.

“We know the importance of intellectual capital,” Valderrama says. “Our staff is disbursed all over the country. We have a very virtual staff. There’s a high cost of not learning from our mistakes. We want to make sure that we’re not only capturing lessons to be learned but also applying them and making sure that others are also able to learn from them.”

Telus has implemented what it calls Learning 2.0.

“Learning 2.0 is a philosophy change, an alignment change and a clarity change,” says Pontefract. “We’re saying that the way we have historically experienced learning has got to change. The way that we align learning — through collaboration and across the organization — also needs to change. Learning must be part of an ecosystem that relies on both formal and informal social ways in which to learn, exchange and create knowledge, and to share it back with the organization.

“Rather than having an organization that is fixated on training as an event, it’s give-and-take, collaborative and continuous.”

The Bank’s Approach

Valderrama has instituted what she calls a “lessons learned” effort at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland that encompasses story-telling techniques and simulation software. The former captures tacit knowledge from subject-matter experts and embeds it within the learning curriculum. The latter advances learning of new soft topics such as dealing with difficult management.

“The lessons-learned process accelerates the learning curve by leveraging the synergies of knowledge management and learning,” says Valderrama. “We examined real-life examples of key lessons learned by subject-matter experts. We captured stories and what we learned/gleaned from them. The stories consisted of defining the problem, determining how the issue was resolved, and what the result was. But most importantly, we asked, ‘What advice would you give to future teams in the same situation?’ That’s really the meat.”

Lessons learned were integrated into the training and learning process. Then, assessments were created based on the content provided.

“We’re also in the process of creating just-in-time lessons learned,” Valderrama continues. “Because of the financial environment, we’re capturing [information] at the specific times when the lessons learned are being learned. We publish those in real time to individuals who need to know.”

The Cleveland bank is also expanding its communities of practice to key business and strategic communities. “We’re assigned coaches,” says Valderrama, “and we’ve captured ‘nuggets’ on a variety of topics within our simulation software.”

Another approach is merging learning and knowledge-sharing efforts. “The expectation is set up front,” says Valderrama. “As people come on board, they get an introduction into our knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Other aspects of the bank’s social learning program:

>> Provide tools and processes that are needed to collaborate effectively and securely.

>> Actually embed learning into knowledge sharing so that it’s “baked in” to corporate culture to the point that employees don’t realize that it’s something extra.

>> Connect learning with performances management processes to create a knowledge management competency. Employees know that they will be monitored as to what they’re sharing with co-workers.

>> Promote consistency in learning, which includes taking advantage of more formal opportunities and making sure informal opportunities match up to them.

The Telus Case

At Telus, the learning organization is formalizing its informal components.

“We formulated team Webjams to informalize the formal nature of, say, an event,” notes Pontefract. “We asked what everybody was thinking and how we could engage, explore and get some consensual decisions on what we’d like to do by example. We learned a lot by demonstrating how to formalize an informal opportunity through leadership philosophy and technology. Ultimately, we gained much higher traction, wonderful feedback, and it really exemplified and personified what we were talking about in terms of this culture of collaboration.”

One important component of what Pontefract calls the “DNA” of Telus is that everyone is considered a leader. That falls in line with corporate values that dictate embracing change and initiating opportunity to develop the courage to innovate.

“We also try to behave,” Pontefract says, “by always engaging first — that’s reaching out to people — followed by exploring (before acting or making decisions), explaining the rationale, executing, and then evaluating. If we’ve done those right, our values and philosophy are built into the fabric of the organization.”

Telus has also launched a Career Development Portal that builds formal, informal and social learning into the learning path. A three-by-three matrix is critical to the process, and it speaks the language of the culture of collaboration and leadership philosophy.

Pontefract likes to refer to the “holy trinity” as the confluence of people, processes and technology that engaged companies manage to connect, illustrated by the right-hand portion of Fig. 2.

“We are looking at an organizational model whereby you have connected people to process, technology and content. In that ecosystem, everyone — including some of our learning vendors — are on the same page. If they get it, then we can do great things.”

Promoting all that interconnectivity and unity, he also says, ensures that you don’t have redundant pieces of the puzzle, like seven LMSs or 15 collaboration platforms, spread across the business.

As a final initiative, Telus provides employees with a Facebook-like Web page. It asks employees to provide answers to the questions:

>> Who are you?

>> What are your skills?

>> Do you have any wallboards or comments?

>> What kind of contents have you contributed?

>> What are your activities?

>> Who’s in your network?

>> Who are people you might want to follow?

“This creates a collaborative ecosystem,” says Pontefract. “We’re finding a way to federate our LMS into this collaborative ecosystem so that we’re not sending people out to disparate systems to connect and chat with one another. That’s a really important piece to understand.”

Noting Risks

When devising social learning strategies, it’s imperative to address legal risks, security risks and generational resistance.

“We try to make sure that we have protocols and procedures in place to address such things as the Freedom of Information Act and subpoenas as we’re sharing and learning from one another,” says Valderrama. “We’ve established user agreements, annual security reviews and training for communities of practice leaders.”

Some older employees may balk at new social learning strategies, preferring instead to call a colleague on the phone to obtain needed information. But the fact that such information could be of use to other co-workers might escape them. “We try to get the opinions of people who might have some resistance, to include them in the process” to make adoption easier, says Valderrama.

Knowledge Measurement

Telus is making an effort to go beyond the Kirkpatrick Four-Level Evaluation Model.

“I believe [Kirkpatrick] has set us back in terms of how instructor-led formal events are always measured,” says Pontefract. “Social and informal learning needs to be part of the equation in terms of how you are measuring how knowledge and learning surface, and how it’s being transferred and adjudicated by the individual.”

Telus’s assessment model is based on five key components:

1) Access – Are people clicking, opening, attending?

2) Use – Are people viewing, staying, reading, participating?

3) Grade – Was knowledge acquired in a quantifiable way?

4) Evaluate – What was the participant’s evaluation of the learning? 5) Return – What was the return to the organization as a result of the learning?

“We want to see how social, formal, informal relate from an activity and knowledge basis, which creates a correlation to value — which hopefully correlates to results,” Pontefract concludes.

The Future Is Now

“Most of these initiatives are within the reach of most organizations,” says Mallon. “It’s more a major change in thought than a series of investments.”

Valderrama agrees:

“The culture of learning is something that individuals are looking for, and it helps us as a business to make sure that we’re taking advantage of the things that we’re learning, whether it’s in a classroom, on the job, or in a community of practice.”

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