Social learning is one of the fastest growing types of training and involves the sharing of information among peers in a professional setting, often using online tools like discussion boards, wikis, social media and online chat. Daila Boufford, manager of learning design at ansrsource, wrote in a recent Training Industry Magazine article, “Social learning serves as a bridge between formal learning and learning on the job. Individuals and teams should be encouraged to seek out social learning opportunities on their own, in addition to formal learning programs.”
For example, QuickStart, an IT training marketplace that uses cognitive learning and artificial intelligence, recently launched Expert Connect, a free online community for IT professionals to participate in social learning. While QuickStart hopes organizations encourage their IT employees to join the community, CEO Ed Sattar says, “it is a platform primarily focused on peer-to-peer learning.” Expert Connect will offer IT professionals the opportunity to collaborate on projects, share thought leadership, rate colleagues’ performance and promote courses they’ve created.
“Open Source” IT Training
Many tech professionals are already experienced with and even prefer such open collaboration, as the popular open source software development model encourages it. And with the fast pace of change in technological innovations, it’s especially critical for them to have access to their industry-leading peers for best practices, tips and solutions. For example, Sattar believes the two big focus areas of IT training in 2018 will be cloud computing and information security; by tapping into an online community of experts, he says, IT professionals will be able to stay up to date.
Sattar says that “for IT professionals, the term ‘social’ takes on a different meaning, because not all IT professionals work out of an office, and those that do, do not always work with a large team where they can learn from each other.” Online social learning provides a solution.
An obvious potential problem with this solution is content quality and accuracy, which is why content curation plays an important role in social learning. Last year, QuickStart announced its new cognitive learning platform, which uses artificial intelligence to, according to the press release, “[provide] a customized and personalized experience to IT professionals and organizations” by collecting content from third-party sources, including the internet and learners’ intranets. Expert Connect is part of this platform and will likewise use AI to, according to Sattar, “scour the internet and collect relevant information while filtering the good from the bad and puts that information in front of the user, along with official courseware.”
Tips for Using Social Learning Effectively
If you’ve decided social learning is a tool you want to encourage among your IT professionals, here are some tips to maximize its effectiveness.
- Any social learning platform or online learning community your IT learners are using should be accessible on any platform – desktop, tablet or smartphone.
- Make sure the content is either curated by experts or using trustworthy algorithms created by experts.
- Encourage many types of relationships, from mentor-mentee relationships to peer-to-peer relationships and even reverse mentoring relationships (where younger employees mentor more experienced ones). Each type has its unique benefits, because everyone has something to learn from each other.
- Don’t replace formal training with social learning; online communities and networks should be a supplement, not a replacement, for other types of training.
- Encourage IT professionals to develop and share thought leadership content. It will position them and your organization as experts and encourage social learning – a win-win.
- Identify metrics, such as productivity and client satisfaction, to determine whether social learning is delivering a return on your investment.
“Organizations in the IT industry face the problem of trying to hire people in a market where the unemployment rate is below 2 percent and the turnover rate is high,” Sattar says. “To make sure their projects are successful, one of the solutions to that problem is to retain their current employees and upskill their talent.”
Along with offering the educational opportunities IT professionals want and need to do their job well, encourage social learning – on and off-line, with co-workers and with colleagues outside of the organization. Doing so can mean the difference between employee retention and turnover and between being a leading-edge technical organization and falling further and further behind.