The differences between learning in an e-business and learning in a social business

In my recent webinar, Social & Collaborative Learning in the Workplace, I shared a slide that showed the 5 stages of workplace learning.  This has attracted a lot of interest, and I’ve been asked to talk more about the differences between “learning” in Stages 1-4 and Stage 5.

Working and learning in Stages 1-4 is based upon a Taylorist, industrial age mindset. Although the advent of e-technology in the late 1990s changed businesses into e-businesses, this was essentially about automating existing business thinking and practices. Similarly e-learning was also about automating traditional training practices. Although in the last decade we have seen the emergence of new technologies and trends, these have been merely “retrofitted” (and often “force-fitted”) into this old model of training, and essentially we have seen little more than “tinkering” with this flawed model.

Stage 5, however, is quite different. Although a “social business” is powered by new social technologies, it is not the technology itself that makes the difference, it’s not about layering social approaches on the old industrial age thinking, but a fresh, new mindset and approach to working and learning. So whilst e-business is about automation, social business is about innovation – doing things differently.

Now, let’s be clear about what a social business is.  IBM describes it succinctly

“A Social Business isn’t just a company that has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. A Social Business is one that embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organization—both internally and externally.”

In the chart below I’ve briefly summarised some of the fundamental differences in thinking and practice between “learning in an e-business” and “learning in a social business” – and how it can be supported.

As more and more organisations transform into social businesses (aka collaborative organisations), workplace learning professionals are going to have a hugely important role to play in that transition process, although it is clear their role will not be the same as it has been hitherto.

And despite the fact that many other organisations appear to be well and truly entrenched in the old e-business/e-learning model, it is also clear from many of the interactions I have with learning professionals worldwide, that their own personal mindsets and networked learning activities are much more akin to those of a “social business”. So I am often asked how they can move their own organisation’s thinking and practice forward. I’ll be addressing that point in further postings in the coming weeks as I take a closer look at Learning in a Social Business, and the  role of the Workplace Learning Professional in a Social Business.

Stages Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
Social Learning
Stage 5
Collaborative Working & Learning
Features Trainers Online content-
rich courses
Mix of face-to-face/
e-learning/ OJT
Adding social
to the “blend”
Learning in the flow of work, “smart” working
peer-learning, collaborative learning
knowledge sharing
Command and Control
(industrial [Taylorist] mindset, hierarchy)
Connect and Contribute
(networked mindset, wirearchy)
How learning is understood
Learning = Telling/Training, Learning = Studying
Learning = something that only happens in a classroom or when it has been designed for you and/or when there is a teacher/trainer involved. Learning is the end goal.
Learning =Working, Working=Learning
Learning is a natural continuous process that takes place as you do your daily work. Learning is a means to an end; the end goal is Performance.
Formal learning Primary model of learning: instructional. E-learning and blended learning solutions predominate, although classroom training still persists, and some formal learning takes place on-the-job. Recognises that formal learning accounts for small % of how people learn in the organisation. Training often outsourced, on-demand access to self-paced learning, f2f networking important, facilitated collaborative/peer-learning available in the workflow.
Informal learning Frequently misunderstood as “learning in informal ways”, eg by use of informational rather than instructional resources, or when formal/managed learning takes place outside a classroom. Usually seen as something to be added to the “blend”. Understands that the natural, continuous learning that accounts for the majority of learning takes place in the workflow – and is to be encouraged, fostered, supported and shared. Recognises that informal learning can’t be designed not managed, and that true social learning can’t be (en)forced. (May employ 70:20:10 framework)
Social learning Frequently misunderstood as meaning adding social media to the “learning blend” and/or to be achieved by upgrading to a social LMS. Trainees are often required to be social as part of an online programme.
Attitude to self-organised learners Not (often) encouraged, as shown in remarks like
“We can’t let people manage their own learning: how do they know what to learn” “How do we know if they are learning the right things”
Organisation focused on building a compliant workforce

 Encouraged, as shown in remarks like
“We can’t provide everyone with everything they need to know” “Everyone needs to take responsibility for their continuous learning and professional development” Organisation focused on fostering an engaged, autonomous workforce

Supporting autonomy Little interest in this area of work Supporting Personal Knowledge Management: tools, techniques, skills and behaviours
Employee Generated Content Increasing interest but usually as part of a “controlled” initiative, managed by L&D or by other business unit managers (content often moderated) Teams and groups encouraged and supported
to create and share content (content self-moderated)
Content curation Emerging interest in this type of work as a way of
delivering (moderated) content
Teams encouraged to curate and share their own content as a way of knowledge sharing
Community management Increasing interest in building and managing learning communities as part of blended programmes Supporting self-organized communities of practice, and developing new community skills of practice, is a key area of work
Social collaboration Little interest in this area of work Helping teams and groups to work collaboratively, and developing new collaboration skills, is a key area of work
Fostering connections Little interest in this area of work Fostering connections across the organisation is a key area of work from onboarding onwards.
Performance support Resurgence of interest in performance support, but mostly seen in terms of replacing courses with resources, (job aids) ie creating/managing content, often in an additional system Supporting performance seen as a much wider/deeper concept, ie helping people to do their jobs and/or do them better by supporting individual and team performance
Performance consulting Often misunderstood for conducting a TNA (Training Needs Analysis). TNA means the problem has already been identified as needing a training solution Identifying the root of performance problems involves a number of techniques and mechanisms, incl workflow audits, to ascertain appropriate performannce solution
Technology Learning technologies:
Learning tools and platforms reinforce the view that learning is a separate activity to working.
Focus is on tools to create and manage learning content
Social technologies:
integrated, enterprise collaboration platforms/social intranets/layers underpin all learning and working activities in the organisation. (Note: this platform is not a “learning platform”) Focus is on enabling conversations and knowledge sharing
Tools & Products E-Learning authoring tools, (social) LMS,
course management system, Performance Support system
social intranets, social layers,
social collaboration (tools and) platforms
Access to Social Web Usually reluctantly enabled,
often banned (as seen as trivial/time-wasting/threatening),
rarely fully embraced or encouraged
Seen as an integral part of being a social business;
open access for all
Function of L&D Organizing, designing, developing, delivering and managing training/e-learning/blended learning. Assessing learning objectives through tests, quizzes, ourse completions, course attendance Supporting learning and performance in the workflow.
Co-designing solutions to performance problems
Measuring success of their interventions against performance objectives: change in performance, productivity, etc
Typical L&D roles Trainer, Instructional Designer, LMS Admin, Manager Performance / Learning/ Collaboration
Enterprise Community Manager
Skills/ capabilities instructional design, training
learning administration and management,
project management
Social media skills. collaboration & community skills, strong PKM skills, modelling skills,
performance consulting & business skills
Where to find out more Courses on e-learning course development, LMSs etc; Webinars/Conferences on Training, E-Learning, Learning Technologies Self-immersion in social media,
communities, PLN,
MWL Workshops
Who can help you? Training/E-Learning/Blended Learning consultants,
Performance Support specialists
(Social) Collaboration Consultants, (ITA)
Performance Consultants, KM and Community Specialists

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