Learner-Powered Learning

Only about two years ago, Brandon Hall Group’s Relationship Centered Learning study found that less than 60% of organizations were using any collaborative learning tools at all, and the vast majority of them were doing very little. Fast forward to today and our most recent research finds that 85% of companies are using social and collaborative tools for learning. Their use is still not exactly ubiquitous, but the scale and sophistication of the tools has increased dramatically. Here are the top three most common tools:

  • Discussion forums
  • Learner comments
  • Content ratings

Discussion forums and learner comments are considered to be the most effective social/collaborative tools. Learner generated videos are also considered to be just as effective, although they are not used nearly as much.

The obvious thing that these tools have in common is that they are powered by the learners. Social media by definition implies that the users are in control of the content, but that is not the case in many organizations. They simply use tools like wikis and SharePoint to move sanctioned, approved traditional content around in new ways. This isn’t going to get it done. In order for social learning initiatives to be effective, organizations are going to have to learn to just let go.

Instead, companies get scared by the concept of social media Wild West, where people are tossing out invalid information and using the tools inappropriately. In response, they create pages and pages of guidelines, rules and standard operating procedures to keep things from getting out of hand before they have even started. This is social media Kryptonite.

Instead, organizations need to trust that the super-smart people that they have hired to work at their esteemed organization are not going to transform into a horde of insult-hurling morons the instant they throw the social media switch.  Your company already has (or should have) an extensive employee handbook governing behavior via electronic media. Your people are smart. They want to help each other. Let them.

The whole idea of social and collaborative interaction is that it is open and free. Too much interference can squash it before it has a chance to flourish. Look at how loudly users scream when Facebook tries to make changes. That’s not to say it needs to be a free-for-all. Of course there should be guidelines. Of course you need some level of moderation/curation. Just not too much. Allow people to make mistakes. Have faith that the people you have hired are smart enough to use the tools at their disposal wisely. Depend on the wisdom of the crowd to make it work.

David Wentworth, Senior Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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