By Margery Weinstein
The next time one of your employees is stumped, wouldn’t it be miraculous if he didn’t have to bother his manager about it? That leader in the midst of an essential meeting—or the best roast beef sandwich he’s had in years—would probably appreciate it. Uninterrupted meetings, and roast beef sandwiches without pause, are getting likelier, thanks to intra-company social networking. Who needs the boss when dozens of other knowledgeable colleagues in the same office building, country, or across the world, are just a few clicks away?
More People, More Answers
“Web 2.0 technologies can support a variety of learning situations and help build lasting communities,” says Jackie Smith, director of CareSource University, the corporate university of CareSource, an administrator of public-sector health-care programs. “The major questions should be, ‘What is the intended outcome of the learning situation, and how can technology support it?’” she says.
The answer to that question for CareSource is multifaceted training that provides informal, self-paced participation. Epitomizing CareSource’s approach, says Smith, is the company’s use of wikis “as part of several projects to share organizational and team learning in a more real-time setting.” CareSource University also is incorporating discussion boards in its Service Center’s new-hire program. Ed Grimsley, operational training consultant, says the use of these tools represents “a collaborative means of communicating during and after the formal classroom learning experience.”
“Through discussion boards and other tools, CareSource University provides an opportunity for critical thinking beyond what can be done in the confines of a classroom in which only one or two participants respond to a question,” adds Garlene Hamilton, e-learning consultant. “On a discussion board or blog, each participant must consider the content, formulate an opinion or perform research, and compose a unique response. Participants learn from each other by reading the posts, which gives them different perspectives to consider.”
The company uses discussion boards to assist with the transfer of learning in its Exploring Leadership program, a four-part curriculum that introduces employees to differing concepts of leadership. “The discussion board allows them to ponder the concepts of leadership and see how others feel about them,” says Sheila Thompson, clinical training consultant.
What’s more, Hamilton points out that making social networking tools part of its training regimen makes for a more well-rounded company. “The Web 2.0 technologies bring diverse minds together and allow conversation to happen when it is convenient for each participant.” That also means greater access to the instructor. Thompson notes the simplicity in a social networking system of monitoring an “Ask the Instructor” or “FAQ” discussion thread. This advantage, she emphasizes, makes all the difference when it comes to learner engagement. “Utilizing Web 2.0 technology allows CareSource University to engage all participants in the discussion,” says Thompson.
Picture Your Connections
At real estate company Coldwell Banker, training via social networks seemed only natural. The social nature of real estate professionals, and the industry they inhabit, is aiding the company in its development of a video portal that Vice President of Learning David Birnbaum says “will allow our learning department to easily get short ‘bursts’ of informal learning to our associates.” He says the portal will allow Coldwell’s learners to upload their own “best practice” videos, and then share those videos with rest of the company. “This video portal will be protected behind our firewall,” Birnbaum explains, “but will not require associates to log in.”
Coldwell employees will know the best videos to turn to with help from a rating system similar to the one used on YouTube. Videos will be rated on a five-star scale and will allow learners to choose their job role in the rating. “This will allow us to build a video collection based on job role,” says Birnbaum.
Coldwell’s new YouTube-inspired video network is complemented by old-school social networking: communities of practice. “These communities of practice have allowed students to interact outside of the classroom and also have given the instructor more ways to engage students,” says Birnbaum. “We have found that using communities of practice to share best practices (sales techniques) and discuss how to approach fieldwork assignments has been a powerful and elegant way to empower learners to collaborate more with each other.”
Sold on Social Networking
At inVentiv Health Inc., social networking is what’s next in sales training. The company currently is developing tools for Facebook to supplement its selling skills program, RxAdvantage, and for its management and leadership development offerings, says Chief Learning Officer Peter Marchesini. “If we can keep key facts and data top of mind with our sales and management teams, we will keep the engagement we get after a training session,” he says. “Our employees are utilizing these tools to keep up to date on everything else in their lives; we feel that integrating these tools with our traditional tools will capture a growing segment of the workforce that is engaged in Facebook and other networks.”
Aside from developing its own Web 2.0 tools, inVentiv makes use of public social networks such as LinkedIn, which the company recently used to help coordinate the activities of its recent leadership meeting. “It proved a beneficial tool to communicate and update our attendees. The groups also took advantage of LinkedIn to utilize discussion groups,” says Marchesini. “While we have not utilized Twitter as an educational tool, we have had our participants utilize this to share information and to update lessons learned and information shared.”
The next few years will bring a blend of proprietary and public social networking use to inVentiv’s training regimen. “Our organization is instituting a centralized portal as a primary means of communication to our employees who are in every state and worldwide. This tool will enable our learning group to have a launch pad to bring about learning in a variety of self-paced and facilitated mediums,” says Marchesini. “We also will be able to link to social networking tools such as Facebook pages developed for specific initiatives to highlight both content and participant feedback.”
Clearly, not all companies have taken the social networking plunge yet. But even those that haven’t are thinking about how to implement it in the future. “At Kendle, we are in the process of building an internal [social networking] tool set that is based upon existing technology our associates are familiar with,” says Daniel J. Hiltz, director, Global Training and Development for clinical research provider Kendle International. “This will encourage them to expand their use of the technology and to mine its value.”
A large insurance company told Training social networking could (and likely will) be used to enhance the workshops it provides to its agents. “One potential application of social media would be to create a learning community for participants where they can communicate before, during, and after a workshop,” says Joycelyn C. Rucker, the company’s director of learning. “This learning community would provide many opportunities for students to integrate learning, receive pre-work reminders, and meet classroom instructors and fellow peers. The implementation of social networking would take learners through a continuous learning journey.”