I had the pleasure of being the guest speaker at the E-Learning Network attended by training & learning professionals from organizations ranging from Service Master, St.Jude /ALSAC, and local universities to those currently in doctoral studies at the University of Memphis. Their experiences and perspectives made for a great meeting led by Dr. Trey Martindale. What I brought to the table were social media tools that can be used to accelerate the speed to competence challenge facing the learning industry.
Major Issue: Training Churn due to reduced shelf life and amount of new items requiring formal training.
The challenge we’re facing as individual professionals extends to Training Departments: There’s so much new information with a limited viability that we’re having a hard time keeping up.
In looking at the application of social tools, it’s helpful to break the classic learning process down into Before / During / After.
Training Development (the Before)
The development phase includes the huge undertakings of needs analysis, and curricula development. The opportunities for social tools in this phase are primarily centered on gaining the insights of constituents and crowdsourcing development:
Surveying: Using tools such as Survey Monkey, Google Forms, and other online survey sites to gain insight on needs, content sources, and curricula. Although these tools enable acquisition of exceptional insight for quantified data, they do have a shortcoming in that they’re not very “social” because the responses are privately relayed directly back to the surveyor. To gain a social edge, tools like discussion boards and wikis provide constituents with an opportunity to openly collaborate in a purely qualitative manner. This can provide Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) great structure, but care should be considered where strong SME personalities may dominate the conversation. Good facilitation skills should always be considered an ingredient of crowdsourcing. A few respected tools in wiki / discussion board space are: WetPaint, PB Wiki. Please read more about a Wiki for Your Team. You can also establish private discussions in LinkedIn, and Facebook groups. Another idea is to use the realtime podcast / talkshow format enabled by BlogTalkRadio where participants can “call in” via phone to participate or merely listen-in via web stream. This option also records the conversation for later .mp3 download.
Bookmarking: Crowdsource your organization’s favorite professional sites via social bookmarking with tools such as Delicious, StumbleUpon. Additionally, consider using a private enterprise collaboration tool such as SocialCast.
Blogging: Leveraging blogs for training development provides an individual constant platform for constituents and SME’s. Where a bulldozing SME may rule out the possibility of a successful discussion board, blogs can provide normally tempered individuals a platform to share without being plowed over. Traditional blog specific platforms such as WordPress / BuddyPress and Posterous are great, but private social networks such as Ning, KickApps, and SocialGo contain blog features may also be suitable.
File Sharing: The private social networks also provide the ability to share files. A popular file sharing site specifically for presentations is SlideShare.
Training Administration/Delivery (the During)
Realtime Feedback: The major opportunity for social tools during training lie in the backchannel for feedback and episodic community development (camaraderie). Although there are audience response systems, by taping into socially driven backchannel, the same or even better feedback can be garnered in realtime situations. Popular examples include Twitter, MeeboChat, and PollEverywhere.
Online Training Feedback: Google has an interesting product called Sidewiki that can enable learners to directly on the training piece via a special sidebar. While this may be uncomfortable from a control standpoint, it provides learners to comment immediately instead of afterwards.
Post Episodic (the After)
Following training, there exists a group of learners with a common experience. There is a camaraderie, or as referred to in more academic circles, an “episodic community”. The opportunity for social tools here is a loop-closing mechanism for feedback, participation, and (assuming feedback is employed back into future training episodes) ownership. The specific tools are those mentioned above for Training Development. In fact, the line between Post Episodic and Development blurs here as the use of social tools for continuous improvement and development becomes apparent. Additionally, retention of the material is much greater as learners participate in discussions afterwards regarding the subject matter itself or via providing improvement/updating suggestions. These online conversations may require monitoring for facilitation purposes as well as adherence to the organization’s compliance policy (should someone convey something incorrectly).
Traditional training processes can not sustain the demand imposed by contemporary organizations. Waiting for the sphere of social media options to plateau is not an option since a plateau is not fathomable. As such, learning professionals are driven to adopt new tools and leverage the knowledge of their constituents with social tools not only to accelerate the classic training process, but also to evolve the training mechanism itself into the social sphere of the constituents. In this, the role of learning professionals will continue to evolve more into that of connector and facilitator versus the classic course developer/administrator.