Category Archives: Collaborative Learning

Social Sensitivity Leads to High Performing Groups

Here is a transcript from a recent 60 second science report from the Scientific American:

Groups with Good Social Skills Outperform the Merely Smart

Groups of two to five members who interacted with each other best outperformed groups whose individual members had higher intelligence scores.

Karen Hopkin reports:

If Alice is smart, and Bob’s even smarter, working together they would A) be twice as smart, B) be half as smart or C) form a task force and get nothing done. According to new research, the answer is none of the above. It would actually depend on how well they get along.

What makes a group good at what it does? A team of scientists put their collective heads together and divided volunteers into groups of two to five. And they asked these groups to perform a variety of tasks, from brainstorming answers to questions like “What can you do with a brick?” to team typing blocks of complicated text.

What the researchers found is that the intelligence of individual group members was not a good predictor of how well the group as a whole performed. The teams that did best rated high in social sensitivity: their members interacted well, took turns speaking and included more females than groups that did poorly. The study is in the journal Science. [Anita Woolley et al., citation to come.]

So if you’re looking for a recipe for group smart, don’t automatically reach for the biggest brains. Try adding some heart. And at least one person who knows what to do with a brick.

Thank you Frédéric Domo for sharing this via Linked In.

Online Communites are Changing my World

Should online communities have a better reputation?  Should you join and participate in one more online community?  Are online communities profoundly changing the world for the better?

Here are four examples of how online communities have changed my world:

  • I was organizing a conference in London UK for a client.  I researched the internet (blogs, discussion threads, social networks, etc.) and found 2 very interesting speakers to participate.  One was from Finland and one was from the USA.   The first time we met in person was at the conference.  We continue to network and collaborate to this day.  One of the speakers connected me to an incredible career opportunity.
  • I created a post on my blog and promoted it via Twitter and some of my Linked In groups.  I received an invitation on Linked In from someone who wanted to join my network.  I accepted the invitation after reviewing his profile, and confirming a mutual interest and benefit.  This contact invited me to help create a new social learning website for a professional community, introduced me to some other people who included me in a conference event, and provided a professional recommendation for me on my Linked In profile.  I recently arranged a 6 month contractor role in the home country of this contact and we are planning to meet in person for the first time.  He has a yacht and wants to take me sailing.
  • I targeted a few companies where I would like to work.  I used Linked In to identify people in leadership roles in these companies and introduced myself.  Two of the leaders willingly spoke with me to explore opportunities to work together.  I did not go through the traditional RFP process and spent very time and money on business development and marketing activities.  I am presently discussing a 6 to 12 month contractor role.
  • I participated heavily on the blog of a well known thought leaders in my field.  I contributed to discussion threads, commented and rated contributions made by others, and helped connect some of the other community members to each other and to “content.”  One of the leaders reached out to me.  This leader acted as a coach and mentor, and a reference.  Eventually this leader hired me for a contractor role.  The first time we met in person was just 30 minutes before meeting our client for the first time.  We are now talking about a longer term partnership.

How have online communities changed your world?

The authors of “the 2020 workplace” make the following predictions for online communities:

  • You will be hired and promoted based upon your reputational capital (for example – successfully turning professional communities into increased business value for the organization and creating a stronger personal brand).
  • Recruiting will start on social networking sites (at least 80 percent of recruiters will tap into online communities as the first stop to recruiting global talent).
  • Corporate social networks will flourish and grow inside companies (corporate participation in social networks may be as critical in the 2020 workplace as managing cash flow).

I was inspired to write this post after receiving a link from one of my network members (Kim Burt) to Richard Millington’s blog post where he shared examples of how online communities have changed his world.

Creating Safer Peer-to-Peer Learning Experiences

As a learning and development professional you are probably always on the lookout for ways to create more value – particularly for any ideas that don’t take a lifetime to develop and cost the Earth! But not all learning solutions of value need come at a great investment.

The most powerful – and least leveraged – learning solution is peer-to-peer learning. Workers learn more from mentors, coaches, peers, and members of their professional networks than from any other source. Recent advancements in social media make it possible for you to take peer-to-peer learning to a new level with a surprisingly low commitment in terms of time and money.

Is it safe to use social media for learning?

Is peer-to-peer learning safe? A major concern or fear expressed by business leaders is that widespread and facilitated peer-to-peer learning will create an unusable mess of low-quality and inaccurate exchanges and content. Business leaders typically demand that all training content must be reviewed, approved, or tested before it is published and delivered. No wonder employees often receive too little training, too late.

Are learning professionals suffering from a “one size fits all” content quality policy? What sort of training situations must have high quality content in the first instance? The answer is any situation where there is no room for error. We expect and need our surgeons, nuclear power engineers, and police officers to go through high quality learning programs. Otherwise we might see a rise in wrongful death or injury, legal battles, and other severe consequences. The point is that only some training situations require high quality content in the first instance.

Is the concern about content quality in a peer-to-peer learning system legitimate? What are the chances that some employees will pick up and follow an incorrect approach suggested by another employee, and that this would result in a wrongful death or injury, or a legal battle?

Guess what? This already happens today when employees provide inferior advice and suggest inaccurate methods of working, through e-mail correspondence, phone calls, and face-to-face discussions. There are no controls in place to ensure that employees share only high quality, approved, and relevant content in an e-mail, phone call, or face-to-face discussion. The good news is that social media will bring many discussions and content exchanges, good and bad, to the surface where the information in those exchanges can be seen and appropriately addressed. Good social media policies will help contain corporate risk and liabilities. And an appropriate mix of content quality control points will help identify and remove low quality content. Tools and methods are available to help create safer peer-to-peer learning solutions.

Want to know more?  Read my article on Learning Solutions Magazine: learning solutions

Selecting the Best Targets for Social Learning

Will we make social (or peer-to-peer) learning worse by creating incentives for community managers and members that are based exclusively on activity targets such as the following?

  • number of downloads, views and hits
  • average ratings
  • number of contributions (or uploads)

There is a systematic relationship among purpose, methods, and measures.  Imposing only activity targets (or measures) into the social learning ecosystem will create a de-facto purpose and constrain the methods of learning.  Such contingent metrics (i.e., if you do this you will get that) will shift the focus from the higher purpose of social learning (i.e., how do I do learn more and perform better and help others to learn more and perform better?) to surpassing previously achieved activity metrics (i.e., how do I survive in a social learning system?).

An obsession on activity targets will always increase costs and create more waste.  Such a focus is detrimental to content quality, community motivation, and community attitudes.   The community will focus on the incentives from achieving activity targets (or the rewards) rather than on improving how they learn, collaborate, and network.

Imposed activity targets will manipulate and often destroy collaboration, blindly promote a single and arbitrary purpose, deter risk taking, and reduce creativity.

A better approach is to derive targets from the purpose of the “learning ecosystem” according to the point of view of community managers and members.  Put the targets (or measures) in the hands of the people managing and participating in the learning ecosystem and you will see increased creativity and innovation, and a step change in the level of success.

Remember to also think about how to intrinsically motivate the community.  Permit community autonomy, create a shared sense of community purpose, and create confidence in the role of the community towards helping people to achieve mastery and success.

I recently viewed a recorded lecture from John Seddon that has greatly influenced my thinking about the role of activity targets in a social learning ecosystem.  The lecture is one hour in duration and it is focused on the organizational system rather than on a social learning system.  I believe many of John’s observations and findings relate to the social learning ecosystem and I encourage you to view his video.

John Seddon Video