Al Bird: Social Learning – Productivity drain or HR game changer?

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Google receives almost 12 billion searches per month – that’s almost double the world’s population. And not a day goes by without some social networking giant announcing skyrocketing profits – Twitter being the latest example. It recently announced 271 million active monthly users, up 24% year on year – mind blowing stuff!

The reality is, 1.5 billion of us use social networking channels on a daily basis, often making the likes of Twitter and YouTube our first port of call for consuming information. It’s therefore no surprise that social technologies have crept into the corporate environment as informal learning mediums over the last few years in particular.

That said, whilst anecdotal evidence among our network suggests employee demand is high for this approach to learning, the majority of HR departments continue to shy away from formally integrating such technologies into their wider L&D strategies.

They are still often viewed as a distraction in the corporate environment which cost the business money in lost working hours. On top of this, a number of high profile corporate Twitter gaffs have raised concerns around its use as an external communications tool. These issues often result in a black cloud being cast over social technologies in general during boardroom discussions.

However, learning has always been social. People have always learnt from peers and experts in ways that are more often serendipitous and opportunistic. The advent of new collaborative technology with connected networks just shifts the gears to powerfully make that serendipity more accessible and more frequent. And the new generation of social media savvy workers expect that connectivity to work smart.

We consult with FTSE 100 businesses on a daily basis who are refreshingly open to learning more about the potential impact that social technologies can have on business performance and many are already well ahead of the curve in terms of business-wide adoption. Taking a step back, it’s fairly clear that their success is down to a few common factors:

Putting people over profit

Listening to the way employees want to learn will impact productivity levels and ultimately, profit in the long term. Designing a strategy to facilitate will require considerable investment in the short-term, but the reward will come.

Employees at all levels have unique demands in terms of where they aspire to be, and what development needs they have in order to get there. For that reason, L&D is almost never a case of ‘one size fits all’. Evidence suggests that if you allow your employees to learn when they need it, they’re more likely to embed it into their day-to-day role.

Through social learning, individuals are able to seek out information and learn when they need to, rather than wait for a specific course to be booked for example. This gives them more ownership over their own careers too. The role of the HR professional is still paramount though – it becomes about empowering and educating their employees to use the tools to help explore their own informal learning.

Sharing the knowledge

Internal knowledge sharing tools can provide ideal platforms for expert and peer communication – whether general enterprise tools like Yammer or more specialist learning technologies designed to knit with more formal development plans.

These channels encourage individuals to take an ‘all of us is smarter than any of us’ approach to sharing the knowledge of others.

Learning for the long run

Learning should be an ongoing experience throughout an individual’s career and whilst we envisage a permanent future for the classroom environment, it should never just be restricted to that. With social learning, employees are encouraged to access information when they need it, and as such, learning can immediately be put into practice.

Technologies such as blogs, social networks, collaborative workspaces, online communication tools and shared media are all channels which can – and should – be tapped into to enable an ongoing flow of collaborative learning for the purpose of resolving a business challenge and impacting the bottom line.

We believe that companies that don’t embrace social learning are missing out on a significant business opportunity. Not only to enhance talent from within and develop the skills of the workforce, but to impact the bottom line through increased efficiency, decreased need for recruitment through more engaged employees, and appealing to the sizable ‘social media’ appetites of the millennial generation.

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  1. Fear and control or in the case of social media the lack of control have been a significant barrier for corporates not using it. The reality is that the tech savvy will use it with or without our help. So we should embrace it and help point them to the right content! We all learn in different ways and social media/ mobile caters for all of those styles. As I reflect on where get a lot of my learning at the grand old age of 47 its through mobile channels and social media e.g. Twitter, Youtube, Tedtalks and Pinterest! So I agree we should embrace it, however the real trick is to integrate it and not simply bolt it on as an added extra!

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