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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Social Learning Tools Should Not be Separate from Enterprise 2.0

With the recent launch of InGenius by SkillSoft, I believe it’s time again to raise a pretty important question:

Where do Social Learning Tools belong?  Should they be coupled with your LMS or other learning-specific tools?  Or should they be separated?  Or ????

My contention (as expressed in LMS and Social Learning) is that most of the vendors are getting this wrong.  Instead of looking at providing tightly coupled Social Learning Tools, they should instead be looking at how their offering can integrate or leverage Enterprise 2.0 tools.  Using David Wilkins diagram:


We are talking about how formal (or informal) can leverage tools that employees will be using outside of the context of learning.  This could be: SharePoint, Yammer, Confluence, etc.

John Ambrose in Social Learning Will Fill Enterprise 2.0’s Empty Drums discussed part of the strategy with InGenius.  It’s finding content that can fill the empty drums of enterprise 2.0 tools when they are first rolled out.  I agree with John that rolling out an empty Wiki or other enterprise 2.0 tool often leads to poor uptake.  So having something that can serve as base content, makes sense.  But I have trouble with two aspects of the InGenius solution:

  1. It ties social interaction to books (and eventually other learning resources).  It’s clearly the Amazon model.
  2. It is local to the InGenius solution.  If an organization has SharePoint and InGenius, my preference would be that social interaction occurs in SharePoint.  InGenius should integrate into SharePoint.  Employees don’t want to have multiple social solutions that do similar things – one for learning and one for working.

As a side note, Skillsoft is trying really hard to get Social Learning to be SEOed to their inGenius product.  I hope that people find Jane Hart’s Handbook or they find resources from eLearning Learning’s Social Learning page.  Trying to extrapolate from a single product like inGenius is going to be hard for most people to understand social learning.

While I’m being critical of Skillsoft’s product as it currently stands, I do applaud their efforts to embrace social learning and add to the conversation.  As an example …

Pam Boiros, a speaker at last year’s LearnTrends conference, recently posted on the The 8 Truths of Social Learning (listed here, but see her post for the details):

  • Cross-generational appeal
  • Discovery of knowledgeable colleagues
  • Shared best practices and capture of tacit knowledge
  • Intuitive to use and easy to roll-out
  • Enhance learning programs 
  • Respect for privacy
  • Ownership of user-generated content
  • Safe, trusted, proven environment

I would add to this:

  • Obvious value
  • Same tools as your work tools

When we talk about Social Software Adoption it follows the formulas described in

Adoption Rate = Perceived Usefulness (PU) * Perceive Ease of Use (PEOU)

So, Pam’s right on ease-of-use (or perceived ease-of-use).  But you have to also have perceived value.  And that’s what I learned from Selling Social Learning – Be a Jack.

I would also claim that perceived value and real value are closely related to the tools being the same tools you use as part of day-to-day work.  A separate set of tools greatly diminishes the on-going value (perceived and actual).


Unknown said...

Hi Tony,

I agree it's counter-productive to view these solution elements out of context from one another.

The larger question has always been what the unifying mechanism should or may be - is it a methodology, a particular technology or a philosophical shift or some combination of the above?

That's what I've tried to address with Dynamic Learning. The presentation link below is an update of what I've been talking about here and elsewhere going back to 1999:

I think it may go a long way towards helping to unify E-learning as a field of practice.

Dawn Poulos said...

Tony, social tools do not belong coupled with an LMS for the simple reason that they will never get adopted at the enterprise level.  Like you said,  employees don't want to have multiple social solutions that do similar things - one for learning and one for working.  If we look beyond our training silos for just a bit, we'll see that that big social implementations are actually taking place outside of the training department. These implementations span multiple business units, functions, geographies, etc., have huge user communities and encompass social learning activities such as employee on-boarding, internal collaboration and expertise location.  Rarely are these initiatives driven by the training organization.  So, it's perplexing to see why training yet again wants to separate itself from the enterprise and use their own set of social tools.  This only serves to marginalize the training department even further.

Dan Pontefract said...

This is why we need to federate the LMS into the 'collaboration' platform, be it Jive, SharePoint, Connections, Confluence, whatever. Once we do this, we can link in the formal content/registrations with the social connection side of the E2.0 platform. I don't want the LMS as the place whereby social interaction takes place - that's just 'lipstick on a pig'.

adegustiann said...

thank.. i'm looking for this information.. great..

gih said...

Yes, I agree with that statement. I downloaded it from google.

Pam Boiros said...

Great post, Tony. I appreciate you adding to this 8 truths discussion with your two additional truths. I felt like it justified a short follow-up post on Learning Re-Imagined here: Sparking the Social Learning Conversation

Tony Karrer said...

Interesting post Pam. Not sure that I think of Books 24x7 as part of your work tools.

jay said...

LMS cannot measure social or informal learning because they are unruly, personalized, non-standard, open-ended, and antithetical to "management."

It's a matter of control. LMS are top-down; informal learning is bottom-up.

Corporations that intend to take advantage of 2.0 aren't going to do it with an LMS.

LMS vendors are claiming they have product-line extensions into the world of informal. Smart corporations are not buying it. Their executives are more interested in getting things done than in increasing their LMS bills.

Jeremy Vest said...

I think that social learning must be 100% integrated. If it's a tab or on another page, than it becomes something that you have to go do. If it's part of the experience than users don't have to think.

I wrote this blog post last year on this matter.

Thomas R. Stone said...

Great post and conversation going here. Jay Cross posted on this, and I commented there, so I figure I'll do the same here.

I consider Amazon's (or any such site's) ratings and comments feature, particularly if users also have user profiles linked, to be an instance of using Web 2.0 / social media tools. And people can learn from such reviews / ratings -- I know I certainly have! And this is not formal learning -- structured, created to match objectives, event-driven, etc. I would argue it is a type of informal learning, and it is generated from the masses, derived from interactions between people, so it is social learning.

That said, it is a rather simple instance of the concepts. In the case you are referring to Tony, it is one that makes sense: the new social/informal learning features feed off of one of the vendor's traditional product lines.

But I think informal/social learning in organizations, in the long run, while obviously including things like ratings/comments around traditional formal learning assets, will also be (more?) about robust discussion forums, blogs, wikis, sharing videos, micro-messaging like Yammer, etc (and include ratings around blog posts, forum messages!).

In fact, I'd argue that in a very short period of time -- 1 or 2 years? -- having comments and user ratings around any kind of content (traditional formal or user-generated) will be *very* common, perhaps even conspicuous by its absence. As a feature, it will be so trivial and obvious that it won't be worth discussing.

I agree with Dawn's comment in so far as I agree that much organizational Web 2.0 / social / informal learning is going on without L&D leadership or even involvement. But it is also true that in many organizations it is not going on much at all, or only in very small ways. In those cases, I think it is very important for L&D leaders to step up, seize the day, take the reins, and find the right platform(s) to enable informal / social learning. I preach this constantly in my numerous presentations on this topic at industry events. (Even in those orgs where it is happening robustly, I'd argue L&D leaders need to join the party -- whether that means getting an LMS with a wide range of social/informal tools or not depends on the orgs' needs.)

But I disagree with part of her comment, and with Don's comment, in the sense that I don't think adding Web 2.0 / social / informal features to an LMS is just "lipstick on a pig". What is important is the end result -- a strong set of tools that integrates formal (with its tracking needs) with informal/social (with its powerful features too) all in one smooth, seamless platform. Whether you get there by adding LMS features into Jive/SocialText/SharePoint/etc. or you integrate a tool like Jive with an LMS -- as we have done with Element K's KnowledgeHub LMS -- the end result is what matters. Why be against LMS's adding Web 2.0 / social / informal functionality, as long as they do it well? Don seems to be assuming the "pig" -- LMS -- can't change to become the kind of informal/social learning enabling platform he wants. I say LMSes can make that change -- whether many will or not remains to be seen.

And just as user comments/ratings I think will soon proliferate around enterprise platforms, so too I think forums/blogs/wiki functionality will as well. Whether you use them primarily on tools like SharePoint or instead make use of them on the LMS you already have in use -- especially if you are using them in blended learning scenarios or to improve otherwise formal learning events or content -- I think they will increasingly become *very* common in enterprise organizations... again, conspicuous by their absence. For some orgs it will make sense to have just one platform for these kinds of tools, for some orgs it could make sense to have a few -- but interconnected in a strong way, on that point I agree with Don for sure.

John Ambrose said...


Thanks for your comments on our inGenius social learning solution. I’m glad you agree that our approach is clearly different from the many ‘empty drum solutions.’

You are right that the social interaction is tied to books, videos and eventually other learning resources. But its very different from the “Amazon model” because the social dialogue occurs inside, not just around, the content. SkillSoft offers more than 6-million pages of fully digitized reference content and it’s this rich structured repository that provides the seeds for unstructured social dialogue. It’s powerful and different because it is contextual and highly discoverable.

I agree with your comment about employees not wanting social solutions that do similar things, and this is exactly why I disagree with your conclusion. inGenius is different than SharePoint and we’ve made it easy for users to create deep links between content in inGenius and SharePoint. If a social tool distinguishes itself and provides unique value, users will participate. Just look at your own persona, Tony, on Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter, your blog … I look forward to seeing you on inGenius!

Tony Karrer said...

Great comments. Thomas, I really appreciate your thoughts on this. I find myself nodding my head a lot, but I'm not 100% sure I see what you envision this really looking like in practice?

John - great point about having access to the "social features" from within the content itself. So notes come through out of the object. That is a great idea/feature. And something I've built into solutions before, especially used to ask questions / take notes that can then be used for follow-up. So, that does make sense.

What I'm not quite understanding is "create deep links between content in inGenius and SharePoint" and particularly how you see this integrating into the larger corporate social media life of an employee. Right now, I see this as a separate system. And I didn't see anything about having the social interactions flow across into Yammer, SharePoint, etc. I believe that's what you are saying, but I'm not sure.

Barrett Coakley said...

Hi Tony,
Great post. We are taking an Enterprise 2.0 approach with the release of our next version of Harvard ManageMentor, an online resource for business essentials. The new version, due out in June, breaks the mold of traditional learning management and “eLearning” platforms by enabling both formal and informal learning, as well as both self-paced and collaborative learning. In talking with our customers, we discovered that they were trying to address a number of needs with online learning, most notably formal learning requirements and also informal or performance support needs. In this new release, we not only optimize the experience to support the natural flow of multiple learning needs across an enterprise, but also address new trends and requirements around learning from and with others (collaborative learning). The collaboration capabilities, which include polls, discussion forums, comments, and ratings are integrated deeply within a topic’s content so that learners can more easily share and apply concepts and ideas with others in the context of their specific organization – right at the moment when learning happens, deeply in a topic.

We believe it is important to integrate and embed the collaboration capabilities deeply within a specific topic like Leading and Motivating – at the point when learning happens, in the context of a specific learning objective, as opposed to more broadly at the learning management level, because it will have more impact and drive more engagement.
We agree with John’s assertion that a “successful social community needs three ingredients to be successful: 1) Enabling Technology; 2) Vibrant Community; and 3) Great Content.” Said differently, we have been describing what’s needed for a successful “learning” community as both Content and Context: 1) Great Content to start, and 2) Group Context that makes the content meaningful and relevant; the latter, being achieved through a Vibrant Community enabled through effective Technology.

Tony Karrer said...

Great comment. Look forward to seeing it.

Simon Birt said...

As someone who is dealing with clients daily on social learning tool adoption I can tell you that the tool is secondary to challenges of adoption and understanding. There is a lot of fear about empowering employees to create micro learning for social sharing particularly in industries that are heavily regulated. Having said that, I urge all companies to 'get in the game' and start learning where they can apply social learning tools that work. The sooner they do this the earlier they will reap the benefits. At Trivantis we have two tools clients can use that are excellent for social learning Snap and Snap Empower. they can be seen here if anyone is interested
These tools are integrated to the social platform so that they can be launched and used from within it. Integration is critical to adoption so it is a must have for companies going to informal learning with tools like ours.