10 ways to use an Enterprise Social Network for Social Learning

Today, I’m at the Learning Technologies 2016 conference and I’m going to be talking about how to use an ESN (Enterprise Social Network) for Social Learning

Many organisations now have an ESN – and although they might not be using it as effectively as they could, you don’t actually need another social learning system but rather need to make more use of the one you’ve already got! In doing so L&D can then not only play a significant part in inspiring, encouraging, supporting and embedding social learning in the organisation but also build widespread adoption of the ESN. After all, in the networked age where work is learning and learning is the work, it is much more appropriate to use the same tools for learning and working;  it’s not about delivering content and testing knowledge but encouraging interactions, conversations, sharing and discussions to support and improve performance on the job!

Here is the slideset I will be using to briefly describe 10 ways to use an ESN for Social Learning and the new roles required to support this type of learning. Beneath it you will find some notes of each of these 10 ways.

10 ways to use your ESN for social learning:

  1. I want to start first with the place where, for me, the real social learning takes place – that is through Social Collaboration where team members learn with and from one another by simply working together – underpinned by social tools. This type of social learning has always been happening – it’s just not been recognized or value hitherto –  but now with technologies like the ESN it’s becoming a powerful way to learn as you work.But for L&D it requires a different way of working – it is not about creating and delivering courses, it is about working with managers – helping them to build social teams, and helping their teams to exploit the ESN to learn and work more effectively together. It is not about training people to use the ESN but showing them how to make effective use of it in their work – a subtle but important difference.  It requires someone who understand social collaboration and who can act as a Collaboration Consultant.
  2. In a similar way, cross-organizational teams – sometimes referred to as Communities of Practice – can learn from one another as they work together, and these types of communities can be easily hosted within an ESN. Whilst the most effective CoPs tend to be self-organised – because people have chosen to come together for a reason, if they are organised by L&D they need to have a clear purpose for being set up  – not just because they are a current trend. And this purpose needs to be clearly articulated in the planning/set up and launch stages.  Whilst L&D may well act as a Community Manager at this stage, their work is not over once the CoP is launched, their main activity will come in maintaining the CoP and encouraging engagement to keep the conversation flowing. Community Management takes time and effort and is a role not to be taken on lightly.
  3. One specific type of community that I’m now seeing being set up on an ESN is the Onboarding Community.  The purpose is to welcome new-hires and provide them with a social environment where they can connect with others who can support them in the early days of their employment.  The focus is far removed from that driven by presentations of the vision, mission and values of the organisation, and instead focuses on imbuing the social ethos of the organisation and helping individuals to make relevant connections across the organisation. The role of Onboarding Community Manager is therefore one that L&D can useful play – provided they have the skills to do so.
  4. Another way of using the ESN is to enable social mentoring. This is different from formal mentoring (which is organized top-down by L&D); it involves is a much more informal approach that supports individuals to find their own mentors in the organisation for short- and long-term projects. Introducing and encouraging this approach would be the work of the Onboarding Community Manager, who might even play the role of Coordinator or Facilitator to help with matchmaking and fostering connections across the organisation

The ESN not only offers a place for teams and groups to learn alongside one another as they work, but it also offers an opportunity for L&D to integrate their own initiatives in the very same platform – in new ways as I explain below:

    1. One of these I refer to as guided social learning experiences. Rather than just bolting on a social component to an existing course, it’s about thinking SOCIAL first, and designing activities that promote sharing and collaboration between the participants.  Content might be provided to support the activities, but the emphasis is on the participants learning from one another. I use this approach for my own online workshops that I have been running for years. These usually take place over a 4-week period – and also allow people to work on the activities in their own time (as they are not time-zone dependent). I therefore act more as a Learning Guide assisting participants – not forcing or enforcing participation – but rather encouraging sharing and collaboration on the learning journey. [Here is an example of a workshop I ran for the Pfizer Sales Training Team in India.]
    2. A similar approach is the use of a Learning Challenge (or Campaign) – where a series of activities are offered over a defined period of time – perhaps in conjunction with some short resources. Examples include:
      • A 30-day Challenge – to kick-start the use of the ESN in the organisation through a daily social activity (along the lines that Citibank have been doing)
      • My 15-week L&D Challenge – for L&D professionals to extend their own personal learning in order to consider how they might rethink workplace learning through a series of weekly activities
      • A (6 month) Leadership Challenge – which builds the new leadership skills required for the networked, social organisation.
        I am now seeing the emergence of a new role of Learning Challenge Designer (as well as the Learning Guide to assist people through the Challenge).
    3. And yet another example is to host drip-feed training. In other words rather than build a large package of content, deliver a continuous and regular flow of micro activities or resources. I’ve referred to this in the past as a learning flow. It’s very much like a  daily Twitter feed and therefore lends itself to a stream of conversation that is the core of an ESN, and could easily be “injected” into a team group space or could take place in its own group space itself. It’s therefore a very useful way to keep a team updated on new resources, ideas, thinking relevant to their work. A Curator role will be important here – someone who keeps tabs on what’s happening on the Social Web, who makes a judgement on what’s relevant and useful for the group or organisation and shares it in the most appropriate way – providing interest and variety.
    4. The ESN is also a very useful tool to support modern social classroom training.  By that I mean one that does not focus on broadcast training but a social and collaborative environment where discussion and working together are at the forefront. The ESN might therefore be used in a number of ways. For pre-training activities – i.e. for introductions as well as to provide content and readings, using a “flipped classroom” approach where the actual classroom time could be spend on discussion and collaboration and where the ESN could provide the technology to underpin this, as well as provide a space for any post-training activities. The role of the Trainer would therefore move from Instructor to Facilitator.
    5. In a similar way the ESN might be used to support a live event. 
        • Think Twitter conference backchannel – you could use the ESN to provide the backchannel for a live event in the organisation
        • Think Twitter Chat – you could use the ESN to host a real-time discussion or meeting for a team or even the organisation.

      Once again L&D’s role will be more of a Host or Facilitator.

    6. And this use of the ESN could be extended or broadened further – to create a Learning Network – where L&D’s role would be to coordinate a series of social online events and activities – a bit like an online version of Lunch ‘n” Learns.  These might be either L&D-led  or employee-led – where employees are encourage to talk about their passions and projects. And this would of course be yet another way to foster connections across the organisation.

Want to find out more?  My social workshops cover a wide range of topics and also give you the opportunity to experience many of these activities in person. Or there’s always my Modern Workplace Learning book.


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