Thursday, 21 July 2011

Being Careful and Caring with our Learning Communities

“Is everyone loving Google+ or are you still limping along like me?” @ChelleRobertson – 19 July on Twitter 

I’ve found myself getting personally involved in the “Is G+ a good development?” discussion. I made some comments on Twitter and received a deluge of responses, some of which were very much less than helpful in leading me towards either exploration or involvement in what may in the end turn out to be “a new social backbone” (Edd Dumbill ). Others were supportive and empathetic. 

The spectrum of responses has caused me to think about some issues we face as promoters of technology supported learning – and especially that which we know to be so richly enhanced by the social media.  Even Clive Shephard, in his flawed refutation of the fact that traditional L&D will diminish as the true power of the SoMe in enhancing social learning becomes apparent ( ), acknowledges that the playing field of learning has now changed.  That change brings with it a challenge that is uncomfortable for the enthusiastic pioneers (evangelists) for new tools and technologies. 

Francine Hardaway says

. The best use of social media for business isn’t really marketing, it’s learning.” ( ) 

In the same post Dave Larson goes on to assert that “People new to social media, and Twitter in particular, have trouble conceptualizing what it is and how to best use it” 

He is picking up a specific of an issue that requires some exploration.  We need to put ourselves in the position of the individual who, as Performance Support professionals, (having made the transition ourselves from L&D), we are seeking to assist.  Most have grown up with a view of learning as a face to face classroom based activity. More and more have not – they have been educated using to some extent a variety of technology based methods.  They have a firm concept that learning is something that is provided to them, mostly from a top-down corporate model. 

With our bright, shiny, new toys, we convince them that there is a more effective way to learn (many of them knew that already) and we introduce them to the wonders of e-learning.  Having struggled their way to a level of comfort with operating the plethora of techniques we love so much, we now tell them that, actually, their best learning will come from social collaboration and networking – enabled through the various platforms of the SoMe. In many cases it won’t be the ones they use at home – Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter etc – because these are frowned upon as “trivial” by the organisational powers that be.  Instead they are “respectable” lookalikes such as LinkedIn or Yammer. 

We provide lots of help to people to get them to see and be comfortable with Tweets, Streams, Threads, Walls and the rest and we help them to use them to learn from peers and anyone else they can access through the ever-increasing range of devices – PC/laptop, Windows/Mac, mobiles (on one OS or another), tablets, using apps, clients, service providers and the like.  Then we tell them about the cloud and how that is going to revolutionise again the way they will do their work and learn from everyone in whose circle (I deliberately use a small “c”)  they happen to find themselves.   

Small wonder that we get glassy eyed looks of confusion, despair and disbelief about what we are doing.  

Jane Hart, in her great new post ( ) says 

“L&D will need to "practise what they preach", and for those who are resistant to change in the organisation, show the value of new approaches in their own professional practice.” 

We preach making learning easy and accessible to people. If, in our enthusiasm we confuse, scare and deter people then we will have found another route to send L&D into oblivion. Changing what only recently was scary but has now become familiar may be a fast route backwards. 

Our embracing of new things, which laudably characterises many people who are working for the transformation of learning, must not spill over into headlong evangelism that destroys the very trust in the function that is being so carefully built as learning moves from being an overhead to a key business activity. 

We need to take our people with us at the speed they can go – it’s an old maxim that things move at the speed of the slowest component – so true as we seek to foster organisation and culture change to enable learning to make the business impact we know it can. Our reaction to peoples understanding, acceptance of concepts and appetite to change will be a major determinant in whether they move forward or become the resisters we so much want them not to be. Support is everything, criticism will slow things down and create negative reactions. 

“We don’t all have to keep changing ships every time a new platform or application comes along, It's OK for us to investigate new tools, but we shouldn’t make others feel bad if they don’t want to get involved or make changes.  If the new arrival adds value then of course use and promote it - but don’t make others feel like they are not keeping up!” (Jane Hart) 

“There’s too much going on to join in with everything and so I have to pick and mix what I will respond to based upon my own interests and preferences” (Steve Batchelder – Confessions of a Lurker ) 

We have two aspects to our work in Performance Support as L&D professionals. The first is to help others and our employing organisations exploit the individual and collective potential that exists.  The second is to research and evaluate our rapidly changing discipline so that we bring the best to bear to improve outcomes and to encourage people to enter the social learning world.  We must carefully balance those roles.  

So, just a caution – rushing headlong into new platforms that are as yet unproven and ill-defined in their effect may damage achievement of the goal we so passionately desire. 

When choosing or purchasing a social learning platform to support collaborative learning – keep it simple!!!  

Michael Rose ( put this rather nicely 

"The tools and platforms that you choose should be fast enough, and easy enough to use that people will embrace the technology and start using it. Creating content, uploading content, sharing content, making it searchable, adding assessments and comments, viewing reports and bundling content together should all be easy to do.”


  1. Thanks for this, Nic! A nice sanity check in the middle of the Google storm. Having set up my Personal Learning Network carefully across Facebook and Twitter, and one or two smaller niche platforms, I have been feeling the pressure in my network to jump ship to Google+ recently. And that's made me feel resentful and resistant to change. For me, as a techno-fan, that's saying something. And if I'm feeling like this, how must typical users feel?

  2. Hi there! Yours is just one of many similar messages in response to this post and the tweets this week. I'm waiting for the dust to settle and the real evaluations to happen before I make decisions about getting involved or migrating.