Thursday, November 3, 2011

Session 610 - What Managers & Executives Need To Know About Social Learning (J Bozarth)

(Resources at

Background and a Case Study
Julian Orr embedded himself into a group of copier technicians did a social analysis (ethnography) of the group in 1990, in a small area in California. They were able to chat during the workday, meet for lunch, etc.

The discussion centers around two groups: The engineers/techs and the end users. The engineers and techs were told to stand by the manual. The end users...not so much. Question comes up - What is the difference in how one group treats them versus the other?

So, looking back to the lunch time discussions with the techs, what do you think the discussion centered around? WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS, outside of the manual...they spent a lot of their time discussing workarounds to their static manual.

Were they learning? What lesson is here for management? Whose fault is it that they're not performing as well as they think they should (when adhering to the manual)? Were they social? Were they on Twitter?

Get it? Learning's ALWAYS been social. The other side is, did these techs think they were learners? NO! Learners don't realize when informal learning is going on, and management might have viewed some of the commentary as subversive and/or bitching. Where are learners asking for help from each other? You could say the water cooler, but Jane also suggests a lot of other talk around said cooler revolves around politics, football, etc. We need to focus it a bit more...

Truth: Most Learning Happens Socially
Aside from touching a hot stove and learning the hard way (see: doing stuff), it is, for the most part, truly social. Most of the learning that we do in the workplace is social in some form. employees, however, will see it as fixing a problem...not learning informally. It's like gravity - You only notice when it's NOT there.

Truth: You're Already Doing Social Learning
This is kind of a no brainer, and I get it. A lot of the awesome activities Jane lists, though, I can only dream of getting going within my boundaries. Examples include Case Studies, Icebreakers, Roleplays, etc.

Truth: Social MEDIA helps to enable social LEARNING on a much larger scale
They are NOT interchangable...big mistake to think so.

What if...
We had copier techs in 2011 with a geographically dispersed distribution who were able to chat during the workday...then what? (<-- Solid question) Where is our role in helping talent pools connect? Maybe these people go to an initial training of some kind...but beyond that - what? What do we need to do to help these people connect? How can we help facilitate conversations?

You could go with User Forums, but the employees know they're being watched, there's experts in the group that 'posture up', and so on.

Truth: You don't "implement" social learning
Per Jane Hart, "We cannot force/enforce social learning; we can only help to provide a framework for conversations..." and, per Clark Quinn, "Step back." It's kind of like trying to convince a kid they're having fun when they're really not. You can't force a 'community'...they're going to find themselves and arrange accordingly.

Per Pastoors, when people are left alone to congregate, members are energized, and find it fun, worthwhile. They enjoyed each other's company, generating artifacts, ideas, and so on. She found that, when they were forced, the EXACT opposite happened - The perception was that it was more work, employees were unwilling to spend more time, there was no ownership, it was more like a *gasp* meeting.

"You manage a group. You nurture a community."

Measures of Social Learning Events
There are a lot of things you can measure...obviously. Things you can measure, count, and so on. What you measure is what you get, so measure what matters. IBM has extensive social tools in place, which have reduced the time and costs associated with onboarding. Ford has eliminated hundreds of help calls @ $12 each through use of a customer populated forum. Ace Hardware had a 500% ROI on new social profile system in 6 months from connecting expertise among franchise owners.

How much time in traditional classes do we devote to discussion, collaboration, and sharing? why do we do it? We believe that they learn better from each other, it gives them a chance to talk to each other, discover with one another, etc.

(Admittedly, Jane started going down the path of Twitter, and I got sucked in. Suffice it to say, if you're not on it, get on it. If you are on it, use it. If you use it, use it more. The end.)

Build relationships. Leverage relationships. Use them at the right time. Fact.

What To Do
- Pay more attention to what's already happening
- Ask for stories and self-reports
- Listen. Think about the # of closed tickets metric.
- Help people connect.
- Look for a problem to solve.
- Set up a process -- then STEP BACK. (Clark Quinn @quinnovator)

Too many quotes to even reference, but suffice it to say, read this account from top to bottom and you might scratch the surface. Measure what matters, then use the measurements to take back to your management to get Social Learning and Social Media (not the same) implemented (more than it is already). (Ex: 4 minute turnaround on the visually impaired fix on WebEx).

I'm not on Twitter as much as I maybe should be. I recognize this. I've followed Jane since 2009. To think about what I've missed out on is damn near heartwrenching. Jane, if you read this - I stand in awe of your absolute and utter WINNING. This was phenomenal.


  1. Thank you, sir, for this wonderful recap! Glad you found it useful.

  2. Hello Shawn,

    It was a treat to discover your blog when tracking down summaries of the Social Media sessions from #DevLearn. Thanks for covering Jane Bozarth's session. I added your post in our summary You offer so many good nuggets and have true élan in your writing style. This was my second DevLearn and I hope by the next one I will come into a shadow of the bloom you've realized. Will look for you on Twitter and other channels (#lrnchat, perhaps) to connect in the future. Keep it coming!
    Ann, from QuickLessons

  3. Right on to the both of you...glad you liked!