Social learning for complex tasks: performance support is simple

I was uploading yesterday’s blog post on the train, when Hans leant over and said “why aren’t you using this function to add the links“, in a way that implied i was missing a trick, that implied that my way of adding links was prehistoric, quaint, middle aged, outdated. Just not how the cool kids add links these days. And, of course, he was right. WordPress have added a new feature that makes it much easier to add your links, but i’d failed to adapt my working method. I had a routine and i was sticking with it. My desire to experiment, to ‘just try it‘ had failed me, instead replaced with ‘just do it the same‘. It’s an interesting feature of learning: just good enough. When i learnt how to use WordPress originally, i learnt ‘just enough‘ to do what i want to do. I didn’t go on to learn more. Then, as the software adapted and grew, i stuck at ‘just enough‘. There wasn’t enough disturbance to get me to move.

The ways that technology and social input shape learning

As we iterate our learning, we use new technology and support from our social learning community

So today’s blog is coming to you new and improved. You might not spot the difference, but it’s faster for me to build, to add the links in, and that improvement has come about through technology and through social learning. Today, i want to think about how.

Formal learning is where organisations tell you how to do stuff. Social learning is where you learn how to do the stuff you actually need to do, and to do it easily. Well, it’s not quite that simple, but it’s certainly true that social learning is the semi formal fine tuning around organisational process. It’s where you learn which corners you can ‘trim’ and how everyone else does it. Formal support comes from IT, who take a day to respond, whilst social support comes from Margaret, who knows how to do it and will show you if you make her a coffee. Or maybe she made a video about it and stuck it up on YouTube. Or maybe she blogs in her ‘real‘ life outside work and is a world authority on it, who you connected with through Twitter.

Formal learning can be abstract, whilst social learning is always and inherently applied, because whist formal learning tries to make links back into real life, social learning happens in your real life, at your desk, on the train. Hans was coaching me whilst i was doing the task life: there was no intention to learn, it was informal, spontaneous, driven by my need and his generosity. Truly social.

Increasingly i write about mobile learning and social learning together, because it’s hard to separate the two. I see mobile as the facilitating technology for social. In a performance support context, mobile technology can be key, delivering communication right into your everyday reality, but it has to be formatted right and it has to be within the correct social context.

Because i never knew i had a problem: i didn’t think i was doing something wrong, indeed, i wasn’t doing anything wrong, but Hans knew a fast, better way of doing it. Had i known i had a problem, then i could have utilised one of my tried and tested problem solving or knowledge gathering strategies. I would probably have rung Sam first as i know that he’s an expert on WordPress. But i didn’t have any disturbance, there was no imperative for me to learn.

In a social conversation with Hans a few days earlier, i’d mentioned that it was taking me a little longer to publish the blog these days as i was including more links (in response to feedback from my community that these were useful). So maybe that was on his mind. Or maybe he is just generous with his knowledge. Maybe both. In any event, it was his observation of my performance in the ‘real’ world that caused the intervention, facilitated by the iPad i was holding.

So learning is iterative, at each stage we may improve our performance through either technological improvements (new tools, new Apps, new devices) or through social interventions, guidance, advice, suggestions, feedback. The interesting thing is how these two relate to each other: social and technological. It’s not the case that every new App improves my way of working: i simply never know that most of them exist unless something or someone brings it onto my radar. People who curate their social presence well are good conduits for this: i am more likely to follow them on Twitter or read their blog, more likely to discover new (to me) technology through them than i am first hand. I graze in a field of curated ideas (which ties in with some of Harold Jarche’s notion of artisan workers).

Sometimes technology leads us to social learning to solve complex problems: sometimes social learning leads us to new technology to solve problems we never thought we had. Both of these can enhance performance, and that’s key in the Social Age.

I was talking to Sam last night (not about technical problems, but to narrate my learning from the conference) and we discussed how to free up forty percent of your time. The Social Age requires new ways of working, new ways of thinking. To remain relevant, to remain agile, we have to adapt. Organisations that are stuck in the Knowledge age are simply gathering books on shelves that nobody ready. Agile learners in the Social Age are having the relevant knowledge delivered to their mobiles and are creating meaning around this in their communities. It’s enormously exciting, it gives us potential to free up time to do things that really count, to really transform things as our own performance improves.

Organisations have to understand this and transform their approach to learning: in the Social Age i was able to have a conversation with Jason in another country whilst i was between sessions at the conference. We were talking about this very subject, about how our organisational and personal stance towards knowledge is changing, about how social learning supports our ability to be agile and, at a very practical level, how we deploy it. We have to do what Hans did, to be generous with our time, generous with our knowledge, make our mistakes in public and be humble enough to learn.

That’s adaptive learning in the Social Age.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in 'Just in time' learning, Adaptability, Agile, Apps, Change, Collaboration, Communication, Community, Culture, Discovery, Disturbance, Effectiveness, Everyday Reality, Informal Learning Spaces, Knowledge, Learning, Learning Journey, Learning Technology, Meaning, Mobile Learning, Performance, Personal Learning Network, Social Learning, Support and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Social learning for complex tasks: performance support is simple

  1. Pingback: Social learning for complex tasks: performance ...

  2. jmichelle46 says:

    Great blog! If it weren’t for Hans’ entries in Yammer, I would not have known about you and your entries on social and mobile learning. That is also the beauty of social networking, as I reside in Houston, TX in the US, and the subject matter is very relevant and insightful for me. Thanks!

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