Social Learning Leadership: A New Panacea For Ignorance?
A dear friend’s TWINS (yes all caps) just entered a prestigious New England university. They are bright, driven, focused students and they’ll do well. They’d better, because it will cost my friend north of $100K a year to keep them in New England college splendor. Smiles.
It would have been more costly at Harvard, which in 2012-2013 provided cost guidelines for undergraduates in excess of $62,000. Of course a recent graduate, if he or she were fortunate enough to find a full-time job (almost half are not so lucky, according to a recent study) might expect to receive an annual salary of $42,000. Not much when you add in an apartment, or a car, or an IRA, or student loan repayments. No wonder so many college graduates still live at home (spoiler career alert – they’ll need that IRA?) Heaven help you if your student holds a degree in fine arts or journalism. Don’t say no one warned you on this career move these days. Always a risky proposition so do your homework please.
Perhaps as leaders we need to re-examine the learning business or the business of learning. On the job, in your career, which part of your studies contributes to success? I’m betting the semester in Prague has yet to pay dividends, and the minor degree in psychology, while it may enable you to pop-diagnose personality disorders in co-workers, hasn’t helped you get a report done, contributed to critical thinking skills necessary to problem-solve, or helped when you needed a Word or Excel shortcut.
In short, classroom learning – what the experts call formal learning – has limits. I’m a believer in the value of an education but it has limits and our system is in need of care and social innovation. Anyone who’s slogged through 12 years plus in the classroom will agree. Then there’s informal learning – stuff you do on your own, for the most part. Read any good business books lately? Ah, no, ok then.
Finally, **queue social learning** like so much else today it’s an outgrowth of social media. I’ve been living the social learning lifestyle online for a few solid years now (plus actually – I’m in denial). I host two chats on Twitter that are dedicated to the World of Work and HR Technology = Social Learning Leadership in ACTION.
The good news: it turns out companies are looking at social learning, and many are opting away from classroom, which they can control but which costs money – part-time classes at Harvard run around $5K per class per semester, for example – and also forgoing informal learning, where they tell an employee they’d better read a certain book and be prepared for the pop quiz. These days everything is social, so why not social learning?
Who knew all that time at Starbucks was finally going to pay off?
Social learning, as my friend Sharlyn Lauby points out, happens pretty much anywhere, with or without social (media) tools. Remember when you started a job at a tech company, tried to query a database, and had no idea what MySQL was? Bet someone helped you, gave you just enough info to get the job done without worrying about making you an expert. Then you passed that skill on at an all-hands meeting. Voila, social learning!
Social learning takes the relaxed nature of informal learning and the expertise and rigor of classroom learning to make something more suited to today’s on-the-job learners. It adds the context of the workplace, subtracts the expense of the classroom, and informs the experience with the social element so necessary in today’s interactions.
Bingo, as they say. I’m a big fan of Twitter as a classroom for social learners.
So Let’s Celebrate Five Advantages of Social Learning Leadership:
1) Social learning advantages millennials while also benefitting other age cohorts. It’s a multi-generational party! Let’s face it, if you run a company, HR or internal training, you need to manage all the generational populations, but you’re probably biased to the needs of the millennials, the generation inheriting the jobs and wisdom of Boomers. Very little downside here – you’re covering the entire employee population, at a lower price point than classroom learning.
2) Social learning is not time-constrained. No need to call a two-day training that takes out 75 percent of the department. Make it social, create many entry points and create a rewards system to ensure most employees participate. Don’t worry about the hold-outs – they will, in time, pick up the knowledge gained by those who took the class (see informal training.)
3) Social learning encompasses an explicit and visible rewards system for those who participate. Everyone wants the gold star, real or virtual. Making the award visible across the employee population, using social media, is common sense.
4) Links to business value must be explicit. People need to know their contributions are valued by the organization. Social leaning is no exception. You will need to construct a value-investment chain; many organizations, free or fee, can help.
5) Social learning is strategic, not tactical. Sure it’s a tactical benefit when someone learns to code a spreadsheet formula without taking a three-day class. But look for strategic value: an employee who attends Edward Tufte’s visual presentation of data seminar has enormous value. His or her ability to present quantitative information in a visually appealing form will reinvigorate employees who can’t go to the seminar but are bored to death with PowerPoint or Prezi. Invest in social learning in such a way that all learning becomes social, even when it begins in the classroom. Make it creative and engaging to your audience.
Finally, remember that creating a learning environment is an exercise in smart workplace culture, and an investment in creating competitive advantage for your company or your community.
Social is the how, not the why. Focus on the how, and social learning will make sense.
A version of this post was first published on Forbes.com on 9/11/12
Photo Credit: Terence Dillard via Compfight cc