Developing a Social Learning Strategy? Start With a Problem to Fix, Not the Strategy

So you've decided you need to introduce social media into your learning strategy. You do the research, find technology solutions, and present a plan to your boss. You're engaged, enthusiastic, and energized about this project, and you know it will transform how you enable learning in your organization. After your pitch, you get a blank stare or a response that tells you that your boss doesn't get it. Want to know why you bombed? You started with strategy.

Counter to what most of us have learned in our careers, the last thing you want to do is start with strategy. If you want to convince leadership to adopt new initiatives in social learning and collaboration technologies, start by finding a problem and fixing it. By doing this, you establish credibility and a proven case that you can sell to leadership.

Find a problem to fix

On November 4, I attended DEVLearn10, a leading conference and expo for e-learning professionals. I sat in on a session titled "Experiencing Social Media on Learning: A True Story." The title alone had me hooked because I expected to hear a real-world account of someone actually putting social media in learning into practice.

Alena Han, the Vice President of Learning Management at Operitel Corporation, told her story of implementing social media technologies to support a client conference. She told the audience that the best way to get buy-in for social media in learning is to start with a problem and fix it. Don't start with a strategy, she told the audience. It was so simple, elegant, and powerful a statement that I posted this tweet during the session.

 

All we ever hear is how we need to get buy-in from the top before any of our initiatives can be successful. Taking this advice, we plan indepth plans and strategies designed to convince our leaders to invest in something new before we ever prove that it will work. We need to turn this thinking upside down and begin with a problem to fix. For example, let's say you are not sure people are applying what they learned in your training classes back on the job. You want to create reinforcement programs to improve the transfer of training to the job, but you cannot seem to get people to attend the sessions.

Instead of developing a strategy to implement social media tools to help improve training transfer, do an experiment in your next training session, by building an after-training reinforcement component using a tool like Yammer or Socialcast. Measure how learners applied what they learned about determine how to reinformcement worked. If your experiment shows measureable improvements in performance, share the results with leadership and tell them you can do it again if the initiative was rolled out on a wider scale. It is likely that leadership will respond well to this, if the results are good.

The best way to to lead new initiatives is to find a problem, experiment with solutions, and demonstrate a fix. Strategy is important, in fact vital. But whatever you do, don't start with strategy. Start with a problem and fix it.

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Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at well-known companies like E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable. In his leadership role at Knowland University, Bill focuses on helping clients get the most out of the products and services provided through a combination of guided and self-paced learning opportunities. He believes all learning experiences should be grounded in real-world application and designed to improve sales performance.

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