My First Social Learning Design was a Failure

I wanted to share the results of a social learning "flow" I created that failed because of two errors on my part: first, thinking that everyone would like lots of autonomy and second, not having a kick off to build trust, get everyone motivated and on the same page. 

A couple of years ago, I was asked to create a facilitation course at a company I worked as learning manager. After asking many questions I found out that the reason was because the company wanted to say all employees were facilitators. I managed to steer the idea towards supporting employees who had self-identified that they would like to develop facilitation skills for client meetings (a core competency for their roles), rather than a catch-all box checker.

Due to people’s limited “learning” time and a desire of mine to encourage practice and reflection as people worked, I developed a four week learning “flow” (Jane Hart gave this method a name) in Yammer. I created a content and activity plan mapped to competencies and used Yammer’s Notes as a starting point for each week. I then guided the flow with a series of open questions, resources, took photos of the participants practicing in action etc. We also had two scheduled practice sessions and offered to create more as people wished. But the course never took off..in fact it became a huge learning experience for me.

After sitting down with each participant afterwards and comparing my notes from my initial conversations with them, I understood that they liked the idea, but were not comfortable with openness of the course and transparency required: they were not used to learning out loud. They also felt like they weren’t part of a “course” in the traditional sense as there was no kickoff, no cohort, and I was expecting them to share openly with each other. 

I learned a lot from this and now think of this type of experience like playing an open video game (thanks to Karl Kapp's book about real gamification). As with a open game, you need to be safe at the start, learn to trust the design, and make mistakes before being left to your own devices in an open world. With this in mind, I organize a in-person or online kickoff. It sounds old school, but having dyads and small groups work together in person/online doing the same things they will later do in an ESN helps build bonds that then translate more effectively to an ESN. It’s the trust building that needs to happen for the flow to be successful.

What do others think?