The Face-to-Face Component of Social Learning

While we know that the classroom is king, we also discuss alternatives to instructor-led training here regularly. However, we can’t deny the power of the face-to face-experience and the benefits it offers. Recently we held the annual Brandon Hall Group Excellence Conference in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. For me, a big takeaway from the experience was the power of personal, informal discussions. shutterstock_326771273 copyOften times some of the most valuable parts of a conference can happen not in the midst of a lecture, but in the hallways and social events where people have a chance to network, discuss best practices, and more.

But this isn’t just based on my experience. I heard one of the key learning leaders at MasterCard discussing the same concept within one of the company’s learning programs, and a case study we published just a few days ago reiterated the idea. In a nutshell, we often think of technology when we discuss social learning. The latest apps and tools help to connect the workforce in ways like never before. Yet each of us still yearns for that personal, human contact to truly feel the value of social learning.

MasterCard’s Social Element

Eric Klisz, VP of Global Learning and Organizational Effectiveness at MasterCard, talked at the conference about his company’s learning initiative focused on the business modeling process. Historically, much of the organization’s training took place as instructor-led courses. This meant that when any region around the world needed to learn something, a subject matter expert was flown in and locals had to travel to the area to sit back and soak in the knowledge.

That presented two problems. First, it was incredibly costly. The travel costs and time away from work meant each initiative was a sizeable investment.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the focus was simply on the delivery of information, not on improving performance. As learning professionals, we know the focus of learning should be not on simply pushing out more information—it should be on driving the necessary behaviors for business performance.

The rollout of the new learning program took the form of a “guided learning journey,” but the web-based experience was met with some early unease by participants. They liked the face-to-face, interactive component of previous trainings and didn’t want to give that up.

The answer for MasterCard was to add in a mix of physical/virtual meetings by cohort, allowing each to meet as needed to keep up the social element, which was deeply linked to engagement with the program. Let’s face it—people like to be able to see, hear, and interact with others. It’s a significant part of how we learn, and eliminating that can reduce the overall perceived value of the learning opportunity.

Genpact’s Residential Component

Genpact has a leadership development program that was developed in partnership with Cornell University’s eCornell program. The ASPIRE program is a blended experience with a variety of elements:

  • eCornell online course curriculum
  • 4-5 day residential/onsite component
  • “leader as coach” sessions
  • experiential participant teaching opportunities

The area I want to focus on is the residential/onsite component. Part of the way through the program, participants must visit a physical office and spend time together honing their skills and learning from one another. In a world that is increasingly dispersed and virtual, that is a differentiator for Genpact’s program. Here is how it’s described in the case study:

One of the key aspects of this year-long certification program is a 4-day residential that gets hosted in Gurgaon, India, every year for each batch of up to 25 participants. It is aimed at creating an environment of collaboration and enabling participants to network with the best of their peers from across the globe. The leadership theme for these residential interventions gets decided based on business needs year to year.

Please note: this isn’t a relaxing week away for a seminar. It’s a chance to put Genpact’s best and brightest rising stars in a room and let them work together to solve business problems. This action learning experience is not only honing the skills of the participants—it is building stronger collaborative bonds among them as well. And those bonds can potentially have a greater long-term impact organizationally. Having friends at work, as many engagement surveys has shown, is a key retention indicator.

With the amazing learning technology at our fingertips, it’s easy to think of social learning as a tool, platform, or online service. However, each of these experiences points to the fundamental power of social learning with an element of face-to-face interaction included. While we know that the learning experience can’t be focused exclusively on physical contact with other learners, dedicating some portion of the delivery to that modality can have extensive benefits.

How does your company see social/collaborative learning as a part of the bigger picture?

Ben Eubanks, Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group


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