Social Learning doesn’t mean what you think it does: PART TWO

Yesterday, in my first posting on this topic, I showed how “social learning” is not just about a new training trend or about adding social media into the “blend” or acquiring the latest Social Learning Management System, but a fundamental change in how we need to view workplace learning.  And that in order stay in tune with new ways of working and learning, the L&D function needs to move from a “Command and Control” approach to one that I called “Encourage and Engage”.  To highlight the differences between these two approaches I then compared the “Command and Control” response with the new ”Encourage & Engage” response for each of the 8 features of how Smart Workers are working and learning today. But  I closed by saying that one  of the important questions that people  have about this new approach to Workplace Learning, is how they measure employee “learning” as well as L&D’s involvement.  So that is the topic of today’s post.

Let’s first take a look at managing and measuring employee “learning”.

The traditional approach to measuring learning in the workplace, has been to monitor and track course attendance, or online test and course completions, and report success in quantitative terms – i.e. the number of courses each individual has taken and/or completed.

Some who have begun to introduce social approaches into the organisation, still think it is about measuring quantity; i.e. tracking the number of active participants and posts and comments people are making.

But both of these approaches are just about measuring “activity” and say very little about how individuals are actually “learning”.  In fact it is quite clear that even those who are socially inactive – (aka “lurkers” or “legitimate peripheral participants“) may still be learning.

In summary, as the recent article about social media marketing, The inconvenient truth about social media, puts it

Quantity is an antiquated way of measuring success”

So how then do we measure learning in the workplace?

Well, although we can track formal learning activity, it is really not possible to track informal learning (where most people’s learning takes place). In many cases this often takes place even without the individual realising it, so how can an organisational system track and manage  that.  The only system that CAN manage or measure an individual’s learning  is their own brain!

So we need to approach measuring success in a very different way.

As mentioned in a previous post, in the workplace, “learning is a means to an end; not the end itself. — the end is performance”.  So we need to focus on the end, the performance.

We need to define performance objectives for individuals and then measure success in terms of how well  they meet those objectives. Some performance objectives might well be determined in terms of quantitative terms, e.g. number of sales, but it will be the qualitative terms that are they most important, as Dick Grote points out in his recent post The Myth of Performance Metrics, and summarises well here.

“Don’t get hung up trying to find quantitative metrics to support every judgment in a performance appraisal. Remember what Albert Einstein said: “Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted counts.”

So in summary , it is about moving from thinking in terms of Quantity to Quality

Command & Control : Quantity Encourage & Engage : Quality
  • Test and course completions
  • Social activity
  • (Social Learning) Management System
  • How well are they doing their jobs?
  • Could they do their jobs better

So how does the L&D fit into this, and how do we measuring their involvement

Once again, the traditional approach to measuring the success of the L&D function, has been in terms of quantitative terms.  How many people have they trained, how many have taken online courses they have produced, etc, etc

But with the new Encourage & Engage approach it is going to be now about the quality of the service they provide; it’s going to be about how well they help individuals achieve their performance objectives.

We have already said that self-reliant individuals may well be able to meet their performance objectives on their own, without any need from L&D, – and that should be seen as a good thing.  Their services shouldn’t be forced upon them.  But others will probably need a lot of help and, and it will be how well L&D responds to the needs of individuals and groups, that needs to be measured.

L&D will need to investigate the root cause of problems, rather than addressing the symptoms of the problems.  Some are referring to this as a “performance consulting” approach (although even that term is being defined differently by different people).  Some workers and some problems may well require formal training interventions; others might be supported through more informal approaches, and others might be helped by changes in work processes (so carrying out workflow audits mentioned earlier, will  be required).  But at the end of the day it will be about providing the right solution for the business/learning problem in hand – not just throwing a training solution at the problem.

Tom Gram’s diagram (reproduced to the left) shows that “most work requires a combination of knowledge work and routine work. These characteristics of jobs and work environments call for different approaches to training and development.” [se  Mapping informal and formal learning strategies to real work], so the work of the L&D department will be very different in different organisations, depending on the type of workers and work done.

As the Learning at Work: Towards More “Expansive” Opportunities, NIACE, 2007 report said

“Every workplace creates its own  unique version of a learning environment”

And as Harold Jarche in Leave the cookie cutter at the bakery puts it:

“There are no cookie-cutter solutions” 

Command & Control : Quantity Encourage & Engage : Quality
  • No of people on training courses
  • No of online course completions
  • Quality of service
  • How well they are able to help individuals achieve their performance objectives

UPDATE: Presentation slides available in the next posting.

4 thoughts on “Social Learning doesn’t mean what you think it does: PART TWO

  1. David

    Brilliant insights/post. I have long argued against the “burgers served” metrics- which were the first (activity) metrics some were using to justify Social Learning value. (It’s hard to break old habits).

    I tried several ways to explain how #hrs, #employees trained, etc… can actually be detrimental when presenting how high we can run up a meter.

    It wasn’t until we talked about innovation did the concept “click” for most people. It doesn’t matter if 10 new ideas are submitted, or 10,000… …it is the one game-changing actionable idea that defines the value (think iPhone). The activity to “get to” that point- whether it was a handful of ideas or a flood- is of no consequence. The value was the outcome/result.

    Focus on results/outcomes, not all the activity surrounding it- just the true drivers.

  2. Cinthia

    Good posts. True ‘learning’ leads to behavioural change. If you cannot measure the extent of ‘behavioural change’ one would have to question the level of individual engagement, regardless of numbers ‘attending’ or ‘completing’ courses.

  3. Lynda Williams

    To measure productivity with quantitative metrics one has to know a LOT about the nature of the outcomes. It`s easiest with factory-like work. We can`t count any and all surfing and chatting as quality work but we run a big risk if we demand measurability of the intangible or bursty type of outcomes, as well.

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