There is a growing recognition that most workplace learning happens informally, through learner-directed actions, including the use of social media tools. There is now a call to change workplace learning from event-based to process-based events and to include control.

No longer will workplace learning and performance professionals be solely responsible for directing learning, but also for facilitating the learning process. Facilitation involves

  • ensuring all stakeholders COLLABORATE to achieve business needs
  • creating the structure and process to CAPITALIZE on the knowledge of a community of stakeholders
  • providing motivation, time and incentives for employees to CONNECT and CONTRIBUTE so they can work more effectively.

How will this role work? How will the learning professional think and behave. Consider the following scenario and the best practices for collaborating with stakeholders, capitalizing on knowledge, and connecting learners to meet business needs.

Company X has just implemented a new customer relations management (CRM) software program that enables the reconciliation of orders. Employees, customers, warehouse workers, and sales representatives will participate in the order reconciliation process. Your role as a learning facilitator is to ensure that customers and employees use the program effectively. Time and money are limited, as usual.

Collaborate with stakeholders

The task appears daunting. Yet, as your walk into your office on Day 1 of the project, the department's mission reminds you that learning is integral to the organization's mission, and an integral stakeholder in meeting the needs of the business.

During the first month, you attend stakeholder meetings to plan the rollout of the new tool. HR, IT, learning, sales, and operations are involved in the meeting. While some team members feel more safe with traditional instructor-led training, you advocate for an approach that will teach core skills, as well as utilize social learning to create and utilize a body of knowledge.

You argue that social learning can actually reduce costs, because retention is typically only 40 percent following a classroom-based learning solution. Also, employees will become competent on the tool more quickly, as well as become capable of responding to any changes in the tool. You support your case with research from another organization, which shows how it improved employee productivity and performance with social learning.

Based on your recommendations, the team decides to take a blended learning approach using formal learning, performance support and social networking tools.

At a later meeting, the team decides to blend social media tools into its own social media platform. This tool will include the capabilities of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The team, with the critical help of IT, makes the decision to make this platform accessible from the CRM tool so that getting support and answers is a seamless part of using the tool. In addition to receiving training on the tool, employees will learn as they use the tool.

IT agrees with the need to extend the initiative beyond the limits of the company's firewall. A "social media policy" is necessary to ensure that proprietary information stays within the organization. HR and IT agree to formulate the policy.

Because measurement is a critical part of any learning effort, you plan to measure effectiveness by setting up tools to assess usage of the platform and gather electronic and face-to-face feedback. You realize that sometimes an evaluation can interfere with the evolution of such communities and proceed with caution. Evaluation should encourage use and not interfere with the informal construction of new learning communities.

Capitalize on knowledge of stakeholders

The learning team creates and collects the basic knowledge required for competency on the tool. Since your audience is novices and the type of knowledge is process and procedural based, you will need to create training which explains core knowledge and shows key tasks. This will be specific for each group of learners, for example, Sales, Operations etc.

You use Captivate to create demos that also enable employees to practice in a safe, simulated environment. All demos will be available on the social media platform in the form of downloadable files. A final simulation will test core knowledge as well as competency on the tool. To provide an additional comfort level, instructor led labs will also be run to encourage further proficiency on the tool.

You will also use social media tools to enable reflection and practice during and after formal learning. After a class, facilitators will setup groups where learners will be able to post comments to share links to relevant resources and reflect on how they are applying the theories in their daily life by using microblogging or blogging.

With the help of business unit managers, you identify super-users for each CRM function. These users will receive advance training in the tool and meet regularly with your learning team to assess how learning is affecting productivity. They will also receive additional training in simple content creation (for example, on the fly demos using Jing).

Super-users' job descriptions will be updated to include responsibility for facilitating a community of users. This may include microblogging (Twitter) for their particular subject area (using tags), creating blogs to teach best practices, and compiling FAQs and short demos. Following Intel's example for their PlanetBlue social networking platform, you have developed training materials for managers to learn how to recruit members, introduce conversation starters and build incentives to contribute

You post all key documentation for the CRM on the social media platform and tag the contents for each document. You also collect FAQs from blog comments, Twitter feeds, and any tool that allows information to be freely shared between all the stakeholders.

Encouraging Learners to Connect and Contribute

You are now at a critical stage, rolling out the tool and encouraging maximum contribution. With help from the marketing team, there is a blitz of promotional materials in print and on the company's intranet. These materials market the platform by promoting the benefits, specifically faster access to answers and a network of peers.

Leadership by senior executives is critical in any rollout, and the team has ensured that top executives send out timely blogs about the rollout, which are immediately accessible from an employee's inbox or as they use the tool.

The learning team has developed training materials to teach learners how to use the tools to be more effective. Training uses existing social media tools as a starting point for training since, according to Jay Cross, informal learning guru, the more familiar workers are with online networking tools and media,the more they can use these tools to improve their learning and skills.

HR becomes a steady partner in the social learning initiative. You work closely with HR to ensure that leadership or involvement in online communities is included in performance reviews. Any additional responsibilities, for example, super users, are included in job descriptions. You also decide to setup a monthly prize to reward users who have submitted best practices.

The rollout of the social learning tool is just the beginning; you will work closely with your team to incorporate user feedback into the tool. As the use of the tool evolves, users will create more content and tag the best links and documents that have helped them perform effectively. Any employee in the organization, with the help of a simple form and training documents, will be able to create a community relating to the new CRM tool. Learning evolves and progress is typical.

Important Considerations

Following is a list of considerations that may become relevant as the project progresses - from inception to its maintenance phase.

  1. Effective facilitation of learning, including collaboration with stakeholders, capitalizing on knowledge, and encouraging contribution, should occur throughout the project. Each tasks affects is required to ensure the success of a project.
  2. Encourage participation from all stakeholders and reward with incentives (network status, such as super-user, and other job-related benefits).
  3. Ensure that C-suite participation in the network is non-intrusive and non-threatening.
  4. Create a Social Media Corporate Policy to protect assets and encourage participation.
  5. Select tools that are easy to use to encourage participation.
  6. Enable all stakeholders to participate freely.
  7. Monitor content, but not too rigorously.
  8. Use negative criticism shared on the platform as an opportunity to improve the process, and publicly provide encouragement and appreciation.
  9. Act swiftly upon feedback to encourage users to use the communication network to improve the process.
  10. Continually simplify the tools. Avoid complicated networking as this will discourage participation.

In modern business, social media and learning go hand-in-hand. Learning communities have always existed: We learn from one another to solve problems and progress. Social media simply enables the benefit of this age-old task to be exponential.

The scenario in this article presented the problem of implementing a strategic tool in an organization with a diverse population of stakeholders. The solution did not use a social media strategy for its own sake, or because other organization are following this trend. Instead, the organization used social media because it provided the best solution to help the organization meet its business goals. The learning facilitator can ensure the success of this initiative by collaborating with stakeholders, capitalizing on knowledge and connecting learners for the best results.

Michele B. Medved is the owner of MBM Training; www.mbmtraining.com.

Terence Wing is the chief learning officer and founder of Liquid Learn www.liquidlearn.com.