A useful 'Social Learning Guidebook'... but it missed something important

by The Architect on Jul 11, 2017

The European convention giant Learning Technologies recently released 'Social is Super', a Guidebook to Social Learning for this year's exhibition (put together by Growth Engineering UK).

I was delighted to find it's what we've been championing for the past decade.

  • Your organisation's most important asset is its own people, and that wealth of wisdom needs sharing in a curated community
  • There is no formal end to social learning
  • Our brains are built to learn socially, and we learn best in small bites
  • Social learning saves money, engages employees, improves your internal communications, and so on, and so on...

But as the book goes further (and unfortunately it's overlong and like reading 25 infographics stuck together), a lot of its tools are not advanced enough for developing leadership.

From our 10 years running these communities, our number one advice is this:

For social learning, everything has to be about facilitating open and honest conversations

If a tool's not achieving that goal, it has to go. That's what the Guide missed.

We experimented with Gamification techniques similar to the ones mentioned in this Guide in our own leadership communities, awarding points for contributions and recognising top contributors.

Activity surged, but the discussion was distorted for the worse. Comments became rushed and vague instead of truly engaging with the content; earning points was becoming just another bullet point on their list for the day.

Not in favour of Honest Conversations

After experimenting for a year, in a global leadership development community we built and ran for one of the world's largest companies, we removed the points and badges reward system for participation. Leadership (what we facilitate) is about collaboration, not competition. The rewards process was distorting the culture from the former to the latter.

Besides, the individual recognition had always been there: in the form of peer respect for quality content sharing and discussion.

The community needs to feel safe to challenge, or there's no point

Perhaps my biggest sticking point with the eBook is the idea of 'Manager Praise Badges'; personal virtual rewards from someone higher up the hierarchy.

With such a system, behaviour becomes even more distorted.

Virtue Signalling

Discussion becomes about signalling contributions, not what is contributed. This kind of 'Look at me! I'm participating!' behaviour has come to be known as 'virtue signalling' and it dogs all corporate learning & development.

The formal culture is then fake but dominant and all the language going through it confirms it as effective, because the only language going through it is going to be language confirming it as effective.

People in the community should be able to give badges to their bosses - or not give them at all.

(Here's the Guide so you can form your own thoughts.)

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