Workforce development brings its own set of opportunities and
challenges to Learning 2.0.
During my life I have seen major technology shifts and failures. I
remember my first Sony Walkman, Sony Discman, and Ill never forget
my first Apple iPod. I also remember school lectures taught on film
strip, VHS, and laser disc. While some of these technologies are
now distant memories, each pushed forward the way we do something
into new ways.
This is just what the world of social media has done for the way we
interact with one another, access information, and even learn new
skills. With all its potential, its no wonder the organizational
learning function is taking notice. But leadership and workforce
development is a distinctly different form or learning, and that
brings its own set of opportunities and challenges.
The world of organizational learning and development is fairly
expansivefrom knowledge management to technical and compliance
training. Leadership development is unique from other kinds of
learning in one major way its about changing the behavior of
individualsnot just knowledge transfer. It has been well researched
that the most effective method of behavior change is through
behavior modeling, in which a learner is first taught the concept,
then it is modeled for them, and then they practice the behavior,
receive feedback and practice, practice, practice.
Blogs, VODcasts, and social networks cant replicate a modeling
learning process by which leaders learn to give good feedback or
gain commitment from a group. But adding social media components
into a development initiativewhen done rightenables the learning
event to become a continuous endeavor.
There are many tools and networks that can help build community and
increase levels of interaction amongst dispersed leader cohorts,
but before you jump in feet first, youll want to consider a few
things so your initiative doesnt go the way of the laser disc.
Social Media Tools: A HowNot a What
Like all good training initiatives--be it technical training or
soft skill development--you need to start with the end in mind.
What is the outcome you are hoping to achieve? How does this
implementation tie to your organizations strategic objectives? By
focusing here first, you will come to see that social media (and
other online collaborative tools) are merely the howNOT the what.
Organizations doing the reverse and making the tools the
centerpiece will soon find that they are not moving the needle on
Next, define the knowledge, skills, and experience that your
leaders need in order to achieve those goals. None of this should
sound new so far, these are cornerstones of successful leadership
development initiatives. But it is especially important when
considering the use social media applications as part of your
development plan. There are certain tools that lend themselves more
easily to soft skill development than others. For example, if
coaching is a development focus would you ask your leaders to
upload videos of them coaching another associate? Absolutely not!
Now think about which social media tools you can incorporate into
your implementation, and how they can help to add value. No single
tool can truly replace formal learning because they arent effective
at leading to behavior change. However, they can help provide the
appropriate online forum to kick-off learning events, reinforce new
skills, and serve as vehicles for practice and shared self-insight
So, lets think about an organization that is focusing on improving
its leadership bench strength through new and emerging leader
development. The skills it is concentrating on are coaching,
decision making, and building trust among new teams.
Once a foundation is selected a foundation for the classroom,
web-based or virtual formal courses, use social media tools to
augment the learning event and create a learning culture with this
newly formed leadership cohort. Consider which tools might be
appropriate before, during and after the formal learning component.
Before training: Using a collaboration tool, set up a site where
learners can go to interact with one another throughout the
development initiative. Ask them to record a short video discussing
why they feel these skills will be critical in their new roles. You
can also release a video or a podcast of the CEO discussing the
strategic priorities and the role that these leaders will play in
helping the organization meet its goals. You can help build a sense
of community, especially if you cannot bring these leaders together
face-to-face, by having them introduce themselves and start forming
connections before the first learning event.
During training: Between formal learning events, leaders can come
back together in a discussion forum to talk about opportunities for
using the new skills, or have a virtual conference or video call
where they do additional practice with the facilitator. Post
intersession materials on collaboration sites, and have learners
comment on their fellow learners action planners or insights.
After training: Using content sharing tools, ask learners to blog
about how they have found these new skills to help them improve in
their role or where they still struggle. Allow them to post
additional articles on the importance of these leadership skills;
have peers to comment on them or offer ratings on how useful they
found the information (similar to a thumbs up or like feature).
This will allow the conversation to continue long after the leaders
have left the classroom.
These virtual interactions can build a much more robust culture
where learning becomes a continuous process, not merely a single
event or interaction.
The Power Law
The wonderful thing about social media is that it presents a highly
democratic space. You can choose to be an active participant in the
conversation, building a highly collaborative and creative forum.
Or you can choose to be more of a consumer of the information,
anonymously reading others posts and comments.
However there is a dirty little secret to Web 2.0and thus Learning
2.0, and that is the Power Law. The Power Law, by definition, is a
mathematical relationship between two quantities. In the case of
social media, it has evolved into a 90-9-1 distribution.
Essentially, 90 percent of people using these tools are passive
observers, 9 percent are active contributors, and 1 percent are the
leaders and creators. While this distribution is perfectly adequate
in the world of social media, when it comes to leadership
development it can create some hurdles to effective implementation.
The impact of using these tools as part of your learning
implementations is that they enable everyone to have a voice and to
contribute. As shepherds of organizational development, we have to
build accountability around the usage of these tools. The value of
the learning activities, and the sense of community created, is
greatly improved when everyone joins in the conversation.
Workplace learning and performance professionals need to promote
the value of these activities and tools before the learners ever
sign online or enter a classroom. As some leaders will be hesitant
to be the first to post, consider putting up applicable questions
they can respond to, making it less daunting to get the
conversation started. Providing meaningful activities and follow-up
will build their enthusiasm and accountability, which will drive
them to continue practicing and honing their newly learned skill
set. But beware: Dont think if you put these new tools out there
that everyone will jump to use themas with all change, there is an
adoption process that has to be managed.
A Practical Approach to Leveraging Learning 2.0
It is true that Learning 2.0 is much more easily accessiblemany of
these tools are free and available online anywhere (from a PC,
laptop, tablet, or smartphone), not to mention fast and efficient.
This can make it deceiving as to how easy it will be to slide them
into your existing process without any bumps or hurdles.
Because these tools are all online and their usage in this format
is still fairly new, its important to take into account a few new
factors that can make or break your implementation.
- Resources to implement, monitor, and maintain the usage: Who
will be in charge of each of element? How will you monitor their
usage? What effort will it require on their part to keep things
current and appropriate?
- Corporate Culture: Will it be a major culture shift to
implement these tools (or type of tools)? Will you have little
- Relationship with IT: How connected are HR and IT? Will they
need to be involved in the set-up or ongoing monitoring of this
- Risk Analysis: How will you manage data and information
security? How will you handle privacy concerns?
If you are unsure of the answer to any of these questions, or the
answer makes you think there is more work to be done, you have more
work to do. These questions should help guide your thinking as to
where to start, or what relationships need to be built internally.
Exploring these questions ensures you are able to successfully
execute the initiative.
As with all new advancements, it is important to weigh the promise
with the practicality. If your learning implementation is working
well, you dont need to throw it out for shiny new technologies.
Instead consider using these tools to enhance learning, broaden the
reach of leadership development, and help build stronger internal
networks. With careful thought and planning, you can create a
comprehensive, collaborative, and engaging learning community.