7 Social Myths that Hold Organizations Back

by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner

New Social Learning_bookThe New Social Learning

When Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner, co-authors of The New Social Learning, began talking with organizations about benefiting from the natural powers of employees learning from one another, they heard more about their obstacles than their opportunities. While some were genuine issues leaders needed to face to move their organizations forward, several were myths, perpetuated by old school practices and a fear of losing control.

For instance, people often talked about social learning as a wildly new practice, challenging the way training has been delivered. In fact, social learning is an approach that has always happened alongside instructor-led courses, as learners compared their experiences with one another, asking questions, and putting new information into the context of their jobs. What’s new are the social media tools in the pockets and purses of more than 80% of the population, that now extend learning’s reach.

In the book, Bingham and Conner encourage people in organizations to connect, collaborate, and work with one another–sometimes even without digital tools–and to look at myths that hold people and organizations back.

7 Social Myths that Hold Organizations Back

1.    Social learning is new

Most of what we learn at work and elsewhere comes from engaging in networks where people co-create, collaborate, and share knowledge, fully participating and actively engaging, driving, and guiding their learning through whatever topics will help them improve. Social learning is not a new approach to traditional training or collaboration; it builds upon it!

Training gives people solutions to problems already solved. Collaboration addresses challenges no one has overcome before. The new social learning allows us, as Stowe Boyd (who first coined the term social tools and continues to observe their influence) puts it, “[to grow] bigger than my head. I want to create an idea space where I can think outside my mind, leveraging my connections with others.”

2.    You will need digital tools

Social learning is not the same as e-learning, the term used to describe any use of technology to teach something intentionally. Furthermore, it is not meant to replace traditional forms of communication, but rather to augment and enhance them. The use of social media does not require sophisticated technical understanding or investment in digital systems, but rather a willingness to take the conversation beyond the classroom, boardroom, etc.

3.    You will need policies

It doesn’t matter what policies or extreme precautions are put in place. These tools are now ubiquitous, with more people across the world having an active presence on Facebook than comprise the populations of Russia and all of the European countries combined.

Rather than creating strict policies banning or limiting collaborative systems, you should educate people how to use them effectively for work. Social tools are the future of collaboration and learning at work, so the more you prepare people for how to use the tools respectfully, and how to apply good social practices, the better.

4.    There is no way to show ROI

How do you know whether what you are doing is actually making an impact?

Many organizations answer this question by reporting financial metrics, including return on investment (ROI). Amanda Slavin, CEO of CatalystCreativ, instead asks those she works with to consider what she calls “ripples of impact.” These layers of impact are best described through rich stories, integrating learning with new relationships, and integrating new opportunities for growth and development that were uncovered as a result of the experiences that created the ripples.

5.    Social learning is always informal

Many organizations distinguish differences in roles on social media by designating specific “influencers” who are looked to as authority figures or role models, even within social media communities. This often happens organically. For example, famous politicians or actors have gained thousands or even millions of followers on social media who look to their posts for guidance and inspiration. Just because they are interacting with the general public doesn’t mean that their influence is any less potent.

6.    It only works in professional environments

Organizations often want to offer their employees a community or social media toolset but don’t want the conversations to wander off specific business themes. As social creatures, people thrive on meaningful connections with other people. Although most conversations should have a professional focus, connections across topics build relationships and trust sometimes more effectively than sticking solely to job-related areas.

7.    It doesn’t affect you

At this moment, your people are already learning through social media. They’re reaching out and connecting in powerful ways. The question is, can you recognize, appreciate, and take advantage of the power inherent in this new level of communication?

Do you want to facilitate or debilitate? Do you want to play a part in what and how people learn? Or do you want to try to stop them? Will you restrict them? Or will you free them to do the work they were hired to do—and will you do it with them? The 20th century was about leading with technology and tools. The 21st century is about leading into a connected world, and ignoring this new reality will only leave you in the dust.

image credit: td.org

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Marcia Connertony binghamMarcia Conner is a SupporTED Mentor and a fellow at the Darden School of Business. Tony Bingham is the president and CEO of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) the world’s largest professional association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. Together they co-authored The New Social Learning, now in its second edition. Learn more about the book here and connect with the authors on Twitter @NewSocialLearn

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