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Graeme Foux

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Social learning requires a step change


Graeme Foux lays out some valuable guidelines and tips when it comes to implementing social learning in the workplace.

A meteoric rise in the popularity of social media in recent years has companies scrambling to understand its impact on how they operate. For training and learning within large organisations, social media makes existing practices appear outdated and antiquated. Clearly, equipping colleagues with the skills and insights to compete in a fast changing global marketplace requires a step change in approach.

Moving to social learning

This step change to social learning has been cleverly described as moving from elearning to 'We-Learning'. The objective is to extend the value of learning by unlocking the power of social and collaborative learning, and bringing it into the real-time business environment to keep pace with dynamic market conditions and busy working lives.

Factors driving the need for change

The adoption of social networks such as Facebook, often as an integral part of daily life, has profoundly changed online behaviour. There's now a powerful community of users who expect the web to be social, whether for private or business life.
Social networking has converged with accelerating business trends such as streamlining organisational structures, an explosion in digital communications, consumerisation and mobilisation of the workforce and globalisation, to amplify the need for more flexible, effective methods for learning.

Critical challenges and success factors

Making social learning thrive within the fabric of your organisation involves many challenges. Here are four ways to make sure you get the critical success factors right for your organisation:
  • Integrate innovative technology with existing systems
Don't assume you have to either stick with your existing LMS vendor or undertake a complete replacement to embrace social learning technology. A complete change of systems can be attractive for organisations that are already unhappy with their LMS or haven't made a substantial investment to-date, but for many this is too big a commitment and source of disruption, especially in budget-conscious times.
You could wait for your existing vendor to embrace social and update their LMS, but will they invest quickly enough to match your business needs and have the expertise to build the social solution you require?
Alternatively, you could partner with a specialist social software vendor whose social learning solution works with your existing LMS. Such solutions are available today, and are economically attractive. Such an approach can help to avoid large capital expenditure, substantial upheaval to replace an existing LMS and loss of business value through a complex migration from one system to another.
  • Think about the user experience, not just the tools
Apple's success during the past decade can be attributed in large measure to the cachet of the brand, its willingness to innovate, and a visceral understanding of the importance of the user experience. A few years ago a client at a large mobile phone manufacturer was comparing his company's smartphone with the iPhone. Despite his phone having all the functionality of the iPhone and more, my client figured out how to use the iPhone in no time and didn't want to put it down, whilst his own phone was so complicated he gave up on it in frustration.
Apply this thinking to social learning and you'll instantly understand the missing ingredient when someone from the IT department rattles off the list of social tools already available within the company but decries the lack of user adoption. It's all about the user experience. If the tools aren't combined in ways that make it simple, easy and quick for users, those users will find alternatives for sure.
  • Embrace rich media
As consumers, information consumption is increasingly geared towards rich media, watching YouTube videos, downloading podcasts on our iPods etc. If social learning is about making learning dramatically more dynamic, stimulating, enjoyable, and effective, then the type of content has a huge bearing on achieving these objectives.
Similarly, unlocking informal learning potential within your organisation means making it quick and easy for colleagues to share their experiences. We're working with a company today to shift colleagues from spending hours on slide presentations to minutes on video content. This liberates the act of contributing and sharing. Again, as consumers we've enthusiastically grasped the simplicity of generating our own video and images using mobile phones, and micro-HD cameras.
  • Align a more social approach with your culture
When it comes to technology innovation adoption, company cultures differ. Deploying any new business technology creates challenges around behaviour and adoption. Technology is a key enabler with social, but it's almost impossible to dictate from the top that colleagues will adopt social technologies and behave in a social way. We've seen some of these shortcomings with knowledge management over the past decade.
For social learning to succeed, identify groups of users or areas of the business that are well disposed or even eager for a more social approach, then seed and nurture these to build successful adoption before spreading out – rather than attempting to deploy across the enterprise simultaneously.


Social media has made training and learning methods look 'antiquated', creating an alarm call to act decisively. Companies able to determine an effective path to embrace social learning will deliver a clear return on investment through enhanced employee productivity, cost savings and, perhaps most valuably, a competitive advantage in their marketplace.
Graeme Foux is founder and CEO at Knexus, a social software company which helps companies make their content social through an innovative social platform and family of apps. Graeme is also an advisor to senior management at various global 2000 companies where he addresses the strategic impact of social, both within the enterprise and in terms of the impact on customer and partner relationships


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