Skills for Informal Online Social Learning

Anchal is the owner at Design Storm, an e-learning company that provides innovative, simple, and effective corporate learning solutions.

Informal online social learning is “of the learners”, “by the learners”, “for the learners”. Where technology is owned by the learners, we tend to assume that if they’re interacting on online forums, they must be learning. Is it this simple?

According to Marshal McLuhan, while technology augments certain aspects of our lives, it also truncates other facets. So as technology augments connections with people, does it reduce “depth”? As it multiplies access to information, does it lessen “focus”? When it increases the ability to contribute to a subject, does it reduce credibility of information? When it makes it easy for us to learn on our own, does it take away the concept of “linearity” in learning?

If technology affects these aspects, do we then need special skills while learning informally online? What could these skills be? Here’s a probable list:

Forming a Network

Connectivism theory suggests that “learning is a process of building networks”. To be able to learn online socially, we need to actively create a network of amateurs, experts, and enthusiasts who interact with us to create a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts. Learning to create a focused network that feeds into our knowledge base is a skill we need to develop.

In the tweet below, Professor Alec Couros reaches out to his network on Twitter to help his students learn the power of a network.twit_blog

Going Beyond Lurking

Most interaction on social media sites is said to follow the 90-9-1 rule. According to this, 90% of the users on a social networking site are lurkers, 9% are contributors, and 1% are creators of content.While some learning researches believe that lurking itself is a large part of learning socially, we surely can learn more if contribute and create content.

Mindcasting Instead of Lifecasting

Lifecasting is sharing information about what we had for lunch, where we went vacationing and so on. If this is what we do with our network, chances are we’ll not learn much.

Mindcasting, a word coined by Jay Rosen, involves adding value, contributing original ideas and thoughts, sharing experiences, vocalizing tacit knowledge, stating the previously unnoticed obvious points, and so on.The more we learn to mindcast, the more we get a chance to clarify our own thoughts and to run them past a peer group.

Acquiring Knowledge Non-linearly

As Marshal McLuhan said, “People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.” It doesn’t matter from where you enter the hot water bath or from where you exit it. Similarly when we dip into our network, we learn non-linearly with little structure. We need to learn to create our own structure and our own connections. Learning non-linearly is a special skill that today’s workforce needs to develop.

Cutting through Clutter—Filtering information

We receive a barrage of social information. Not all of it is relevant. One of the key skills is to quickly filter out the noise. Those who do this will be able to successfully use the online medium for learning informally. We need to learn to be active gatekeepers of our own learning feeds.

Discerning Correct Information 

With the power to contribute to the knowledge pool of our peers, also comes the risk of picking up or sending out information that may not be accurate. We need to develop the awareness to cross check, and the ability to discern reliable resources from unreliable ones.

 Avoiding Distraction and Dealing With Shortened Attention Spans 

“We shape our technology, and thereafter our technology shapes us.” – Marshall McLuhan

We quote reducing attention spans of millennials as a pet peeve. It is an active result of the technology where reading lengthy articles has been rendered obsolete by short video clips, 140 characters and pithy feeds.

Not getting distracted by a friend’s birthday pictures may not sound like a skill, but it is one we will need to soon actively start developing. For example, being able to read through an article and analyse the depth of its contents is a skill that needs to be fiercely defended and developed.

Curating Content

Content sharing and curation is a natural result of online social learning. To use curation to find the correct information for the correct purpose is a skill that will help us develop a personalized ecosystem for learning.

Creating and Maintaining an Online Portfolio

Our online interactions are available for all to see. They become a social portfolio of who we are, and where we’re heading. It’s a skill to create a strong online portfolio, with appropriate representation of the people that we are.

Do you agree with this list? What other skills can you think of? Should we, as learning professionals, help build these skills, or should we let learners build these skills on their own? Let’s discuss this Thursday, December 03, 2015, at 4pmGMT/11amET/8amPT in #chat2lrn.

The Learning Trap: Why Satisfied Learners and Knowledge Retention is Worthless

“Ajay is a Chartered Professional Accountant and a Certified Training and Development Professional but considers himself a Workforce Revolutionary. Ajay is a 3-time published author with John Wiley & Sons recently publishing his third book titled, “The Trainers Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning and Growth to Organizational Strategy” ( Training Magazine recognized his company CentralKnowledge (and as the 2008 Project of the Year for their work with Apple Inc. He is also a multi award-winning writer receiving the 2014 and 2015 prestigious Readership and Editors’ Award for Editor’s Choice and the Top 10 most read articles. Ajay regularly appears on the #1 Montreal Talk Radio morning show discussing workforce performance issues.”


Learning practitioners are taught early, or should I dare say brainwashed, to believe the ‘essential’ four levels of evaluation. Many of us refer to these levels as the Kirkpatrick’s Evaluation Model and it has been a cornerstone in every learning event and also a foundation for many evaluation models that followed.

But let’s be honest, the unspoken truth is that the Kirkpatrick model is flawed. Yes, I dare say it out loud and may the learning gods, and some of my peers, strike me down. While you pick you jaw off the floor, the fact is that the evaluation method has some apparent issues. new-and-improvedWhile the Kirkpatrick organization will not admit to this publicly (naturally, since it is the foundation of the revenue stream) they are attempting to ‘adjust’ it accordingly by repackaging it as the ‘New World Kirkpatrick’. This reminds us of an ‘All in the Family’ episode where Archie and Meathead ask the question about a product being new and improved asking what was wrong with the original one, was it old and lousy?

But I digress. Let’s review the four levels. Level one refers to learning satisfaction. Simply put, this is what learning practitioners refer to as the ‘smile sheet’. This learner feedback process asks everything from did the learning meet your needs to whether the lunch was adequate.

Level two speaks to learning retention or simply put, do you remember what you are supposed to remember? Often this is considered through some form of ‘testing’. While this is what many practitioners accept as learning success, the Kirkpatrick model assumes that if the learner remembers the knowledge they will naturally apply it to their job. I’ll revisit this logic shortly.

Level three is about changing the learner’s behavior or in layperson terms, skills application. This level is the first ‘holy grail’ for learning practitioners. The logic is that if the learner retains the knowledge from the initial learning process then their behavior will change and become more effective in their job. This sounds reasonable and correlates to Level four.

Finally, achieving level four for learning practitioners is similar to wining the Super Bowl. This level refers to the learning effort having an impact on business and performance objectives. What the Kirkpatrick model implies is that if learning practitioners are able to connect their efforts to this level the will gain the admiration of their business leaders. Essentially, this is the promise of demonstrating tangible results for your learning budget.

Now, the Kirkpatrick methodology sounds logical and simple enough that learning practitioners are able to buy into the process but dig deeper and you will discover issues that undermine learning efforts.

To accept the premise of this post you must first accept that the role of learning in any organization is considered an internal business unit. Just like every other internal business activity whether it is accounting, marketing, or HR, learning is also held accountable to specific performance expectations for itself and how it contributes to organizational results. You don’t have to accept this premise. But if you don’t then you should also not question why your training budget gets reduced every year.

By accepting the reality that your learning efforts are part of the business and ultimately affects the business, hopefully positively, you begin to see learning from the perspective of your business leaders and business unit managers.

With that said, for any business level one and level two are essentially irrelevant. Think about it. Why would leaders care whether their employees like the learning event (level one)? It has no bearing on the business or expected results. Level one smile sheets exist for learning practitioners to prove that they are actually doing something that helps them to avoid getting fired from their job.

Every learning practitioner has done this at least once. They wave their smile sheet results to their leaders hoping that this will validate their efforts, similar to a child seeking the admiration of their parent and trying to get their work put on the family refrigerator.

Don’t believe that Level two is any better. Like level one, your leaders could care less that employees actually can remember any of the skills they learned. Like the smile sheet learning practitioners are quick to fly their successful ‘test’ results in their leader’s faces. The problem with level two ‘learning’ retention is that, more often than not, they are inaccurate or invalid. Why? Essentially, practitioners ‘game’ results in their favor, the knowledge tested is often irrelevant to changing learner behavior, or worse, the skills tested are not applicable to their job. Whatever the reason, the practitioner’s goal is a futile attempt to prove to leaders that their efforts are close to being effective.

wrong-wayLevel two is as irrelevant for the business as is level one. What your leaders expect is that employees actually apply the skills on the job. Their logic, which many practitioners ignore, is that if an employee is applying a new skill or knowledge that improves their performance it will consequently improve the organization’s performance.

Fundamentally, leaders are concerned solely about level three and four. In reality, this all you should be concerned about as well. Regretfully for the Kirkpatrick model, there are still concerns that practitioners must be made aware. Even Kirkpatrick found flaws and hence, developed a ‘new world model’, but lets not get into that now.

At Level three the need to change behavior is not as relevant as the need for leaders to see the actual application of knowledge and skills. As any qualified psychologist will tell you changing human behavior is something that happens consistently over time and not something any type of training effort can accomplish successfully.

Simply, your leaders see level three evaluations as the vehicle to meet pre-established performance metrics and not necessarily to change employee behavior. The question we are asked from practitioners is, “how do we connect to level three expectations?” The answer is quite simple. First, don’t create new learning measures to prove your efforts are effective. Your leaders and business unit managers have their performance metrics already set. All you need to do is to partner with the business units, learn about their performance expectations, and then proactively work with them to conduct a needs assessment to determine the required skills that will help contribute to achieving their performance metrics.

Finally, level four is what every practitioner strives to achieve. Keep in mind that while level four is what your leaders expect they don’t expect every training effort to meet it. And for those initiatives that must achieve level four expectations you are not alone in your effort. You leaders don’t expect learning to be the sole hero. Recognize that when attempting to impact business results to take into account the involvement of other internal activities.

Your leaders will never believe that your ‘level 4’ achievement is only a result of your learning solution. It is a cross-functional effort so involving many internal business processes. So take credit when due but also, give credit to those that deserve it. This will build your business impact credibility and ensure sustainable leadership support for learning.

Finally, never, ever go to your leaders and refer to the Kirkpatrick four levels. They won’t understand what you are talking about and frankly don’t care about your evaluation methods. Just sayin’.

Join #chat2lrn to share your views and thoughts on “The Learning Trap” Thursday 13 August 8.00 PDT/11.00 EDT/16.00 BST