One of the principles discussed in Learning on Demand is that the web wants content to “go viral.” In fact, one could say the web itself went viral, and its boundaries–like the universe—keep growing as content, products, and services expand into areas it’s never been. The web’s evolution continues to grow and spread like a virus as it creates a space for itself inside our lives that were previously left for pure human-to-human interaction.
Although some people hold steadfast to prohibiting technology’s creep into their daily activities (our partners who outlaw phones at the table so we cannot live tweet dinner), many of us have given in to its allure. Those of us who have caved have learned how to incorporate the web “virus” into our human-to-human contact. Just consider how often we learn about the engagements, births, job loss, promotions, illnesses, and so forth of our friends and families on Facebook—not to mention the reactions of others to such announcements.
The web’s evolution and growth is intrinsically tied to things going viral because viral is the loop that feeds the network to strengthen the network. Indeed, it’s that very movement of information across a network that gives a network its strength. Users who can find ways to make their content, service, or product go viral are rewarded by the webconomy in “value.” For example, YouTube recognizes the value of viral by paying those who upload viral videos a certain fee, and Amazon recognizes value through its Associate program (getting customers to sell their products for them). Case in point: Check out how Maria Aragon benefitted from going viral when Lady Gaga retweeted a link to her YouTube video.
If you’re looking for your content to have value for your organization, doesn’t it make sense to build in some mechanic for your content to go viral? Isn’t the point of what you do to strengthen your organization? But how do you do that?
We can start by reviewing what we know doesn’t work. Courses residing on an LMS tend to be in silos and often provide little value to the network. There is nothing “plugged in” about that setup—and it is becoming a known lost cause in the corporate training world (even though that’s what we do and love). Meanwhile, social networking technology stirs conversation and may be a great tool to get ideas and content viral, but if it isn’t somehow plugged into other organizational initiatives or part of the central nervous system of a business, its utility and impact will be minimal.
But the idea of “conversations” is where viral should begin and end. Conversations by nature should be viral and, in fact, a collection of conversation is a natural carrier of information “viruses.” Just think about the elements of conversations that make them shareable.
But you can’t really design conversations—or at least you probably don’t want to. But you can incorporate conversations into what you do so that they become an important feedback loop and carrier of ideas and content. This of course all must be plugged into what I previously referred to as the central nervous system of your organization.
For example, if I were doing customer service training at McDonalds, I would most definitely look at their latest ad campaign in which they “answer the tough questions” about their products from customers as my base for having conversations. I would brainstorm ideas about how to plug into those conversations without repeating content. I would also have other conversations internally. I would then enable the network of conversations to speak to one another to carry the content “virus” from outside the organization to inside and then back out again (repeat cycle).
Our jobs as instructional designers ought to be about building content viruses. Viruses have a life of their own; they affect behavior, adapt, evolve, and morph over time based on how its environment changes. The web is a platform that rewards this viral nature. Think about that the next time you build some learning-related content, tool, or experience. How viral will your next build be?