How to Reduce the Social "Risks" in Online Training

Written by Gauri Reyes | Aug 25, 2014 4:08:29 PM

Social learning—or learning with and from others (with or without social media technology)—is a force to be reckoned with. But how do you entice your online training learners to participate to take learning to a higher level, and make it participatory and social?

Re-reading the book, The New Social Learning, I came across an interesting sentence:

“Social tools leave a digital audit trail, documenting our learning journey—often an unfolding story—and leaving a path for others to follow.”

Personally interesting phrases in that sentence, and why, are:

"Learning journey"—For learning practitioners, the term has beautiful connotations. Searching Wikipedia, I didn’t find it defined (there, at least) as an official term in adult learning theory. But an Internet search of the term brings up several sites related to early childhood education. (Neurons firing in my head with positive associations between early childhood education and adult learning theories…)

"Digital audit trail"—(Those neurons that were firing above have set alarm bells a-clanging in my head now.) I am a private person. The thought of my successes and failures in my personal learning journey being documenting for all to see (and support or bash digitally) is positively vulnerability-exposing. No wonder participation in social media in general is low, whether to you subscribe to the 90-9-1 rule, the 70-20-10 rule, or something else.

"Leaving a path for others to follow"—Helping the world by facilitating and contributing to action-oriented learning experiences is my cause. If I can leave a path for others to follow that helps them learn, why should I be afraid of what missteps in my digital audit trail says of me if the ultimate conclusion is helpful?

Here’s my take on applying the thoughts above toward creating online training content that inspires action and incorporates social learning rather than pure pedantics.

Building Trust with Your Learners

Platitude or not, I still find the following apt: Trust takes a long time (maybe even a lifetime) to build, and a moment to destroy. Rebuilding trust after having had it once broken, can perhaps take even longer than it took to build in the first place.

If you want people to socialize before, during, and after your online training course, create a safe learning environment. That includes:

Absolutely no bullying allowed. Bullying in schools is a clear social issue, as is cyber bullying and workplace bullying. Bullying can be blatant or subtle. For example, passive-aggressive behavior, such as ignoring a co-worker’s email, can constitute workplace bullying. Educate yourself on bullying behaviors in the workplace, in social media, in online training, and in life. Do not tolerate it in the social learning experiences in your online training, or anywhere else.

Anonymity has its downfalls. Worried about your digital audit trail? Commenting and participating anonymously may seem like the answer. But, anonymity can enable abuse. Social media (a part of social learning) can be self-policing if participants are required to share their name and personal information. Don’t worry so much about the paths your digital audit trail may take, and think more about how your learning journey may help others learn.

Create a basic element of trust in your company culture. If learning stakeholders and company leaders actively participate in online training, it could go a long way towards creating a culture of trust. Training doesn’t always need to be strictly segregated into “training for individual contributors”, “training for high potentials”, “training for managers”, and other such exclusive silos. If you are incorporating social learning into your new hire training, why shouldn’t the CEO contribute to the conversation? Imagine the possibilities engendered by full social contributions in online training from people of all levels in an organization.

Ignore the naysayers. The “experts” like to make the “newbies” feel inferior. It’s a self-protection mechanism that is understandable, but completely unnecessary. Ignore them. Don’t let the naysayers stop you from contributing to social learning.

Encourage participation. When social learning participation is not at the levels you hoped, be assertive and ask for contributions to the learning conversation. Invite experts to contribute directly, ask thought-provoking questions rather than simple knowledge quizzing, issue learning challenges and friendly competitions, or put an unsolved business need out there for comment.

Facilitation trumps instruction. “Training often gives people solutions to problems already solved. Collaboration addresses challenges no one has overcome before,” write Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner in The New Social Training. Whenever possible, when incorporating social learning into your training, go for facilitation techniques (enabling conversations, collaboration, and learning) over instructing (telling learners what they should learn).

Take risks, put yourself out there. Share (even if you’re not a social person). The beauty of social learning is that you don’t need to physically be with other people to participate in social learning.

When you create, or take, your next online training course, how will you participate and take your learning to the next level?

Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She has now added to her digital audit trail the admission that she is wary of her own digit audit trail and what it says about her, but hope that the admission encourages others to participate in the conversation. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.