Social Learning is the preeminent term in Learning & Development at present. It is, however, as mystical in practice as it is prominent in rhetoric.

The problem with understanding what Social Learning can do for an organisation is that the concept is often mapped onto how L&D is already being run there, with the same technology, expectations and other limitations. For instance, how does Social Learning run alongside classroom training and eLearning? How does it sit in the LMS? Where does it fit in at all? You can see how it just seems like another ‘thing’ to do and to worry about – and why it is not finding its way more easily into organisations. For starters, who is asking for Social Learning in your company anyway?

However, it does not take an overhaul of L&D to get started with Social Learning. All it requires is reimagining it – and not in terms of ‘activities’ and ‘content’ but in terms of the impact that you would like to be having inside your organisation, on actual business performance.

Sanoma (one of the biggest consumer media companies in Europe) reimagined L&D and they put Social Learning at the centre of their approach.

New Media ‘know-how’ was the single biggest priority for Sanoma and so they set about making it the biggest priority for L&D too. But rather than engaging external experts to run training programmes, they identified experts within Sanoma to share what they knew – both online and in-person – to provide continuous learning opportunities. They recognised that not only did the requisite expertise reside within the company but that that expertise was already being applied within their organisation’s context. They then asked: how could sharing this expertise benefit everybody else?

To gain the interest and commitment of their internal experts – their ‘Knowledge Champions’ – Sanoma’s Head of L&D wrote an email out to the entire company and asked for experts in any given discipline whether they would like to raise their profile in the organisation by sharing what they knew. He got a great number of responses and thus set about understanding exactly what they knew. It seems so straightforward really!

From engaging with the Knowledge Champions, they identified the different components of ‘New Media Know-How’ and set about helping their Knowledge Champions unpack what they knew – often in videos but sometimes with voiceover screen-recordings or good old-fashioned text.

In far less time than it would take to design (or procure) and deliver training to everybody in the organisation, they created online resources that could both improve the know-how of every employee every day at Sanoma but also support them in the workflow when they just needed to know in order to perform. The way I like to describe the difference between this approach and traditional L&D is by comparing ‘learning’ to ‘feeding’. To sheep-dip with training ‘events’ would be like feeding ducks. You would shout for their attention and throw food at them in the hope that they would hear you, that they would be hungry when you threw the food, and that they would eat as much as would satisfy them until you came back. What Sanoma did was open a supermarket in which all available food was visible and accessible, based on taste, preference and need. The supermarket was always open and continuously being restocked based on customer requirements.

By reimagining L&D like this, there is a real opportunity for you to be the best-networked, best-informed and most effective department in the entire organisation. With this approach you could solve real business and performance problems for the benefit of everybody in your organisation – on the same day it is identified. Not with a big bang, ‘hurrah, here’s a programme!’ but with an online resource crafted by (or with) an expert inside your organisation. And just to restate, this does not take an overhaul of L&D to get started. You could just solve one business performance issue today and another tomorrow. You might then decide to tackle the biggest business priority in your organisation, as the L&D team are doing at Sanoma.

With this Social Learning approach, you would not be measuring the ROI of a programme. You will be measuring how many people can do their jobs better as a result of what you do. You will be measuring how many people are better prepared to deliver on tomorrow’s challenges today.

And how did Sanoma encourage their employees to engage with this new approach? The resources they created in Looop are so popular that, on average, employees access them about twice a week and that has seen more engagement in the rest of L&D as a result!

Here is how Sanoma have reimagined their L&D department, which might inspire you to do the same…

David James is Learning Strategist with Looop and a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. Until recently, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region. 

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