Creatively Seed a Learning Community

I think we’ve all experienced it as learning professionals – you host a workshop or event, prepare a social space for pre- and post-event discussions...and no-one uses it.  We try our best to design learning opportunities that include social/informal/community components, but haven’t been able to yet help our participants understand that learning doesn’t mostly happen in the workshop.

As I work at an IT firm that designs employee portals (intranets),I thought I would harness some of this technology to see if I could use it to encourage participants from a story sharing and personalising practice day to continue the discussions on our enterprise social network.  I'm passionate about creating and supporting learning communities.

The challenge: to get our participants to continue discussions from an in-person day on our social employee portal, benefit from some simple factual recall/memory trigger helpers, and get away from discussing by reply-to-all emails.

The solution: We have a nifty tool called Nintex, a workflow automator. I sat down with one of our technical experts to see what was possible. Together, we created the following workflow.

Remember, the purpose was not to be a “quiz” but to trigger some recall (or blanks) and sharing.

I created a bank of questions based on some of the key facts from our story sharing day. These were very simple "how many days did it take to complete X project?" type questions.

Once a day the workflow sent every participant one question from the bank (everyone got the same question). This arrived in everyone’s exchange inbox at 8am.

It wasn't mandatory; those participants who chose to answer the question just hit reply to the email with their answer.

The next day 7:59am all answers were posted to a microblog feed in the community site on the social portal for all to see. Each participant also received an email with a compiled list of all answers and a link to the social site.

It’s amazing how different the answers to simple questions could be and the discussions and clarifications that follow.

There was no reply of right or wrong. I had asked the story owners to coach through misunderstandings and give clarification in the online discussion area.

Result: Uptake in social community site use, further asynchronous discussions on the story topics and disagreements and clarifications. We had filled the site with presentation decks, links, videos of presentations, so the site had utility and value. This was an interesting method of getting people to access it more regularly.

However, I did receive some resistance from the openness of it all. If you answered the questions, the participant would see your answer. The technology will also need tweaking next time to make it flow even easier.

What does this mean for me?

I used the technology available to me. It showed great use of the tools that employees use to do their work. There was no LMS and no right/wrong test. The purpose was accountability, sharing and community.

You could replicate something very similar, although less automated with any social network. How about with Facebook or Yammer and Email when your participants are not used to social sharing?

  • Set up your learning community/group in Facebook, Yammer, Jive, G+ etc.
  • Create a list of questions in a document
  • Email your group a question once a day
  • Curate the replies into a post in the learning community/group
  • Email the curated list to the participants with a link to the learning community/group. 
  • Show all participants how to subscribe to the learning/community group email update.
  • Ensure your SMEs are on hand to coach and clarify answers in the learning community/group. 
  • After a few days, include a link in the question email that takes the participants directly to the learning community/group to answer.  
  • Finally, if you get a good uptake, stop the emails.