Learning is social by nature
Without going all the way back to the theories of Vygotsky or Albert Bandura, the simplest way to explain social learning is perhaps to look at the work of Richard J. Legers (Harvard Graduate School of Education), who has shown that one of the most important factors for success in higher education is a student’s ability to form and/or participate in small study groups. In comparison to those who had worked alone, those students who had studied in a group, even only once a week, were more involved and better prepared. The students from these groups were able to ask questions to resolve uncertainties and improve their own understanding of the subject by hearing the answers to other students’ questions. The most powerful element was the ability to play the role of teacher to other students, as it has been shown that the best way to learn is to teach.
The philosophy of social learning is in contrast to the traditional Cartesian view of education. In the Cartesian model, knowledge is a kind of substance and learning is a way for teachers to transfer this substance to their students. Instead of basing itself on the Cartesian principle "I think, therefore I am", the social conception of learning holds that "We participate, therefore we are".
It is in society that we learn. Observation, discussion and collaboration are also opportunities to learn. The social aspect of learning is fundamental. Social learning is therefore not a novelty that has appeared alongside Web 2.0.
Learning is not an event
When we talk about learning, we immediately think about formal learning; in other words, about training and education. However, this kind of organized learning only represents about 20% of everything we learn in our lives (see the works of Cofer).
Solving problems, design, creativity, research, experimentation and innovation are full-fledged learning experiences. Sharing experiences, observations, discussion, helping one another and cooperation are also kinds of learning. 80% of our learning is therefore unexpected, unplanned and informal.
From this point of view, the emphasis is less on the content and more on the activities and the human interactions that take place around the content. Indeed, real learning can be found in all the nuances of our way of collaborating, sharing and working. Learning is not something that takes place outside of work. Learning and work are in fact part of a single stream; it’s a continuous process, a skill, an ability to act.
Enterprise 2.0 = Learning 2.0
In our businesses, we know that informal learning takes place all the time, most of the time however, the answers and the experts most capable of solving a problem are not connected with the person who is attempting to tackle it. Social learning networks can remedy this situation by giving everyone access to a much larger group of people who can help them.
2.0 technologies are enabling technologies that connect us with each other, facilitating communication and collaboration. But they are not only technologies; and social learning, by allowing us to capitalise on the ever-increasing streams of knowledge that have made the walls of our organisations porous, fills the empty barrels of 2.0.
4Cs for Enterprise 2.0
Because social learning necessitates design, training, support, leadership, oversight and highlighting successes both big and small, we have developed an innovative and pragmatic approach in order to support our clients throughout their projects, both internally (tools and collaborative learning) and externally (social media). This approach facilitates acquiring and diffusing knowledge within social networks via an iterative and fractal process that can be summarised in four steps: Comprehension, Conversation, Collaboration and Capitalization.
Our 4C method is based on two indirect consequences of 2.0, which are vital for the success of any Enterprise 2.0 project: visibility and transparency.
Making work visible and transparent
One unexpected and rarely-acknowledged consequence of the first generation of IT tools (email, word processing) which make up our day-to-day work environment is to render the work process less visible, precisely at the moment when we need it to be as visible as possible.
The end products of our work are highly refined abstractions. For example, this article tells you nothing about the initial idea or its evolution. Likewise, it doesn’t give you any information about the exchanges I may have had with my peers (via social networks or face-to-face), or about my own experiences that have shaped my thinking.
In business, the gains in personal productivity produced by these IT tools are often made at the detriment of organisational learning.
In the 1.0 world, I worked in an events management company. I was in charge of organizing a professional trade show, and for a beginner like myself, the sales targets seemed unreachable. The only way to meet them was to bring together all the stakeholders of the project whilst meeting their needs (explicit or otherwise). I couldn’t rely on the planning boards from previous years’ shows, or on the sales databases, and even less on the dry minutes of old meetings to help me understand.
I was lucky enough to have a managing director who gave me access to his office for several months. I was able to access all his notes, emails and his address book. I participated in all the formal and informal exchanges on the topic. Within a few months I was able to sketch a reasonably accurate map of the world of Florence that I had to navigate and proposed a strategy to make this trade show an unmissable event. By allowing me to observe his work, the director gave me an invaluable learning opportunity.
Transparency is the key to social learning and to Enterprise 2.0. This transparency encourages access to the people and information that we may need to make good decisions. It is the consequence of the open and multidirectional communication made possible by social tools. It can’t be imposed or forced. Transparency in Enterprise 2.0 involves making our actions and decisions visible to others. It’s about sharing information and knowing who has provided it. We’re talking about accountability and recognition. By bringing people and their experiences and ideas together, social learning allows us to increase our confidence in the shared information and in those who created it.
Changing models: from "command & control" to "connect & animate"
It is transparency that is proving the greatest challenge to the classic "command and control" management model. Managers have to accept that information is created and spread more quickly over networks. They must also accept that this movement will most often happen outside of their control.
Lately, one of our clients told me that "the problem with your approach is that if you give everyone the right to speak, they might just take you up on it!" It’s precisely this commitment to openness and transparency, which goes hand in hand with Enterprise 2.0, which must pressure management to innovate and adopt a "connect and animate" model.
Your IT department and in-house lawyers will tell you that it’s risky. But these risks can be managed. The value created by greater transparency in business is much greater than the potential cost. On the contrary, the real risks are attached to a lack of transparency, to bad decision-making, to making the same mistakes again or redoing the same work, to an inability to innovate or to understand and satisfy client needs.
Until now competitive advantages have been built on information asymmetry. In the future, we will be mistaken if we think that exclusive access to information is an advantage. In today's complex environment, real competitive advantages are created by people who can find relevant information, transform it into practical knowledge and use it to create value. The challenge is to find, attract and hold on to these people; the challenge is to create an environment in which their talent can be developed and used to its fullest; and transparency is essential in such an environment.
Find this article in the "Enterprise 2.0 - French Touch" White Paper, a collective and collaborative work.