From Social Learning to Workforce Collaboration

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that I (temporarily) changed this blog’s title from “Learning in the Social Workplace” to “Workforce Collaboration” Why? Well, to try and avoid the “learning” word or at least the term “social learning”! Let me explain.

Despite the fact that numerous studies have shown that most workplace learning takes place outside training – the term “learning” is for many people still synonymous with training. They simply don’t realize (or value the fact) they are learning (ie acquiring new knowledge and skills) every day in everything they do – because they have been conditioned to believe that learning only happens in a classroom or an online course – that involves studying or memorization – and when a teacher is involved.

As social tools have emerged and are being used by individuals to address their own learning and performance problems (outside training), I thought these old perceptions might change, but unfortunately the term “social learning” is now being used to refer to the use of “social media for training” – despite the fact that “social learning” is something that happens all the time – with or without social media tools – and in fact takes place far more outside training than within it!

Of course,  I think training has a role to play in the workplace, but I just think that helping people learn with and from one another, in the workflow, as they do their jobs is much more relevant nowadays. So, it’s clear to me now that the term “social learning” is not the best way to describe this, as the “learning” word brings with it so many  pre-conceived notions that it is all about “training”.

And I  just I don’t believe that this can be done using the same traditional ways of  training, which are planned  and organised  by learning professionals, created by instructional designers, and managed by training and LMS administrators. Those ways are just not appropriate to deal with the type of “social learning” that takes place naturally and continuously in the workplace,  since it often happens unintentionally, even unconsciously, when working with others as part of doing a job. And to be quite honest,  it’s not the learning per se that is important, it’s what happens as a result of that learning – the change in performance – that is far more important.

So, since people learn from one another as a consequence of working together,  rather than focusing exclusively on the learning, I think it is about helping them work collaboratively and enabling learning to take place as part of that process. There is then no need to isolate the “learning” to try and track  it, its effectiveness can be measured in terms of the changes in job, team and business performance that take place. And all this happens due to good working relationships,  as well as from practice, from shared experiences, and from all sorts of other interactions that lead to rich collaborative experiences.

As I have written about earlier, helping people to work collaboratively involves modeling behaviours – since acquiring these new workplace collaboration skills is an ongoing, organic, dynamic, adaptive process – not training events. What is more, all this is achieved by the  use of social and collaboration intranets and work platforms that power the actual work – not in separate learning systems and tools that are intended for the traditional training marketplace.

So it is for this reason that from now on I am going to be talking in terms of “workforce collaboration” or more specifically “social collaboration” rather than “social learning” – because, for me at least, that term implies a symbiotic relationship between collaborative working and collaborative learning.

In my own consultancy practices I offer social  collaboration services to a range of businesses – both large and small.  I often work with L&D departments who see that offering these new services will help to transform their own department from one that focuses on training to one that supports the business more widely. But I also work in organisations that either don’t have a Training/L&D department, or do have one that wants to remain fixed on providing (mainly compliance and regulatory) training, and has no interest in supporting workforce collaboration. I therefore bring something quite different to the table than a consultant who just helps them add “social” into their training.

For larger, international clients, I work with the Internet Time Alliance as the Senior Director of Collaboration (where workforce collaboration is an integral part of our working smarter services). What is more, as all 5 of us have worked and learned collaboratively for many years, we can demonstrate its value in our professional practice, and as a result offer an immense range of knowledge and skills between us, that our clients can benefit from.

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