Tag Archives: social 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.


It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a SuperLearner!

Over the past decade the story of enterprise learning has increasingly been dominated by the rise of the “learning” part and a de-emphasis of the “enterprise” part.   It’s kind of an adaptation of a famous line from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address:  Ask not what training experiences your organization can give to you, but what learning and knowledge you can give to your organization.

But the move to bottom-up learning is no easy evolution.  It’s not an either/or question.  Increasingly, conversations among learning executives are dominated by the discussion of balance: when does a company need to tell and when does it need to listen?

Fortunately, there is a certain type of learner that eases these challenges, emerging spontaneously within the workforces of many companies: they’re what we call “superlearners.”  Unusually self-reliant and media savvy, superlearners are leading the way for their companies by exemplifying the attributes, learning behaviors and collaboration-based activities needed to win in this current era of never-ending change.

But superlearners present some challenges of their own companies.  They’re more apt to become frustrated and leave the organization.  They challenge accepted ways of doing things; they have no great love for authority and may flout the rules.  Yet harnessing their energy and the manner in which they multiply the availability and value of knowledge across the enterprise will increasingly become a task of learning and HR executives.

Read more: CLO Magazine Article about SuperLearners

5 Steps to Enterprise Social Learning

Step 1 – Strategize: There is no one “right” Social Learning strategy, and there is no one right way to develop one.  The approach to strategy development depends on several factors such as your organizational structure, existing learning programs, organizational learning culture, and the value executives place on informal learning.  The most powerful approach to strategy development, from my experience, is to develop one that is business-driven – aligned to larger company goals like increased innovation, increased collaboration across traditional organizational silos, reducing reliance on the aging workforce, compressing time to performance, etc.  The strategy should paint a compelling picture of the future state of Social  Learning, clearly articulate the business case for change, and outline the roadmap for how you will get from “here” to “there” (including what must change, stop, and continue).


  • A Social Learning strategy and approach document.
  • User Stories for selected networking, collaboration, knowledge management, and learning technologies to help stakeholders imagine and see “how it looks in action.”
  • A list of expected challenges, uncertainties and risks with a supporting mitigation plan.
  • Defined methods and tools to monitor and evaluate Social Learning behaviors and benefits realised.
  • An end-to-end High Level Approach and Process Definition for “Implementation and Support.”
  • Benchmarking data (in order to validate the overall strategy and approach).
  • A list of critical success factors and key planning assumptions.

Step 2 – Implement: Select, procure, install, develop, prepare and test the ‘Social Learning’ eco-system’ (technology, sites, policies, procedures, governance, and team members).  I advise you to conduct a proof of concept and pilot test before committing to an enterprise wide implementation.


  • Mobilize a Social Learning eco-system (technologies, governance, policies, procedures, services, and roles).  Initially you might consider focusing on the most important communities of practices or workforce roles – where the business has the greatest need.   

One type of community that merits organizational hosting and orchestration is referred to as “Horizontal.”  Such communities are comprised of people who work according to end-to-end methods, on methods that cut across regions, departments or business units, and methods that require a high degree of collaboration and consistency.  Examples are supply chain management and financial management.

Another type of community that merits organizational hosting and orchestration is referred to as “Vertical.”  Such communities are comprised of people who share a common job role focus and who tend to work within the same department or business unit.  Examples are front line managers or sales representatives.

  • Assign at least one community manager to each Horizontal or Vertical community of practice.  This role is critical to the success of the Social Learning system.  The people in this role will provide oversight on usage and policy compliance, manage content, manage community engagement, track and report trends-needs-benefits-impact, and help resolve issues.
  • Provide basic training for “users” on the administration and use of each selected platform or technology.
  • Implement a Change Management plan to increase awareness, understanding, commitment, and buy in.  See step 4.

Step 3 –  Source and Develop Content: Develop, source, and repurpose “content”, and place it on the Social Learning system prior to the go live date.


  • Select and develop 5 and 10 subject matter experts (SME), from each of the targeted communities of practice, to create content, and to comment or rate content shared by other community members.
  • One of the first duties of the selected SMEs is to front load the Social Learning system with “content”.  The content will be presented in the form of blogs, wikis, discussion threads, podcasts, documents, etc.  The “targeted users” will need a reason to use the new Social Learning system on day one.  Front loading the system with “content” will help create some attraction and persuade many of the “targeted users” to log on – and then come back again and again. 
  • The SMEs will also need some training and orientation in order to perform other duties such as monitoring discussion forums, connecting people to people and people to content, and promoting “good” content via ratings, adding the content to their favourite’s page, and providing special mention of the content on their blogs.
  • Populate the home page with engaging information:

Latest news about the community and individual members.

What’s new?  Recent contributions made by community members.

What’s popular?  Show members what other members are viewing and doing.

Who’s new? Showcasing members who have recently joined.

Who’s popular? Featured members, member interviews, member rankings and other techniques that show members who are most popular and favored.

Notifications highlighted in the top bar to show users when community members have commented on their posts.

Step 4 – Engage the Business: Engage with the business to build stakeholder sponsorship, leadership support, and to understand the cultural challenges and work environment realities.  This will help you to drive the desired ‘Social Learning’ behaviors and outcomes.


  • Stakeholder Map for each of the targeted communities of practice and workforce roles, as well as for IT, HR, Communications, and Knowledge Management teams.
  • Documented concerns, uncertainties and expectations of stakeholders and community members, and an associated communication plan and engagement approach.
  • Creation and delivery of communications and engagement deliverables and activities (including the change management plan from step 3).
  • Service description for supporting the targeted communities of practice or workforce roles, and a dedicated point-of-contact for each.

Step 5 – Monitor and Evaluate: Monitor use of technology, networking patterns, knowledge sharing and consumption, and discussion threads in order to evaluate the business case, identify best practices, unblock challenges, and improve the ‘Social Learning” approach and outcomes.


  • A list of required ‘data’, proposed ‘data’ sources, developed tools, and a data collection plan with clear timeframes and responsibilities.
  • Report(s) of key findings, conclusions, results, and recommendations.
  •  Community participation profile optimization progress report.  Measure the percentage of community members that are acting as a Consumer, Creator, Connector, Carrier, or Caretaker and compare this result to the target profile.  In addition, assess how well community members are fulfilling each of the 5 aforementioned roles (they might need additional training, tools, guidance, or motivation).

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

Learning to Change – Changing to Learn

Watch this video on YouTube from May 2008 because the messages are still spot on.  Although the video focuses on the educational system (Kindergarten through 12th grade), several of the messages are relevant to corporations and professional enterprises.

There are a few concepts and ideas presented in this video that really grabbed my attention – such as:

  • Learners are effective content developers and ommunicators
  • Learning is about relationships, communites, connectivity, and access
  • Learners are living in a “nearly now” space where they no longer have to wait ages to get the content and discussion they need today – and where they have more opportunities to reflect, research, and test new ideas without the same pressures experienced in traditional learning systems
  • It’s about providing the best quality trainers and experts to learners no matter where they live and work
  • We have a classroom system when we could have a community system
  • The vending machine approach to training will not prepare people for the workplace
  • Learning is not about memorizing facts – it is about being able to find, validate, synthesize, leverage, communicate, collaborate, and problem solve with the facts, ideas, and concepts

What are your thoughts?

Key Social Learning Roles

Premise:  Learning communities or networks thrive because its members possess certain skills and capabilities.  Community members should be able to perform one or more of the five roles described in the table that follows.

The road ahead:  I am presently developing detailed role descriptions, community guidelines, role assessment tools, and the identification of appropriate learning products and offerings.  Please share your comments and ideas to guide me through my next steps.

Role Role Description Key Skills and Capabilities
Consumer The person who looks for and uses content, information, and social connections.
  • Self Directed: Able to identify and pursue learning needs without too much formal structure and rigor.
  • Media Savvy:  Able to use social media in a natural way.
  • Insightful: Able to filter meaningful information, patterns, and commonalities from multiple streams of data.
  • Group Oriented: Able to build collaborative networks and leverage the collective intelligence.
Creator The person who creates, shares, improves, and discusses content and information.
  • Attentive: Able to respond to requests and to reach out to others in a meaningful and timely manner.
  • Designer: Able to format and package ideas and information logically, concisely, and understandably.
  • Researcher: Able to augment and enhance the ideas, stories, and information created and shared by others.
Connector The person who helps others to find the content, information, and people they seek or need.
  • Broker:  Able to persuade others to collaborate.
  • Conductor: Able to simultaneously coordinate with many people.
  • Switched On: Able to understand the political dynamics and cultural values in various communities and networks.
  • Networker: Able to form and sustain networked relationships.
Carrier The person who helps creators to transmit and promote their content and information to others.
  • Communicator:  Able to transmit an idea, story, or information into a variety of viewpoints and perspectives.  
  • Trend Spotter:  Able to notice new and emerging ideas that deserve mass awareness and adoption.
  • Marketer:  Able to select and use media and channels for promoting content and information to a target audience.
Caretaker The person who manages the learning community.
  • Ambassador:  Able to represent the community and portray its goals, purpose, and policies.
  • Advocate: Able to intercede and act as a mediator on behalf of a community or an individual member.
  • Cultivator: Able to put into motion and institutionalize community values, policies, procedures, and practices.