Project Management Institute

How social learning technology changes the way projects get done

A video ... podcast ... screencast ... paper ... an audio file ... Do any of these tools sound familiar? These are examples of tools that people around the world use to get the answers they need, quickly.

As training budgets and travel budgets continue to decrease, more and more people need to learn fast and get quick results. Rather than the old notion that learning leaders have to train our teams in a formal way, we now know that it's more about getting the right amount of learning at the right time.

Formal learning will always have its place and is valued. However, when time is short and the work is great, social learning technology is the enabler that allows you to learn from your peers, a subject matter expert, or someone in another country, as you post that very important question from your laptop or device of choice. It's about asking a question and getting an answer.

Does your boss tell you exactly how to approach each project or does she simply give you a deadline? Does she work with you to fix a problem or simply tell you to handle it? You've heard about a project charter, but have you ever used one or even seen one? Are you are even sure if it's appropriate for this project. You know that you need to create a budget, but there are so many variables. Time is ticking away ... What do you do?

Increasingly, project managers find themselves in this predicament. And increasingly, they turn to social media and ask for help. “I was just assigned a project and am having problems getting started, any suggestions?” In a matter of minutes, if they are on the right site, the responses are plentiful. The replies could be those of camaraderie: “I know what you mean, I have that problem too.” Or, someone could suggest a first step: “I was in that situation and I started with a project charter.” That one answer could then potentially start another set of posts on what a charter is, and how one can be created.

That scenario is the essence of collaborative learning: how people learn fast and get results. It doesn't take the place of e-learning, virtual learning, or traditional instructor led training (ILT). It just has its well-deserved place on the menu beside these other modalities.

Why Is Social Learning Technology Vital to Business Growth?

Just like other enabling technology, social learning technology offers the ability to get just-in-time information, so individuals can learn and go right back to their jobs. Rather than waiting for a training event, or searching for an expert, you are able to learn from your peers, an expert—some of whom you might not have realized had the expertise you need.

Not only does social learning technology allow you to become a learner as a need arises, but it also allows individuals to take on the role of subject matter expert as well. This enables team members to teach each other, grow together, and expand their collective knowledge bases.

Social learning isn't new. In fact it's as old as time. What's new is the social learning technology that helps you work and learn at the same time, by connecting you with people, content, and social tools available 24x7x365.

How Is Social Learning Technology Changing the Way You Work and Learn?

As a project manager, you're always seeking the right resources, expertise, and relationships to propel your projects forward, resolve issues, and work effectively. And, like most of us, you're facing challenges and deadlines, so you're forced to get creative, and tap into your various networks for advice and support. You might reach out to your peers within your social networks—inside and outside your organization; you might research a topic within a news network or perhaps use social technology within your organization to find a resource who may help you answer a critical question. This means you're not relying on your organization alone to push you the information and skill development you need. Rather, you're taking control of what you need, and using your network to learn and share new skills and practices.

Social learning technology encourages sharing and learning from others of all levels. This shift alone changes your work from top-down, authority-driven to bottom-up, team-driven. And social learning technology enables you to filter and personalize vast amounts of information more efficiently (follow people you trust, check out snippets of content, ask questions and get answers) so you can use what you've learned even as you're learning it—and you can continue to share it with others!

How Are Other Organizations Using Social Learning Technology?

Technologies that create conversation among diverse and widespread groups of people are in the highest demand because conversation is a robust, effective method of sharing ideas and learning. Add a collaboration platform, throw in videos, screencasts, web cams, and sprinkle in social elements like pictures, featured content, profiles, and contributions—and you have a better way to teach and learn together. You have a technology-enabled learning community.

Many organizations—and most likely yours—use networking and knowledge-sharing tools to archive best practices and stay connected. Social learning platforms are similar but stand apart in one specific way: they have no clear learning purpose.

ESI, the global project-focused training company, has pioneered the use of social learning with technology partner Bloomfire® and a new product strategy focused on learning while you work. We call our social strategy cLearning (collaborative learning). It features an engaging learning experience, called Skillsharks™, built on top of the Bloomfire collaborative learning platform. The clear learning purpose? Learning and sharing project and contract management know-how. With Skillsharks people learn what they want, when they want.

Skillsharks is designed for project and contracting professionals who struggle with balancing the demands of developing skills and simply getting work done. They get skills and tools they can use right away, practical advice from peers and SMEs, helpful answers and current insight from peers, practitioners and instructors who eat, sleep, and live project and contract management.

Skillsharks™

Exhibit 1. Skillsharks™

To get and keep the collaborative learning community going successfully, ESI uses the technology internally— among its global employees—to apply lessons learned to new, collaborative learning communities for its customers.

ESI launched the concept and community by creating a version just for its employees. We used contests, stories, and gaming elements like badging to encourage people to fully experience the social tools and to voice their opinions on the potential of the technology. The internal community has fostered collaboration and become a sandbox and launching pad for the first collaborative learning product available globally in September 2012.

How Can You Introduce Social Learning Technology Into Your Workplace?

Find out how people on your team are already using their own personal social technology to get projects done better. You won't be surprised, but you might learn some great tricks. Ask how they're using your company's networking and knowledge sharing tools.

Armed with this information, research the social and collaborative learning platforms that are focused on the kind of behavior you're already seeing in your business—or the kind of behavior people prefer, but perhaps your company has not yet supported with social tools.

Start small. Find a group of people who have reason to learn faster from each other and try out a software platform that is designed for learning. Or, you can participate in external social learning platforms focused on project management—like Skillsharks™—to experience how you get a return on your time investment without having to make a software investment.

Here's a short list of current social software options.

Current Social Software Options

Exhibit 2. Current Social Software Options

How Does Social Learning Technology Change the Way Projects Get Done?

  • Projects are about people. People learn socially. Social learning technologies help people learn faster.
  • Projects get done better and faster when people learn from each other—while they work.
  • Social learning technology enables faster learning and better results.
A Look at Skillsharks

Exhibit 3. A Look at Skillsharks

So, we encourage you to embrace social learning.

You will Learn Fast and Get Results.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2012, Patrice Collins
Originally published as a part of 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings- Vancouver, Canada

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