Social Learning in Organizations and the role of HR

I’ve been following Harold Jarche’s writing since mid 2012. I’d come across his Twitter handle some times in my timeline, through my network’s retweets, but it was only after someone I admire recommending him that I started paying more attention to his work.

When Harold tweeted this week that he would be conducting a free webinar, as part of a month long online workshop on Social Learning in Business, I knew I had to attend. And, as expected, I did not regret it!

In the webinar he explained how the structure of work is changing, from Artisans in the 19th century to our current state of 21st century Networks. And with increased connections comes added complexity. And also new challenges to what learning at work means for us, as formal training as we know it, once useful in the mass production model of doing things, is no longer suited to support a new era of work.

Enter Social Learning, the ability to connect with others, individually or through communities, to make sense and understand the current landscape that surrounds knowledge workers, allowing each of us to access the knowledge embedded in others, contributing also to their own learning through our interactions.

This quote sums up the necessary transition in learning & knowledge – from know what to know how:

In the Q&A section of the webinar I asked what was the role of the Human Resources (HR) department, usually devoted to setting up formal training programs, in this Social Learning concept. Harold, and co-host Jane Hart, recognized that most HR departments are probably not ready to embrace this concept, especially since it is much more embedded into concepts such as personal knowledge management than in the usual pratice of “let’s get into one room and hear stuff for a few hours”, but suggested they could play an important role if they found a way to stimulate the connectivity (the social aspect) among employees.

My Enterprise 2.0 evangelist self (yes, that one :) ) immediately started envisioning the HR as an important contributor in designing a connected workplace (think social by design, with or without the social technology), as a promoter of online or offline events to stimulate interactions (think serendipity coffee breaks) and as a facilitator of social density inside an organization (a key element, according to Stowe Boyd when dealing with culture change in these times of complexity).

The problem? In many organizations the system still reinforces traditional training: training needs are evaluated, annual training programs need to be defined for employees, X amount of budget is allocated to formal training and the number of training hours are carefully calculated, registered and reported. And HR managers are still evaluated against KPIs and metrics tied to “the way we’ve always done training around here”.

How do we transition from one model to the other? Or better yet, how do we ensure a hybrid model where traditional training for standardized tasks coexists with the social learning needed to those that work in complex problem solving activities? I wonder…

PS – I would love to have attended the one month online workshop on Social Learning but after an hectic February (combining the day job with intense teaching activities), my agenda for March is looking pretty chaotic already. Maybe another opportunity will come up.

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