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Sheridan Webb

The Training Designer's Club

Training Design Consultant and Community Manager

Read more from Sheridan Webb

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Why social learning will be even more vital in the future of work

A problem shared is a problem halved for L&D practitioners.

Since the pandemic, the L&D world has thrown itself into virtual learning. It’s been a steep learning curve for many, but our community is creative and resilient, and most have adapted quickly. After the initial disruption, most training is now being delivered online and via virtual classroom.

This is brilliant, but does this virtual/online approach really bring about meaningful learning, or are we merely providing an illusion of development? I have so many recordings of helpful things I mean to watch that I’ll need a week to catch up with them all, and the list is growing. It’s great to have this library at my disposal, but will I get around to it? Will it truly make a difference?

It doesn't matter how you access the community – it’s the people we are connected to that provide the learning, support and development we benefit from.

Nine times out of ten, if I want to learn something, I will ask either a specific individual or a particular group. This made me realise that all the recent focus on working (and training) virtually has given us a distorted view of what the future of L&D is all about. We’ve mistakenly decided that it’s remote/virtual/tech based. I don’t think it is.

Obviously, as a method of delivery, that’s true. Regardless of when restrictions are eased, tech-based solutions are here to stay, and blended learning will be normal. This is a good thing – but I believe that the real future of learning lies with communities.

Why a learning community?

It doesn’t matter if we access that community face-to-face, via Zoom, document sharing platforms, Slack, WhatsApp or by picking up the phone – it’s the people we are connected to that provide the learning, support and development we benefit from. Learning by community has so many benefits:

  1. It’s agile: you ask for help with something that you’re working on right now, or a problem you’re trying to solve and instantly someone provides something to help you out. You don’t waste hours searching on your own.
  2. It’s personalised: we focus on what matters to us, start from where we are, build on what we already know, and hone our existing knowledge/skills.
  3. It’s perfectly paced: we learn things a bit at a time, and when we are ready to learn to them. Working to our own timetable means we are much more likely to transfer learning.
  4. It’s varied: we get to see lots of different ideas around a theme, so we can piece together our own solutions.
  5. It’s pro-active: when others ask a question, we take note and maybe develop knowledge or a skill that isn’t a priority right now, but is still useful.
  6. It’s safe: asking specific questions in a private community or learning group makes it easier to expose our vulnerabilities and fill the gaps in knowledge/skills we have.
  7. It’s supportive: people in the community want you to succeed – you have long-term relationships with these people and everyone has a vested interested in your success.
  8. It’s relevant: learning is driven by the needs of those in the community – not a trainer, and certainly not a government designed syllabus. Content is driven purely by demand.
  9. It’s creative: we get exposed to different ideas and topics that we may not otherwise explore, so widening our experience and keeping us up to date with the latest thinking.
  10. It’s more grown up: community members take responsibility for their own learning, and what they do with the information provided is up to them. It’s not up to their manager or L&D business partner to follow through.

People engaged in learning communities are always so generous too. They know that it’s a game of give and take, and by helping each other, we all grow. I certainly develop when I respond to someone else’s request for help.

How do you set up a learning community?

The simple answer is you don’t. Not really. If you try and create a community from nothing, force connections where they don’t exist or (even worse) ask people to go to a place they don’t already hang out, it’s unlikely to work. I’ve been invited to join communities on Slack and WhatsApp, but I’m not in the habit of going there, so I don’t engage.

Good communities grow organically – I set up the Training Designer’s Club when I realised that I was having multiple conversation around the same things with different people, so it made sense to create a group space. As with anything, when it gets a bit of natural momentum, it starts to attract like-minded people.

I am a member of many communities – but there are only two that I fully engage with, and most people are the same. That’s ok. Before we commit to a community, we try it out. We need to find our ‘tribe’ – the one that not only meets a need, but one whose culture and values fits with our own. It has to be easy. It has to be worthwhile. It has to be enjoyable.

Many organisations have tried to set up learning networks – some with more success than others. The ones that fail seem to be forced upon people, complicated to engage with, and too heavily policed. The ones that succeed simply harness what’s already there, give it more structure and let the members shape how it develops.

Yes, it needs to be moderated, but members usually know what they need more than those administering it, and they probably have most of the answers too.

I’ve learned so much from the communities I’m in, particularly from the fellow L&D professionals in the Training Designer’s Club that I run, the independent training professionals in Trainer Talk and TrainingZone's Lnkedin community. Maybe it’s just my practical approach the learning, or maybe it really is the way forward… I like to think it is.

Interested in this topic? Read Social learning: a collaborative approach for the digital age.

Author Profile Picture
Sheridan Webb

Training Design Consultant and Community Manager

Read more from Sheridan Webb

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