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Practical Ways to Design Social Media Into Your Training Programs

— by Bill Cushard

Web based training

There is a lot of talk about using social media in training or about social learning in the workplace, but frankly there is not a lot of action. There are many reasons for this inaction, but anyone who has worked in an organization knows there is an incredible amount of inertia keeping things the way they have always been done. Learning experience designers need to break free from the gravitational pull of “we have always done it this way” and try something new. There is no substitute for experimentation.

Since spring of this year, I have designed several learning programs using Yammer with good results. We have seen a high amount of participation, a wider audience, shorter classroom sessions, and more peer-to-peer learning. There have also been anecdotal accounts of performance results in terms of people doing their jobs better. In this post I’ll show you how I use Yammer in our training classes and how you can too. It begins with examining your training activities.

Start with Activities

Once you have your learning objectives, content, and a basic idea of what your activities will be, you can begin to make design decisions about what you can do in social networking tools, like Yammer. The best way to get started is to make a list of all of the activities you will use in your training class. Activities include, ice breakers, discussions, role plays, self-reflection, teach-backs, and even lectures, to name just a few. You must have the belief that any (well, just about any) activity you do in class can be done on a social network. Go down your list and ask, “Which of these can be done in Yammer and which should be done in class?” If you are still not convinced this can work, let’s talk about a basic activity, the ice breaker, and how it can be implemented on a social network.

Ice Breakers, Ground Rules, and Open Discussions

As you know, the point of the ice breaker is to get people to know each other – “break the ice.” In a recent training class we did introductions in Yammer several days before the classroom session. I posted a message in the private group that we created just for the class asking everyone to reply to my post by introducing themselves to the group. I also encouraged everyone to comment on other peoples’ posts, when they found common interests. The class began to get to know each other before they ever got to class. If you have a class of people who already know each other, have them share stories about their experiences with the topic of the class. This will break the ice and activate prior knowledge of the subject. The point is to get learners to interact with each other before the class begins, so when everyone arrives in class, you can start right into the topic.

Transfer Some Lectures to the Social Network

Even today, there are situations in which it makes sense to do a brief lecture to introduce a topic before you begin a hands-on activity. Why not put that lecture in Yammer. Post a link to a Youtube video on the subject. Have people watch the video and comment on a discussion question that you post with the video. Learners will be introduced to that section topic and even have a discussion on the topic before coming to class. At the most, all you will have to do in class is debrief and begin a relevant, hands-on activity. This is a much better use of class time and you will get more participation because everyone will participate on Yammer, but not everyone will participate in class.

Activate Prior Knowledge

A vital aspect of effective learning is to activate prior knowledge to get learners to think about what they already know about the subject. For example, if you conduct a class on customer service, a typical activity would be to discuss good and bad customer experiences that learners have had in the past. Once they reflect on those experiences, it sets everyone up for learning how customer service should be delivered. So why not conduct this activity on a social network before class begins? Why spend 20 minutes doing this in class? I do this in Yammer every chance I get. I post a discussion question in a private group and facilitate the discussion there. People respond to the discussion question, share links, talk about their experiences, and comment on the horror stories of others.

Post-training Follow-Up

Do you design activities into your training sessions during which learners spend time creating an action plan stating what they will do to apply what they learned in class? Better yet, do you have them exchange emails with a fellow learner and have them promise to email each other within 30 days to explain what they have done so far? You know, so they can hold each other accountable? I know, your intentions are good, but your learners might not always do this. If you want to increase the rate of apply and transfer of knowledge to the job, consider conducting this activity in a social network after a training class. Instead of doing an action plan in class, we have learners do that on Yammer. People can post their action plans and comment on the plans and progress of others. You may find learners will hold each other far more often if they can participate as a group with light facilitation from you.

Ask a Simple Question

There are many ways social media technologies can be used in training that could be far more innovative that what I am taking about here. However, I believe that starting small and fast and gaining experience has value. So I asked myself one simple question, “What are we doing now in our training sessions that could be done on a social network?” Once I asked that question, it became easier to begin.

You try it. What types of activities do you think you could facilitate in a social network? Comment below and share your ideas.

> More on e-learning on the Mindflash blog.

Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

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