E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Redefine the Workplace of the Future with Social Learning

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves (San Bartolomé de Tirajana)it’s been a long while since last time that I participated on a Blog Carnival, specially around the topic of Collaboration, Knowledge Sharing and Learning. In fact, I would think that there aren’t many out there anymore since most folks tend to spend the vast majority of their time in whatever the social networking site interacting with their network(s). So when I received an invitation a few days ago from my good friend Félix Escribano, over at adidas, where they are currently hosting one around those topics with a specific focus on Learning and how it’s helping redefine the workplace of the future, I just couldn’t help myself diving into it adding my two cents to the conversation. And if there is a topic dear to my heart around learning and education in general, specifically, in a corporate environment, that would have to be Informal / Social Learning. What else?

That’s why today I thought I would share a couple of reflections that have been going on in my mind on something that I have noticed, for a while now, that’s happening around social learning and which showcases how we may not have learned much about how we did things in the past. Now, if yesterday I was musing about how Social Business and Social Evangelists are becoming more and more industrialized by the day, it looks like we are starting to witness how social learning is trying to get formalised just as well, thinking that we can control it in pretty much the same way that we did with formal learning. How unfortunate! How can you try to formalise what you just simply don’t know, can’t grasp, nor comprehend, or put any kind of physical or virtual barriers around it? It is just pretty much the same thing as trying to find the answer to that on-going debate of how can you manage knowledge when you just simply don’t know what you know till someone may prompt it to come out of you? 

I am finding it all rather fascinating, to say the least!, because as we get to witness how social networking tools are helping accelerate how effective we are not only at getting work done, but also learning efficiently while on the job (Yes, we are finally coming to terms with the fact that Learning is work, work is learning!, -thanks to social technologies- About time!!), time and time again we seem to be very keen on putting borders around such learning activities thinking that we can streamlined them and industrialise them accordingly, because otherwise that learning never happened. And yet, we all know that we just can’t do that. We just can’t formalise what we don’t even know, i.e. how people learn while on the job. They just do. 

Now, there are plenty of people out there who have been talking about this topic for a while, but there is in particular a group of very smart and talented folks that have been trying to set up the right landscape of how organizations should be embracing Informal, Social Learning. Of course, I am referring to the Internet Time Alliance folks (Jay Cross, Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Clark Quinn, Paul Simbeck-Hampson and Charles Jennings), all of whom I can strongly suggest and encourage you all to follow up on if you would be interested in the kind of work they do. 

In particular, and for the purpose of this Blog Carnival Post on the topic of Social Learning at the Workplace, I would love to point you to a superb presentation Charles himself did a couple of years ago and that, still today, it is more relevant and descriptive than ever: 8 Reasons to Focus on Informal & Social Learning, where not only does he get to describe what social learning itself is all about, and, most importantly, what it is not!, but it also covers some of the most fundamental aspects as to why every single organisation out there would need to embrace it and for a rather simple reason: knowledge workers are already doing it! (Whether organisations like it or not…). 

Indeed, in that rather thought provoking presentation Charles gets to detail two of the main key drivers behind informal learning: “We’re working in an always-on, beta world” and “Learning often isn’t what we think it is“, as well as detail a good bunch of insights on why businesses won’t be getting the most out of it by trying to formalise what can’t be formalised and for that purpose he mentions 8 different reasons that I thought would be worth while mentioning over here as well to set the right context on why we need to look at Learning with new eyes, trying to understand the needs and wants from knowledge workers – learners in such a way that they can define for themselves how that embedded learning would be taking place eventually. To name: 

  1. “There are imperatives for continual learning
  2. Learning is a process, not a series of events
  3. Most learning occurs outside classrooms
  4. The vast majority of learning is social
  5. A lot of formal learning is ineffective
  6. People learn better when they are in charge
  7. There’s inherent inertia in formal approaches
  8. Information and social learning are cost-effective”

No, don’t worry, I am not going to spoil the rest of the fun talking about the remaining insights that Charles gets to cover on that set of slides. Instead I would strongly encourage you all to have a look into them with the embedded code of the deck itself shared below, so that you can see what he is aiming at and that we should all be considering as we keep redefining the role of Learning in a now more than ever Connected / Social Enterprise environment: 

Some really good stuff, don’t you think? To me, the key messages, which are also pretty good sound advice on how to tackle informal learning in the corporate world, as social networking for business keeps taking us all by storm, it would be to instead of trying to formalise it, so that it would become much easier to measuring it, we should “focus instead on helping people do their jobs well and work smarter“.  And let the learning be up to them, the knowledge workers themselves, because, amongst several other things, they probably know, much better than you do, what they need, and what they don’t need. And it would be through that autonomy, decision power shift and that lowering of the centre of gravity that their learning would accelerate to places you even didn’t think they could happen at any given point. Yet, there they are, getting work done, now much more effective than ever, and learning along the way. Still think that you need to justify it with formal processes and measurements? What else can you, or should you, expect from social learning? 

Not much, I can tell you. That’s probably as good as it gets…

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  1. Hey Luis,

    Good post, passionate discours as always 🙂

    As a remark, why limit yourself to the confines of the workplace? I’d argue for Social Learning with your customers as well, which I wrote about this a couple of years ago http://marktamis.com/2009/12/09/social-learning-and-customer-engagement/, so as to get the benefit of more informed input from your customers and better understand the needs they are aim to meet at the same time.

    I think it is about time we break down the boundaries we have built between the enterprise and its clients for those who wish to engage! Social learning is a strategy to do so imho.


    1. Hiya, Mark! Whoaahhh!! Fascinating! Thanks much for making such a wonderful connection into the whole concept of co-creation with customers as a powerful learning experience of understanding each other’s needs and wanting to help one another through that learning activity. Fantastic!! I surely agree with you that’s probably one of the most empowering options out there to help break and tear down firewalls and allow knowledge workers learn from their customers on how to do their jobs better and how customers themselves can learn how to innovate together through open collaboration and knowledge sharing! Brilliant insight, indeed!

      And I surely love that blog post you put together that three years later it’s still as relevant as it was before!! Thanks much, my friend, for leading the way towards the final frontier: be where our customers are already waiting us to be! Wonderful! 🙂

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Luis. You made the day for the Internet Time Alliance.

    Clark and I just returned from the IBM Social Business Roadshow at the baseball stadium in San Francisco. An IBM Social Business Evangelist, Louis Richardson, gave a talk on Developing and Maintaining a Creative Culture. About half way through, he popped your profile on screen and said “Here’s an example of a very creative guy.” He described your no-email saga.

    Small world!

    1. Hi Jay! You are most welcome! Whoaaahhh!! Look at that! Very small world, indeed! Louis is surely one really smart cookie himself! Talking about creativity!! You should go and check out some of the work he has done and shared over at Slideshare () and also catch up with him over at @inter_vivos on Twitter. He does some pretty good job in delivering rock solid messages on the role of social business to transform organisations and is also a big fan of the “A World Without Email” meme … I trained him well ;-)) No, seriously, he’s one of the folks who is living it, too, helping the rest of the organisation, teams, networks and communities come on board!

      Glad you had a chance to meet him up! And really jealous that he got to meet you folks F2F before I did!! Grrr One of these days!!

  3. One thing I wanted to add to your excellent post is that there’s also the flipside of the coin – once you’ve learned something new (esp in an informal context), you are also able to teach others (again in an informal context, not as a real teacher). So, learn>teach>learn, a self-reinforcing circle that pushes everyone up the learning curve much faster. Here’s a chart I had drawn to illustrate this circle: https://plus.google.com/photos/100641053530204604051/albums/5740210251204440177/5740338213403848162

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