Using ECM and ESN for Informal and Social Learning
Social learning is not new – don’t we all learn through social interactions even if it is as simple as talking to someone at the water cooler? What is new are enabling technologies that can supplement online interactions in a variety of ways beyond the decades old concept of dial-up bulletin boards. While not specifically labeled or designed as a social learning platform, virtually every ESN interaction has learning value. Likewise, Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Informal Learning software products also include overlapping content management and knowledge sharing found within an ECM. Stand-alone social and informal learning software products are relatively recent. However, not every organization can afford the complexity or have the desire to use one of these products independently from the ECM/ESN. Organizations considering consolidating technology solutions, scaling their ECM or adding ESN should create an overall strategy around the various types of knowledge sharing already in place or being considered. Organizations should also review the increasing functionality of ECM/ESN such as tight integration of socialization and content, the need for organizational access to external information sources, information governance, and user recognition.
Advantages of combining ECM and ESN for learning
Given that most of the non-structured information of an organization is in their ECM, it is most often the best starting point for integrating, capturing, and rewarding the informal and social learning activity of users. This can include content from within the ECM/ESN, collaboration, social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter, and external information sharing from YouTube or Dropbox. Organizations that consider a holistic approach by combining and integrating the various ways of sharing organizational knowledge using their ECM/ESN have distinct advantages. These includes more empowered employers, aligned technologies, optimized business processes, increased visibility as a progressive organization, as well the ability to accommodate employees who already use social networking tools. Each of these advantages can be correlated against organizational objectives.
But… We come back to the fact that ECM and ESN were not designed as learning systems
Yes, it is true that both ECM and ESN were not designed as learning systems. However, among other attributes, their infrastructure is universal across the organization. Information governance, crowd sourcing of content, ease of information organization, common user interfaces, ability to share, peer review, and workflow are just a few of the other benefits. Multiple steps can be taken toward building awareness and increasing learning value and use within ECM and ESN. For instance, consider a new product introduction and related learning materials. This could be as simple as a SharePoint list that has a collection of corporate PowerPoint presentations, soft copy brochures, links to web-based external competitive information, a public-facing YouTube product demo, and an ongoing collaboration in Yammer. The business value or effectively the learning impact of an ECM/ESN can be measured in qualitative and quantitative ways using metrics such as trends in sales before and after social or informal learning, achieving organizational objectives and utilizing Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).
Many organizations have successfully embraced making use of their existing ECM/ESN investment for informal and social learning. For instance:
• TELUS, a national telecommunications company in Canada, is using SharePoint and Yammer in their Learning 2.0 initiative where informal learning includes webcasts, books, mentoring, coaching, and job rotations, while social learning comprises videos, blogs, microblogs, and wikis.
• Nationwide is one of the largest insurance and financial services companies in the world. To encourage a culture of collaboration, Nationwide is using Microsoft SharePoint and Yammer for a training community.
• Tonkin & Taylor, a New Zealand based international environmental and engineering consultancy, used SharePoint to create an informal learning process called Knowledge Shots that allowed anyone to contribute, providing collaboration across the business and reducing the loss of institutional knowledge.
Embracing and expanding the capabilities of ECM/ESN
Most ECM and ESN systems provides support for complementary third party add-ons. A more significant step for yielding even higher returns from the investment in ECM/ESN is to utilize an add-on that bumps the ECM/ESN up to a full informal and social learning solution. This combines the benefits of the ECM/ESN knowledge sharing, and at the same time provides additional metrics, validation possibilities, accountability, and user recognition. The metrics the organization collects can determine if goals are being met and highlight users who are good at contributing, sharing, or consuming. Users benefit by being recognized and rewarded with techniques such as badging.
Jerry Goguen is the CEO of Intralearn Software