Thursday, February 24, 2011

Informal Learning through Social Media - the First Ripple

From just a few drops, you can create quite a ripple effect.

It may sound cliche, but it is an appropriate metaphor for what happened last week:

If you have been reading Many Ways to Learn over the last year or so, you know that one of the topics I frequently write about is the use of Yammer for learning purposes.   I have made a deliberate attempt to get people in my company to recognize the value of using this internal microblogging tool to connect with people informally, to share information, and to collaborate with one another.   Two key things I and my team members do to foster Yammer usage are:
  1. Post messages and links on topics that are important to our learners.  Some of our most popular topics are #leadership #managing #change and #remote-teams.   We have been particularly focused on managers. We encourage dialogue around these topics and each of my team members has a growing base of followers as a result of the messages we post.
  2. Participate in a Yammer-based community group called Innovations in Learning.   This group discusses a different workplace learning topic every other month on Yammer.  At the end of the two-month cycle, we have a virtual meet-up to discuss the questions and messages that were posted about the topic for that period.  It is a public group inside my company that is open to anyone, but the majority of the members are instructional designers, course developers, classroom facilitators, and the like.  My goal in forming this group was twofold:  to start a community of practice on workplace learning, and to have the learning professionals in my company see how we could help others use social media as a complement to formal learning.
Last week I received this message from one of our managers:

"You were the first person I followed on Yammer and you seem to be very experienced on group and/or subject creation. Could you spend 10 to 15 minutes on the phone with me to help me facilitate a group dedicated to the competitive channel for dialogue starters and info sharing?"

I was so excited to receive this message.  After all the efforts we have made over the last few months, it was nice to see that someone had recognized the power of what we were doing and wanted to replicate that for another topic.  He has since set up a Yammer group and already has 24 members.  Unlike other Yammer groups that exist in the company, this one is not just about shared interests, it is focused on creating direct business success by being a forum for sharing ideas on how to sell against the competition.  I think this is an important milestone in our evolution towards embedding informal learning in the workstream.  I'm looking forward to many more groups like this sprouting up. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Social Media at Conferences, Revisited

In September 2009, I wrote this blog entry: Tweeting at Conferences: Etiquette vs. Impact about whether or not it was rude to tweet at conferences.  As someone who was new to social media at the time, my perspective was that when listening to a speaker at a conference, the polite thing to do was to put your handheld device away and give the speaker your full attention. What a difference a year and a half of experience can make. Now my view is that, as long as you are discreet and don't create distractions, it is not only complimentary to the speaker to share messages about what is being presented it is also valuable to do so, in a number of ways.

This week I attended a kick-off meeting in Dallas for my company's most important business unit.  Business leaders, managers and people from key staff functions spent four days together discussing strategy and tactics for 2011.  This was a business meeting not a learning event, so my team members and I mostly had time to experience the conference from a participant's point-of-view.  I had the good fortune to be able to listen, absorb, and share a lot of what I was experiencing through our company microblogging tool: Yammer, which is very similar to Twitter, only access is restricted solely to my company's employees.

Over the course of the four days, I posted messages that included direct quotes from business leaders, summaries of presentations, my thoughts about the implications of some of the things I heard, and general updates about what we were doing, the atmosphere, and the mood in the room. I really had four goals in mind as I was doing this:
  1. Share information with other team members - I manage a remote team that is scattered about the US.  Not all of them were able to attend the conference.  I wanted the team members who weren't able to be there to get as much real-time information as possible about the strategy so they could begin thinking about how it would impact their work.
  2. Exchange thoughts and impressions with other conference goers - Using social media is still relatively new in my company.  There were only a few other people at the conference who were also posting updates on Yammer.  But it was nice to connect with others in the room this way and jointly share our thoughts through discussion threads.
  3. Share information with others in the company - One of the conference goers who is also one of my yammer followers saw my yammer posts and came up to during the conference to say, "What a great idea: actually sharing our strategy with as many people in the company as possible, as early as possible."
  4. Create an archive of notes - I attached the hashtag (#) "Dallas" to all of the messages I posted during the conference so that I - and anyone else who might be interested - could easily retrieve them when needed after the event. 
On all counts I was successful.  And the messaging was not just one-way.  Team members and others who were not at the event responded to my posts with questions and comments that encouraged me to share more information, provide clarifications, and go into more depth on the topics that were of most interest.