3 Requirements for Social Learning Effectiveness

The Brandon Hall Group team is in the midst of judging this year’s Technology Awards entries, and one social learning submission in particular had some interesting points I wanted to share. This telecommunications company was kicking off its own internal social learning platform, and these were the three key requirements the leaders identified:

  1. Design a platform that enables employees to actively create and critique content
  2. Reduce the burden on employees to effectively seek and find information
  3. Integrate learning behaviors into learning design to teach employees how to learn

social learning requirementsIn all, the case study was a compelling read. However, not every organization sees success with their own implementations. Consider this all-too-common story:

The day is here. Your learning and IT teams have put the finishing touches together and you unveil your shiny new social learning platform. Success! There is a giant spike of activity on day one, and then the taper begins. After two weeks the only thing people are visiting for is to access the phone list.

So, what happened? Why was this social learning technology implementation a dismal failure, like so many others? Let’s take a look at three of the factors that can make or break your new collaborative learning initiative.

Hint: It’s Collaborative

This should be obvious, but I’ve seen it too many times to discount it as a credible reason for failure: social learning is heavily dependent on collaboration. If your organization does not value and encourage a collaborative culture, then you shouldn’t expect to see social learning success.

When information is typically spread only in a top-down manner, employees don’t see a need to create, share, and connect. There has to be some incentive and purpose to the collaboration beyond simply increasing connections.

Try this: this is where an expert directory or user-generated content can help to drive people to the right resources. Once they find value, they are more likely to share the information, offer comments, and explore other content.

Seeding Content

When launching one of these social technologies, whether in learning or other general social business tools (Yammer or Igloo, for instance), it’s important to seed some content to help establish a foundation.

In the book The New Social Learning, the authors talk about seeing the entry point to your network as a college student community center. There they can find relevant information and helpful resources to dig deeper. Instead some companies treat this entry point like a classroom, where new students might be unsure of what to do or feel overwhelmed upon joining.

Try this: in the early stages of implementation, organizations should identify specific subject matter experts and/or champions if user-generated content is going to be a significant part of the platform. Then, those individuals should be tasked with creating “seed” content within the platform before it goes live, offering videos, FAQs, and other high-value resources that employees would use immediately.

The Art of Curation

Curation, or curating information, is definitely an art. Anyone can go out and grab dozens of links to web resources, videos, podcasts, and other relevant information and post it on a learning forum. However, true curation requires someone with a deeper understanding of what content gets shared, what content people really want to see, and what should be prioritized. That feeling of overwhelm I mentioned earlier? This is a key way to eliminate it.

To be fair, when you have hundreds (or thousands) of videos and other resources within your learning community, it’s going to be difficult to keep it all straight. However, taking the time to organize it well and keep the content fresh goes a long way toward maintaining user engagement.

Try this: an unorthodox suggestion would be to spend some time with some of the marketing team to see how they structure content, how to get more page views, and what works well for engaging their audience. While it’s not exactly the same, your goals are congruent—both learning leaders and marketing leaders are trying to keep an audience engaged with the content they create while still appealing to both new and experienced individuals.

Social Learning Effectiveness

Social learning isn’t going to sustain itself in most cases. It takes effort, planning, and resources to continuously hone the content and drive engagement. But it also works, since more than a third of companies say that social/collaborative learning is moderately to highly effective.

How is your organization using social tools? What has been your experience in terms of curation, content creation, and driving interactions?

Ben Eubanks, Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group


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