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Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Law of the Hammer - in Training , Part Two


Part Two
There are three general principles that should guide your plans to leverage social technology, particularly for leadership development and other “soft” skills:

1. Formal Learning is Still Important.

Our experience is that most interaction and leadership skills are actually best acquired and honed in a formal, intentional learning experience that includes lots of time for controlled practice and feedback.
Social media tools should never serve as a replacement to formal learning! Rather, they are ideal for surrounding and enriching the formal learning events. Social media technologies are best suited to:
  • Setting the stage for learning.
  • Helping extend the learning.
  • Keeping learners focused on applying their skills.
  • Enhancing networking opportunities within a cohort of learners.
It is our firm belief that while the social tools sometimes seem magical, the true magic remains in the optimal mix of learning experiences.

2. Test to Learn—Adapt to Perfect.

There are two major arenas to pilot and test before you take social learning technology wide and deep: 1) people and 2) technology. Don’t underestimate the challenges with either.
Use focus groups, test cohorts, feedback surveys, and anecdotal hearsay to test and refine your approach with your people. Seek help from technical partners (internal and/or external) to shake out the new technology in your environment, on your devices, in your software mix, and through your firewall.

3. Don't Cut Communication Corners.

When an organization chooses to use social media to drive learning and development, it should take care to devote the same communication and orientation resources that it would for any major change initiative. There are no smart shortcuts to introducing technology for something as personal as learning. Be sure to plan and execute a thoughtful approach to communication and implementation suited to your culture and objectives.

Sometimes Pliers Are a Better Option

While there are numerous social media types and platforms available, some are more appropriate than others for learning and development in “soft skill” areas like leadership. We need to match the tool to the need; some social learning tools are better pliers than hammers. Each technology provides a different array of benefits, but no technology will work across all organizations or implementations, nor will it suit every type of content or topic.
Remember to seek an effective and balanced mix rather than putting the full training burden on just one approach, to test for both people and technology compatibility, and finally to thoroughly communicate and execute the strategy.
My father taught me at an early age two important things about household and automotive tools—1) having the right tool for the job is one key to success, and 2) knowing how to use it is equally important. Our craft in learning and development is no different. Matching the right mix of solutions for each situation is more important than conjuring up as many ways to use our “hammer du jour” as we can contrive.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Law of the Hammer - in Training


Part One
In 1996, Abraham Maslow quipped that “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” What does this have to do with business and training? Recently, I have become concerned that the “hammer du jour” in our metaphoric trunk is high technology.
First, let me say that this post is not a Luddite rant against technology per se. This new millennium has brought to our training tool boxes a host of promising, wonderful technologies like web-based training, virtual instructor-led classrooms, simulations, gaming, and social media, to name a few. These technology-based tools make it easier to deliver training to more learners, less expensively, more consistently, and across broader geographies and time zones.
However, there is a tendency for people to use these technologies like the proverbial hammer. Some organizations have pushed forms of e-learning into cultures with little online learning interest and/or infrastructure. Others have insisted on taking an exclusively “high tech” approach to teaching “high touch” skills like coaching and conflict resolution.
More recently, the universal technology panacea in some quarters seems to be the application of new social media technologies to learning (a.k.a. “Learning 2.0”). The notion that most people learn better and enjoy it more in a social environment is inarguable. For that matter, the traditional classroom (when led by an interactive teacher or facilitator) can be a very social milieu within which to learn, particularly if the learning objectives are focused on human skills, such as leadership skills.

The Downside to Harnessing New Training Tools

The social media buzz, meanwhile, is about technology-based interactive experiences like blogs, chat rooms, and discussion forums, not to mention the wildly successful commercial social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yammer. Clearly, these new tools could be harnessed within our organizations to make learning more interactive, involving, and spontaneous, while also spanning geography and generations and capitalizing on the collective wisdom of groups.
But, some of these platforms can be risky for organizations in terms of security and legal liability. Technology can sometimes be surprisingly difficult and inconsistent. Corporate firewalls can be fussy about what they let through. And technology is always changing, which is good for progress but frustrating for infrastructure investments.
In addition, corporate cultures differ, just like people do, and what is easily adopted in one organization may be ineffective in another. And finally, there are regional and international variances in uptake, technology, and governing laws and institutions. Thus, the promise of social media is tempered by the complexities and uncertainties experienced by organizations to varying degrees.

Force-fitting Social Learning Tools

Unfortunately, some learning and development professionals have tried to force-fit social learning tools and platforms into topics and cultures whether or not they are necessarily well-suited. And regardless of the tools in our tool box, a few maxims about effective learning systems haven’t changed:
  • What is the desired and necessary learning outcome? Is it awareness, knowledge, basic skill, or skill mastery?
  • What is the nature of the content? Is the learning conceptual and/or kinetic in nature? Is the content sensitive or proprietary?
  • What is the nature of the learner population? How do they best learn the type of content needed? What is their prior learning and technology experience? Are their learning styles homogeneous, or do learners come from different backgrounds, experiences, and generations?
  • Is the environment around the learner conducive to the learning delivery modality being considered? Will the learners be able to be available, focused, and responsive?
  • Will the learner’s managers and colleagues support the investment of time and money? Do they know how to reinforce—and do they value—learning in the workplace?
These tenets of learning system design apply regardless of the tools and technologies being used. In fact, the thoughtful application of these considerations can help any modality or approach shine when used in the situations for which they are best suited.
On the flip side, new technologies can suffer guilt by association when imposed improperly into circumstances ill-suited to their strengths. Let’s not kill promising young technologies with ill-conceived overuse and misuse.
Look for Pete Weaver’s follow-up post titled How to Leverage Social Technology in Training.

Damai Sejahtera @ Terima Kasih

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