Review (Guest): The New Social Learning–A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media

5 Star, Best Practices in Management, Communications, Culture, Research, Economics, Education (General), Information Society, Intelligence (Commercial)
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Phi Beta Iota: two reviews are provided, one from the blogsphere (Tip of the Hat to Pierre Levy at LinkedIn, and one from Amazon.  If not obvious, this new trend in organizational learning assures that “secret” organizations will get dumber and dumber as time goes by.

Authors:  Tony Bingham and Marcia Connor

I (Bill Ives) was very pleased to receive a review copy of The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner. Tony is President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). Marcia is a Partner at Altimeter Group, founder of the Twitter chat #lrnchat, and writes the Fast Company column “Learn at All Levels.”

Getting a chance to read this timely work excited me for several reasons. First, I began my consulting career in the learning space in the 80s and have remained convinced of its importance for accelerating business performance. I presented at several ASTD session during this period. Second, Marcia was also a colleague of mine at Pistachio Consulting where we did some projects together. I had a chance to review an earlier version of one of the chapters of this book. But most importantly, it is the first book I have seen to help organizations understand and harness the huge workplace learning potential of social media and enterprise 2.0.


Tony and Marcia began with an acknowledgement that social learning has been around for a long time. While social media tools bring new power to social learning, it is not about particular tools as they will come and go. The book is about news ways that social media can enhance social learning and thus the book title. Much of the talk about social media has focused on marketing and while, there is great potential there, the authors bring forth a powerful additional use case. They also point out that social learning is not a new form of e-learning.  I would certainly agree and much of e-learning appeared to me to be disappointing watered down adoptions of technology–based learning from the 80s.

I remember studies in the 80s where people reported that 90% of what they learned that helped with their work came from informal conversations with fellow employees. Now social media can enable those conversations on a global basis across enterprises or in a secure manner within a select group in one enterprise. When I first saw social media in 2004 the possibilities for knowledge management re-energized my interest in KM. I have began to see the same potential for learning and this book helps to put it in perspective and offers some excellent cases examples.

The book draws on some of my academic heroes, John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Peter Berger, and Thomas Luckman to set the stage of how people most effectively learn through active participation and social interaction. They define learning as “the transformative process of taking in information that, when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced, changes what we know and builds on what we can do.’ I certainly agree and it aligns directly with how Piaget would define learning. Jocelyn Davis, head of R&D at the Forum Corporation, recently suggested that learning might be a major motivational driver on the level of David McClelland’s three main drives achievement, affiliation, and power.  Social learning can draw on a number of these motivators.

The authors list some of the major concerns about using social media in a business context and then offer excellent ways to address these concerns. The book takes a very practical approach and is clearly written with concrete examples through out.

After setting the stage, the authors provide a chapter each covering online communities, the power of stories, micro-sharing, growing the collective intelligence, and immersive environments. Each chapter begins with a detailed case example. The book concludes with some useful tips of making the most of in-person events. I let you read the book to get the useful details.

I highly recommend this book if you want to make better use of social media and enterprise 2.0, if learning is a passion, or if you want to increase the productivity of your workforce.  It is one of the better business books I have seen recently.

FROM AMAZON

5.0 out of 5 stars Social Learning – The New L&D Imperative, September 13, 2010

By William Cushard III “Bill Cushard” (Mountain View, CA) – See all my reviews

If your profession is learning and development, The New Social Learning is a must read.

Even if you are one of those people who are suspicious of social media or one who thinks social networking is a place for wasting time or if you think Twitter is a place where people tell you what they are eating for lunch, you will read the book and understand exactly how social learning is a new imperative for how we enable organizational learning. You will find this book to be a practical guide to implementing social learning in your organization.

At the end of each chapter, there is a list of common objections and how to overcome them. I found this to be the most useful part of the book. Just like a sales person needs to overcome objections from prospects, any organizational leader who intends to implement a new thing, must prepare for the inevitable objections that arise from the skeptics and curmudgeons. And there will be many. The list of objections and the ways to overcome them are, by themselves, worth the cost of your time to read this book.

The other idea that I infer this book is that people will learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it despite our best efforts to design and deliver training. Too many L&D professionals are hung up on the need to control the instructional design and training delivery process, believing that people simply do not learn properly, unless proper instruction is used in proper training delivery. Well this book is one step in the direction of proving that idea wrong. Our job is to not deliver instruction, but to enable people to learn what they need to learn to get their jobs done now.

Although the New Social Learning does not propose that instructional design and classroom training will be replaced (far from it), Tony and Marcia weave tales of company’s that are using various elements of social and collaboration technologies to enable people to learn and most importantly grow and improve job performance….which is what this is all about in the first place.

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