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Monday, November 30, 2009

Selling Learning Communities – Not Everyone Will or Wants a Group Hug

Compressed Picture of Jack M for email Jack Merklein from Xerox Global Services did a really great presentation at LearnTrends 2009 entitled - Common tools for Diverse Communities at Xerox Global Services.  You can find the LearnTrends 2009 Recording including Jack’s presentation.  A few follow-up thoughts.

Jack is responsible for the development, care and tools for learning communities and knowledge sharing initiatives.  In practice this means a lot of different things and across many different learning communities.  A few of the different communities he discussed:

  • New Hire
  • Sustainability
  • CxO

While the title centered on tools for communities and knowledge sharing and he provided a list of tools …

Existing Tools:

  • Outlook email distribution lists
  • Live Meeting with Brain Shark
  • DocuShare
  • Calendars
  • Wiki
  • Instant messaging
  • Links to training catalog

Emerging Tools:

  • Podcasts
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn (Intra-community)
  • Training videos on YouTube
  • A Second Life Island available

Most of the discussion didn’t focus on tools.  Instead, it focused on Jack’s no nonsense ability to make communities an effect part of learning.  And particularly, I got to spend time with Jack on how he sells learning communities in the organization.

Jack does an amazing job of finding out what people in the community really care about and need.  For one community, they meet every two weeks and a lot of times the topic comes a week before and he pulls in subject matter experts to present.  He ensures that the facilitation then focuses on the key issue that the people in the room cares about.  I’ve seen exactly this kind of thing work really well before.  But I’ve not seen it done as systematically as how Jack has designed it.

Jack was a quote machine during the session, here are some of the phrases he used:

  • "Publication warden"
  • "Billable always wins"
  • “CoP Warden”
  • “not everyone will or wants a group hug”
  • "young and stupid"
  • “Training is a resignation”
  • "Capture it damn it - put on community site" (responsibility of all members of a community to make knowledge explicit)
  • “Amenable to bribing everyone”

Part of the beauty of Jack and his style is that the language he uses is plain, business oriented.  Everything sounds obvious when he says it.  In a way, he didn’t feel like he was ever “selling learning communities”.  That was my language.  Instead, he asked people if they wanted help with a particular problem.  If he could bring together experts and expertise and facilitate a conversation on X and then help capture that – is that something you’d want.  Absolutely!  In fact, we all want that all the time! 

In a later session, we discussed the fact that one of the big barriers in many organizations is that they don’t “have a Jack.”  Selling learning communities or social learning or anything other than formal learning / training is hard because we find ourselves using the language of learning or learning community. 

As an example of needing a Jack, the question - How do you avoid the issue … “I’m too busy” … Jack’s answer is basically, if the value is high enough, you are focused on problems they are faced with right now, they will come.  His example is a community that meets on Friday afternoons.  Yikes.  I’d never plan something then.  But he gets amazing participation because the topics focus on hard hitting topics where people need help right now.  Senior leaders participate because they see the value.  And participation is rewarded through recognition … and sometimes bribed.

Now let’s all be a Jack!


Tim Tynan said...

One of the questions generated during the Diverse Communities at Xerox Global presentation at the LearnTrends conference is: When a learner or worker has a problem, where do they go first? This is an awesome and important question; it addresses the most overlooked component of learning--what I call the First Curriculum.

The First Curriculum is just that: the place a learner goes first, either intentionally or in the process of living and picks up the bits of knowledge along the way. It is where most of the preconceptions (or misconceptions) are developed and is where good educators need to scaffold from. The First Curriculum is often media or schema, which develop somewhat rigid bits of knowledge , but peer groups is where we get the most rigid information or misinformation. It is where a learner will go first with a question and from which an answer is going to stick and have a longer life.

Imagine the worker in any field who forgets the protocol for a particular process. Like an administrative assistant who forgets how to use the new copier or coffee pot. Or a sales exec who is confused about new software. The correct information is available in many places: the website, the manual, even a little bulleted 'how-to' on the wall, but the first place he/she will turn is to a friendly co-worker. We all do it. This is where we should go.

A peer learning community is going to be effective if the outcome is clear and the process is sound. Making a peer learning community effective online or offline means:
1. creating a sense of shared identity. For example, "We are all here today as the newest members of this great company. We have a lot more in common than we think and lets take a moment to get to know each other."
2. There is no individual goal, only a shared goal. "Our purpose in coming together is to ensure we all have the same understanding of this great building and all its safety features. If there is an emergency, we all will act as one."
3. The process, including the technical process, needs to be almost second-nature. "To get familiar with the online forum, lets play a quick trivia game and a sports game. I'll post the questions. They are: What is the best movie ever made for new couples on a date? And Who is the best black athlete that did the most for future black athletes? We will use these no-cost trivia QnA to get a good feel for the forum and how it works. Everyone needs to post at least one answer and respond to at least two posts."

Learning Communities are communities FIRST. So, building community is essential for them to be effective. Good leaders and good trainers will do this without thinking about it. But its worth reminding ourselves in the education field how important peer-learning is in the First Curriculum.

Tony Karrer said...

@Tim - fantastic comment.

It almost seems like a peer community might not be a good first curriculum?

Anonymous said...

I think Selling Learning Communities in regards to what Jack is doing and how he is doing is good. Jack leaves the discussion open for his employees concerning whatever problems the organization might have and make everyone in the organization participant. From the reading the blog I think the coolest thing are the emerging tools, which are podcasts, Training videos Youtube, Linkedin (intra-community), and Second Life Island available. I think these emerging tools will be great for organization because it’s a form of eLearning but the employees will be on the same level on knowing what is going on within the organization.