Most learning professionals agree that interaction is key to learning and development.
Increasingly groups and communities are being developed both within our organizations and using third party sites like LinkedIn , Facebook etc for networking. But is it working? there is a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence (and some research) to show that there is a ratio for success – 90:9:1
- where one person created or initiated the environment
- nine people edit, moderate or drive the environment
- ninety people participate.
Now at first glance this looks OK, however requiring a ‘workforce’ of nine to every ninety can be a challenge. Many of the most successful communities have regular contributors (often unpaid) that act as the backbone of these communities and maintain the momentum.
Lessons for Learning and Development
So the lessons for L&D or OD functions to introduce such communities and stack the deck in favour of success is to recruit these ‘champions’ internally first. Who are the few that will lead, engage and drive the others?
Many social networking communities fail as the organisers believe that “if I build it they will come”, well unfortunately this is not true. For a new community to become established and grow it needs “pump priming” with both content and champions or editors.
Communities need investment and the investment needs to go way beyond the technology
For success in building a learning network we need to plan the activity and resource it in the same way as any other organizational change. We can see this by simply looking around the web at the forums and communities available publicly, those that work are vibrant and have individuals committed and passionate about the community and its content, those that don’t are rarely driven or actively supported and do not have a critical mass to get the ball rolling.
Research shows that it takes between 7 and 25 people to start a Mexican wave, depending on the crowd size and the shape of the stadium, in the same way we need (approximately) nine people active on a regular basis to start and maintain a learning or social community.
Summary for learning community success
- Build it
- communicate it
- engage a core population (champions)
- keep the core team participating
- communicate – remind people
- keep the core team participating
- communicate – keep people informed of what is happening
- reward (I.e. celebrate) the champions who support the community on a regular basis.
All good ans effective change management techniques require planning, communication and resources (human and physical/ financial), and running a community for learning is a change management methodology.
With Informal learning being a strategy increasingly adopted by learning and development professionals, the use or attempted use of communities of practice will mushroom, it is up to us to ensure that when we implement such strategies we provide the organization and our learners with the maximum opportunity for success, and this means introducing and managing the environment appropriately.
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Check Out Mike Morrison's Book on Organizational Development – Theory and Practice, for tools and tips on developing organizations, managers and leaders on Amazon and Kindle
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