Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's in Your Instructional Strategy?

So here I am at the latter stages of a rather hectic day trying once again to gather and process my thoughts about social learning.  Why is it such a popular topic in the learning community right now?  Why have I been nearly obsessing over these tools for the last few months?

My October 3 post on the topic has gotten some attention, including a comment from John Darling who reminds us, " is also important that we not confuse the "tools" (e.g. twitter, forums, linkedins, etc.) with the process. These technologies are simply one part of the means we can use..."  Of course John is right.  Social learning tools just provide another media option for consideration when developing your instructional strategy.   A good instructional designer considers the learning goal, learner characteristics, performance context, objectives and measures, and then considers delivery options that might be appropriate for the situation.  Costs and practicality issues help to narrow down the choices and ultimately drive the final decision.

So why all the fuss?  Unlike other delivery systems, social learning tools hold the promise of capturing and sharing informal learning.   That is a valuable prize for those of us who have devoted our careers to helping others improve their job performance.

At the beginning of this year, my team launched a redesigned onboarding program for our newly hired sales representatives.  As part of our analysis before the redesign, we interviewed participants from the older version of the program.  A few months after their graduation, we asked them what their most valuable learning experiences during the program were.  None of the people we interviewed cited the formal elements of the program (such as the elearning modules or webinars) as most valuable.  Instead, they said their most valuable experiences were, "riding along with seasoned sales reps" and, "listening over the cubicle wall when experienced sales reps were on the phone with customers."  Armed with this feedback my team was determined to find a way to capture these experiences and build them into our new program.   For the most part, we have succeeded.  We developed activities that foster these interactions and we use a wikispace to allow program participants to share and learn from each other's experiences.

Ultimately, we would like to allow this type of learning to take place in all of our programs.  The bottom line is that people learn a lot from each other.  Social media tools can help us to harness some of those individual experiences and spread them around to benefit more people.  That is why I continue on this mini-quest of mine.

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