Monday, July 18, 2011

Social Learning at Telus: Linking collaborative technologies to learning strategies

Recently someone sent me a link to a video clip of Dan Pontefract, Director of Learning and Collaboration at Telus, talking about the social collaboration tools they have put in place to encourage the sharing of information and knowledge.  The video is only 2.5 minutes long and is well worth watching.

Telus is not unlike a lot of other organizations, including my own, who have put in place collaboration tools like wikis, forums, blogs, filesharing, instant messaging to promote the exchange of knowledge.  But a few things about Dan Pontefract's presentation really struck me.

It's about Learning, not just collaboration

For me, the key point in Dan Pontefract's presentation is that collaboration technology is intimately connected to employee learning.  By creating platforms like team collaboration sites, blogs, microblogs, videosites and wikis where employees can share ideas, opportunities and issues, employees are continuously learning from one another.  He sums it up well when he talks about the "Learning 2.0 Model" at Telus.  "Learning", he says, "is part formal, part informal, and part social." At Telus social learning is facilitated through social media.  Eventually, as people begin using the technology, they get into a rhythm of how they start sharing and how they start exposing their content, their knowledge and their ideas.  Ultimately, he argues, people realize quickly that what they gain from everyone else helps them do their job faster, better and in a more engaging fashion.

Note, however, that while Social media is facilitating one type of learning at Telus, it has not replaced other more formal and informal modes of learning - the so-called "sage on a stage". Formal and informal learning, no doubt, continues to play an important role in Telus' employee learning strategy.

This is not the first time I have seen Web 2.0 collaboration tools linked to employee learning strategies in organizations.  At a recent conference on knowledge management, I met the director of learning for Rogers Communications, who told me a very similar story about what they are doing. As with Telus, social learning plays an important part of their employee learning strategy, but it is linked to formal and informal methods of learning.  A similar story was told by Sierra Wireless at the same conference.

What really strikes me in these examples is the connection of collaboration to employee learning.  In other words, collaboration is a tool, a means to an end that facilitates learning, but collaboration is not the objective. The objective is to create a learning organization.

Meanwhile, in government these days, I see a lot of  attention being paid to social media and collaboration, but I have not yet seen this formal link to employee learning strategies.  So, while we have wikis, blogs, forums, video sharing sites, file sharing sites, and other tools, and while timely access to information is routinely touted as the key benefit, it is not at all clear that this is seen as a form of social learning or how this social learning is linked to more formal and informal learning in each employees learning objectives.  In fact, I wonder if recent events like the wildly successful Collaborative Management Day series suggests that for many bureaucrats, the focus is still on the tool of collaboration rather than on a broader objective of employee learning.

Not everyone has to participate to get value

Dan Pontefract also made an important point that not everyone in the organization needs to participate in social media tools for them to have value. He said that they are proud that about 1/6 of all team members are active on their microblogging service.  That does not seem like a very high proportion, but he said it is important for people to find their own value in the service and whether they want to use it, which brings me to the last important point;

Don't mandate the use of social media, empower people to use it.

Nobody wants to use a tool if they feel they cannot get any benefit from it.  And mandating them to use it only builds frustration and resentment.  So instead, find ways to encourage people to use it.

To wrap up, this is a very informative interview with Dan Pontefract, and would recommend it to anyone interested in knowledge management, learning or collaborative technologies.

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