Friday, June 17, 2011

3 Ways to Foster Collaborative Learning #LCBQ

The Learning Circuits Big Question (#LCBQ) for June asks:

 How do we break down organizational walls when it comes to learning?

To me, this is really a question about organizational readiness for collaborative learning. As I assess my own work situation, I think about the expectations the business leaders in my company have about what learning is, and I think about the dynamics within the learning group. In both cases, there is some change management needed. Here are three things I focus on to foster the evolution of collaborative learning in my organization:

Help people recognize that formal learning is not always the answer. Business leaders often come to us saying, “We have a training need.” In their mental model of the situation, they envision people sitting in a classroom for a couple of days, or going online to complete a few elearning modules and the problem is solved. Likewise, it is a knee-jerk reaction for instructors who make their living in the classroom, or for course developers who produce and publish elearning, to think of formal learning as a solution first. Sometimes this will be the answer, but in many cases, slowing things down and considering other alternatives can yield creative and effective solutions other than formal learning. The communication tools and connectivity we have today through our laptops, mobile devices and social media create many possibilities for learning through collaboration.

Partner with the geeks. Every company has them. They are the IT people who are always pushing for the latest technology upgrades; the marketing people who blog, tweet and update company events on facebook; the recruiters who do all of their networking and sourcing through LinkedIn. They have made the leap from the traditional ways of doing things in their field to newer approaches. They recognize the power of the community and the relative ease with which people can be summoned and organized through social media at virtually no cost. It is among these folks that you will find champions for change who will help you knock down the walls.

Let communities grow organically. While it may be tempting to try to jump start collaborative learning by requiring people to sign up and participate in social media groups, this really cannot be forced. Collaboration through social media, for learning or other purposes, has to be an “opt in” experience. The most successful communities are built around common interests by people who want to be there because they are passionate about the topics or issues being discussed. That doesn’t mean you have to sit back and wait. As a learning person you should be present and visible on social media in your organization. Model behavior for business people and your learning colleagues. Seed the waters in the conversation stream by sharing resources and links around topics that are of interest to your learners. They in turn will be encouraged to join in the conversation and share as well.  We have been doing this for some time at my company. Check out this blog post from January 2010: Social Media Strategy for Learning for information on how we have been doing this using yammer.

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