Three Ways L&D Is Addressing Informal and Social Learning, and Why Only 1 Will Work

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As we roll through 2012, informal and social learning remain a hot topic with vendors and companies providing solutions in different ways. Three broad solutions have emerged for those trying to support front line employees; stand-alone application development, enterprise LMS add-on and content aggregation with existing social sources.

Unfortunately, one is a disaster in the making and one is an interim solution with mediocre results at best. However, one is rapidly evolving and looks to have long term potential.

  1. Stand-Alone Application Development. Computer and mobile applications with social and gaming functions created by the learning and development department (or a development partner). Though I can appreciate the attempt to be innovative, the expertise and learning curve is very steep. Though multiple computer and mobile platforms are surmountable from a technology perspective, they are only part of the issue. The real challenge is creating games or social tools that are as well done or better than Zynga, Twitter, or Facebook. This is a money pit that needs to be avoided.

  2. Enterprise LMS Add-on. Social learning features added to existing enterprise systems. Vendors from SAP to Knoodle offer social tools as additional functionality in their learning management systems. IT will tend to support this approach from a system and implementation perspective. The unanswered question is whether front line employees will use it for their primary source of learning material. The real competition for employee social learning time occurs on Google, Twitter, with peers, etc, so this is a short-term solution similar to the rise (and fall) in the popularity of e-learning a few years ago.

  3. Content Aggregation with Social Sources. This is a new direction full of opportunity. Ideally, company learning material would show up in an employee Google search or Twitter stream, but for many reasons (security for one, massive enterprise culture change for another) we are not quite there yet. Current social business software companies like Jive Software offer a hybrid model that is the first step in the evolution. Jive enables tracking and importing of external social content (company related news, Twitter mentions) and access to peers through group associations. Assuming people are going to a centralized location for company content and peer-to-peer sharing; possibilities exist for companies to enable sharing of valuable external and peer generated content & discussions for internal learning consumption.

Now is a good time to evaluate your go forward learning strategy. Avoid the do-it-yourself application trap, skip the enterprise LMS bolt on, and focus resources on developing ways to aggregate content where front line employees are currently engaged in social or informal learning.