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Want People to Learn? Get Them to Collaborate

— by Bill Cushard

Employee trainingLearning and developmentLearning developmentSocial learning

Of all the sections in my book on critical skills learning professionals need to know now, “enterprise 2.0 collaboration” seems like the most unlikely “critical” skill. However, as the speed of business keeps increasing, learning pros are having to adjust their goals, and the skills they need to fulfill them.

Where once L&D people delivered learning to employees on a schedule, today, they have to focus on enabling people to work together so they can learn from one another, when they need to. That’s where enterprise 2.0 tools come in. While there’s a lot of overlap between “social learning” and these enterprise 2.0 collaborative tools, they actually have different goals: Social learning is about interacting with other people in order to learn something new, while Web collaboration tools are primarily about making it easier for people to work together.

In other words, learning is the primary goal of social learning, whereas it’s a by-product of enterprise 2.0 collaboration.

My co-author, Mitchell Levy, and I decided that we’d like to address each of these skills separately, since each has its own unique objectives. We covered social learning here last week; this week, lets focus on ways that learning experience designers (LXD, as we’re calling them) can use enterprise 2.0 collaboration to help people work together more easily and improve performance through learning.

What Is Enterprise 2.0 Collaboration?

Simply put, enterprise 2.0 is a technology solution that improves people’s ability to collaborate within organizations to get work done. The name is derived from the term Web 2.0, but refers exclusively to tools used within the workplace, rather than out on the public Internet. Andrew McAfee defines it using the acronym S.L.A.T.E.S. to describe the components involved: Search, Links, Authorship, Tags, Extensions, Signaling.

Carl Frappaolo and Dan Keldsen defined Enterprise 2.0 as a “system of Web technologies that provide collaboration, information sharing, and integration capabilities in the extended enterprise.” All of this adds up to a new skill that learning experience designers need to develop: Identifying, championing, and implementing interventions that get people to gather, work together better, and solve problems together.

Enterprise 2.0 collaboration, by definition, implies a technology solution, However, there are many ways in which learning professionals can increase collaboration in organizations, from implementing enterprise social software or things as simple as wheeling a white board into the break room. So, although the term enterprise 2.0 collaboration implies a technology solution, we took a broader view in our book and focused on any technique or tool that can bring people together. It is a skill that must be mastered in the future of enterprise learning.

Here are a few examples of how a learning professional can do just that:

Implement Enterprise 2.0 Technology

Lets go back to that acronym, SLATES: How can these elements be used to design training? Take “authorship,” for example. Effective learning designs make use of activities in which learners create their own learning. In a classroom setting, learners can engage in self-reflection or in group activities to design their own learning. But what about in a more informal context?

By utilizing blogs or micro-blogs, or by adding content to an internal wiki where they can reflect on a work project or class they just attended (and share their thoughts with co-workers), employees can make sense of a problem and often learn new things. Enterprise 2.0 collaboration tools allow just this type of authoring, and opens up this kind of collaborative learning opportunity.

Sit Where The Workers Are

One of many low-tech solutions in our book is for learning professionals to sit as close as possible to the teams they support. Learning departments should reject their secluded offices for desks where the sales, customer service, or operations teams sit. Only by sitting close to the action can learning professionals truly understand the business well enough to help people work together more effectively.

Huddle Spaces, White Boards, and Hassle Maps

Here’s a way to get people working together that you can implement right away: Push a white board into a corner next to some desks, or even into the break room. Then write something on it, like What’s causing your customers pain, and how should it be fixed? Then see what happens.

If you don’t have whiteboards lying around, order some Idea Paint and tape a few on long strings to the walls. For another specific idea, read up on Hassle Maps and encourage people to sit around on Friday afternoons brainstorming what kinds of thing hassles customers and how to fix those hassles. The point is to get people working together to solve problems. Is there a better way to learn?

High Tech or Low Tech: It’s About Performance

Enterprise 2.0 collaboration is about making it easier for people to work together, whether using enterprise social software or quite simply getting people together in a room to talk through a problem. There are few who will argue that the best way to learn is by doing, so if learning professionals improve how people work together to solve problems, learning will increase and performance will improve.

What ideas do you have for how learning professionals can improve how people collaborate to solve problems and get work done?

This is the fifth in a series of posts on the skills learning pros need to know now. If you missed any others, you can check out Part I (Five Must-Have Skills for Learning Pros: An Update), Part II (Required Learning for Training Managers: Business 101), Part III (Three Ways to Speed Up Instructional Design), and Part IV (Three Simple Ways to Get Started with Social Learning) here.

Bill Cushardauthor and Director of Training and Development at Allonhill, is a learning leader with more than 12 years of experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user drumm.

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