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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Network Skills

I personally believe that one of the areas where learning professionals need the most help is how communities and networks impact learning and building individual and facilitation skills around these:

  • Knowing how to individually leverage Network Skills and Communities to help with work and learning tasks
  • Community and Network Facilitation Skills to help others learn and work using networks and communities

In my post Networks and Learning Communities, I looked a bit at this topic.  But, I by no means consider myself an expert and find that I spend quite a bit of my time building my network skills so I can do this more effectively.  

So I was super excited when I saw that Nancy White, who helps me learn about all things communities and networks, posted a response to the New Skills for Learning Professionals Big Question for July 2009.   When I looked at her first post, I was actually disappointed because it wasn't really about networks and communities.  My disappointment was purely my own making.  But Nancy came through and posted her follow-up pieces and especially Part 3 and the Online Facilitation Wiki that was a great launch point for me to read a bit more.  I also used both the Communities and Networks Connection and Work Literacy to source additional reading.

So, starting with her post I've spent the past few hours going through a lot of material, processing the information and writing this post.

I've come to few realizations from the process.

My Focus is on Networks

There were great definitions of communities, groups, networks, facilitation, management, etc.  I realized during the process that I mostly focus on networks and less on actual communities.

  • Community - a group of people with bounded membership who have some shared, congruent interest and interact with each other over time.
  • Network - a constellation of individuals associated via fuzzy, unbounded membership and overlapping … not fully congruent … interests

For me a couple of examples:

  • LA CTO Forum – definitely a community.  Meet once a month.  Invite only.  Learning and peer support.  Somewhat a classic community or practice.
  • Learn Trends – not quite sure this fits Nancy's definition of a community – it looks like one, but my sense is that it's somewhere in between a community and a network

Where I spend most of my time is with the blogging network and various other networks.  In some ways, Learn Trends is just part of this network allowing us to meet at various points and act a bit more community like.  We share our interest of learning.  There's quite a lot of discussion/debate whether blogs act as networks or community.  Probably don't want to kick that hornet's nest.

And I'm not alone in my questioning / focus.  Take a look at: How relevant are communities of practice in a network age?

My Community Facilitation Skills are Hopeless

One thing I started to realize is that good community facilitation takes time, desire, skills and appropriate mentality.  For the LA CTO Forum, I have a couple of cohorts who help to organize things, but there's quite a bit more we could be doing.

For Learn Trends, Jay, George and myself do not spend time on facilitation.  We should.  But we don't.  In fact, this is probably a great opportunity for someone to learn about facilitating an online community. 

Does anyone want to jump in who does have time, desire, skills (or willing to learn) and appropriate mentality to help facilitate the Learn Trends community?

I found this great piece - The Art of Hosting Good Conversations Online – I will go back to refer to this quite a bit to remind me of all the kinds of things I should be thinking about.

But frankly, I will have to grow these skills over time based on specific situations.  It doesn't look good for me to become a really adept, willing community facilitator.

Network Weaving

I don't like the term, Network Weaving, but that's what Nancy calls it – although I don't think she likes it either. 

In the eLearning space there's this very complex network of people, organizations, content that forms this amorphous thing where we all play.  The combination of blogs, sites like LinkedIn, various discussion groups, etc. weave us all together in a weird way.  We still have the core human desire to connect.  Many of us enjoy learning and discussion around these topics.  But we really don't act like a community.  And people vary widely in their connectedness and activity level.

What I found on Network Weaving left me wanting something quite different … I would run into materials that talk about how you analyze and map networks.  Such as the advice:

Improved connectivity starts with a map – knowing the complex human system you are embedded in.

I'm sorry, but I'm simply are not going to try to really map out this incredibly complex network.  Of course, the folks who are writing this are networking mapping folks who come at it from that perspective.  I think it would be a really interesting picture and there's real value in it.  But it's only a starting point if it's relatively easy to do.

Instead, what I'm asking about is:

  • What could I do to get more from the network? 
  • What can I do to help other people get more from the network?

And when I say "Get more" … I think about the ability to tap a larger network of folks, get to them for help more quickly and easily, learn from them faster, more easily establish conversations, draw them together into ad hoc groups as needed, and ??? a lot of things I don't know even what they are yet ???

In fact, some of the nuggets I found helped me think a bit about this knowledge gap.  In What Networks Do?, they point to filter, amplify, convene among other things.  With Browse My Stuff I should have thought of social filtering a lot sooner. 

I'm sure I'm missing a lot.

And, I'm probably thinking about this more than most.

Which leaves me with …

Where's the help for Network Skills?

Nancy talks about how community facilitation skills sound a lot like network skills.  After reading a lot of the material, I'm not convinced that the mapping is that easy and I certainly don't get the path from one set to specific actions in the other. 

So, I know some of the materials I've produced such as the LinkedIn Guide for Knowledge Workers.  

The ironic thing is that like network themselves – how to kinds of information around network skills seems to be missing.  Most of it is unfortunately more tool centric.

So where's the help for building my / our / their Network Skills?

1 comment:

Sahana Chattopadhyay said...

As always, I learn a lot from your posts and they inspire me to read and find out about a topic in greater depth.
While my understanding is still very rudimentary, I was carrying out a similar activity of reading the responses to this month's Big Question and trying to synthesize some of the main points. My response is here: New Skills for Learning Professionals