Learning Socially

I recently unexpectedly ripped up my kitchen floor. I didn't want to spend the money to have a professional come in and retile it. I had never tiled before, so I called a friend and talked to him. He had only done it only twice before, so he referred me to some websites where I watched videos, read comments of other viewers, read some blogs and I then, through social learning, felt confident enough to do it myself. And I did. I saved money in the process.

Last week, I was speaking with a CLS (Corporate Learning System) vendor about the features they provide. When asked about social learning, because many CLS vendors are moving in that direction, the salesperson proceeded to tell me that at one time they did but their customers asked them to turn it off because it occupied too much of employees’ time. I was shocked. He further added that the corporate world needed to better define how to use social learning in the workplace. I do agree that some corporations need to define how to use social learning but they need to do it soon or they will be left behind. Which got me wondering - why aren't they moving faster?

Just the other day when doing a gap analysis with a sales manager regarding onboarding sales people to his team, he explained to me of how the new people learn the product and process.  He made an interesting point, “when a sales person is on a call and hears a new concept that they didn’t know, they would go and talk to another sales person to learn. Sometimes it led to white board discussions on the concept but they really learned that new concept.” This is a perfect example of learning socially. They learned from a peer (a friend). What is disappointing though, is that information was only shared by those two or three people and no one else. We lost that training moment and when the next new salesperson comes along they will have to occupy the time of another employee to learn what was taught maybe even a few days previous.

The speed to competency when onboarding new employees is critical to building the confidence of the new employee, relieving the team’s workload, and company bottom line. How much time would be saved if the newbie salesperson could go on the company learning portal and watch a video, read comments from peers or go to the company knowledge base? Even if they didn’t find the answer in those locations, what if they could post a question on a company social network website? Peers would answer and the training moment would be captured for the next learner to find.

Social learning does save time and saving time saves money. Knowledge is shared quicker, reused, and updated by others. We have seen social networking websites take hold in everyday life.  Wouldn’t if be better if the employee were looking for answers internally than on Facebook?