The Social Networkforce

If you don’t lead your workers to real-time, online group training, they’ll just do it themselves.
By John Higgins
Not so long ago the term “social networking” emerged as one of the most frequently used phrases to describe one of the fastest growing sectors of the world wide web. Ironically, while the Gen-X or Gen-Y population might lay claim to driving the growth of social networking, Professor J.A. Banes is credited with introducing the term in the 1950’s. Wikipedia’s definition sounds more anthropological than technological: “A social network is a social structure made up of individuals (or organizations) called ‘nodes,’ which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislikes, likes, relationships or beliefs, knowledge or prestige.”
Global connectivity through the ubiquitous nature of the internet, supported by applications such as LinkedIn and Facebook, has brought social networking into mainstream learning. Recall that it is estimated that 80 percent of learning actually occurs on the job—commonly referred to as informal learning. We know that informal learning is highly dependent on the connection (social networking) of individuals. The expansion of virtual teams, global integration, and the increase in the span of control for managers challenges the opportunity for employees and leaders to collaborate and learn together.
A number of organizations have found that absent the ability for people to connect face-to-face, employees are defaulting to the use of social networking tools to connect with, and learn from, each other. Several years ago, a major global company conducted research to ascertain how many of their employees were users of Facebook. What this company found shocked them. Approximately 47,000 of their employees had active Facebook accounts, and they found a good number of those employees were leveraging Facebook to actually aid them in doing their jobs! This finding prompted the company to seek social networking capabilities in an application they could run behind their corporate firewall. More and more frequently, enterprises are taking similar steps to ensure their employees have access to social networking capabilities that will support them in the performance of their job.
By now you might be wondering, “Higgins, this is interesting, but what does it have to do with LSO?”
Well, let me ask you a question: As you seek market-leading providers, how much time are you investing in understanding your provider’s capability to support informal learning? More specifically, how do they support your ability to bring social networking capability and tools to your employees? Here’s the reason I ask you to ponder the question. I suspect many of you place a great deal of focus on core and formal learning services when you contract with your providers. You spend a great deal of time trying to understand their content development capabilities, their ability to manage the deployment of content, and in the case of live, instructor-led programs, their ability to source, assign, and manage instructors. Yet, if we agree that most learning occurs on the job (informal learning), then how are you going about understanding the innovative capabilities of your provider to support your learners where they really learn?
Fortunately for buyers of LSO services, many of the more well established providers, such as Learning Management System (LMS) providers, are integrating social networking capabilities within their service capabilities. Indeed, I’ve heard the phrase “social learning” coined to describe this integration of learning and social networking. You might want to check out what providers such as Saba and are doing to support their clients in this new approach to supporting informal learning. It is indeed fascinating! I am also observing a new breed of provider emerging in our market.
Recall I mentioned that companies are seeking to place Facebook-like capabilities behind their firewalls? I encourage you to take a look at the capabilities being brought to the market by NewsGator. This is a provider that is working across a range of companies to help their customers better connect with their employees. The buyers of NewsGator’s capabilities are supporting the informal learning needs of their employees, and they are creating communities of practice to link employees around work activities. To be sure, other providers are emerging in this space and as innovation in social networking/learning continues, you will have a number of suppliers to consider.
This is an exciting age for corporate learning, and in the coming months we’ll continue our focus on innovation in the field.


Tags: Consultants & Advisors, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

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