What Does the Voice of the Learner Tell Us?
Can Social Media for Learning Co-Exist with Command and Control Work Environments?

Supporting Learning-to-Performance in Organizations

Learningperformancelandscapemodel_2 Will Thalheimer has posted an excellent diagram that describes the flow of activities that take place from learning to performance in organizations. Go here for a larger version.

What strikes me is how many of the activities that Will describes for both learning professionals and management can be supported by social media. For example, in the pre-learning phase, learning professionals need to identify organizational learning needs. In an organization that's powered by social media, the transparency of people blogging, interacting on social networks, etc. can provide a means for identifying where people may not be "getting it" or where new skill needs are beginning to emerge. When workers are sharing and discussing via "closed" systems such as email and face-to-face conversations, this information is less accessible. But when social media is being used, it becomes clearer where the needs may be.

In the "Learning Situation" phase, learners need to be engaged, encouraged to practice and apply learning, and their understanding must be evaluated. Again, social media provides great opportunities for this to happen. Blogs can be used for reflection and demonstrations of learning. Through commenting, peers, managers and learning professionals can engage learners in discussions that deepen learning and offer opportunities to practice new skills. Wikis, social bookmarking and social networks can also be used to engage learners in a community of practice where knowledge is shared and discussed and competence is demonstrated.

I think that social media is particularly effective in the "On-the-Job Performance" phase. This is an ongoing aspect of learning that can continue for weeks and months following any "learning event" and in most cases is the crucial link between the learning event and actually changing workplace behavior. Blogs, podcasts, screencasts, etc. can provide learners with ongoing reminders and performance tools to further shore up learning points. Imagine, for example, a post-training blog that provides daily or weekly updates and reminders, including an RSS feed of additional materials and resources appropriately tagged in a social bookmarking tool like Delicious. This also provides a forum for learners to ask ongoing questions and to further discuss issues raised in a learning event or as they apply new skills on the job. Through social networks, learners can find knowledgeable experts to answer their questions and provide additional online "coaching." All of this occurs in a more transparent, open environment where managers and learning professionals can monitor ongoing understanding and application of learning and provide additional support and job aides when it appears that learners may need them.

Social media also makes it easier for the organization to see impacts, both on an individual and an organizational level. Again, social media makes learning more transparent and it becomes easier to determine if individuals are "getting it." If actual workplace behavior doesn't change, yet learners are demonstrating their competence through these tools, then clearly other factors are at play. These may also become more visible as learners discuss how to apply learning on the job.

I like Will's framework and can see how it would be useful for both learning professionals and management to understand key tasks and think through strategies for supporting these activities. My only issue is that learners are not represented on this chart, thus reinforcing the idea that other people are responsible for organizational learning, not the learners themselves. I think I'd add a third column that outlines learner activities in each category that would look something like this:


  • Identify personal learning needs as they relate to the current job and organizational needs, as well as to future career needs.
  • Create personal learning plan
  • Create evaluation plan

Learning Situation

  • Create understanding, including identifying questions and gaps in knowledge during the learning event
  • Enable remembering for self (i.e., developing strategies to support remembering of materials and key learning points)
  • Practice new skills
  • Identify opportunities to apply learning
  • Develop plan for applying learning on-the-job

On-the-Job Performance

  • Apply learning
  • Evaluate performance in applying learning
  • Identify new questions and gaps in knowledge that arise from application
  • Identify and connect with "experts" to answer questions/get feedback
  • Provide peer support to colleagues (which deepens personal learning)
  • Develop personal learning environment/network to provide framework for ongoing feedback and updating of skills
  • Seek and utilize feedback to improve performance
  • Identify barriers to application of new skills and communicate to resolve these


  • Objectively evaluate personal results
  • Honestly discuss outcomes with managers, peers
  • Convey results of personal learning to stakeholders
  • Plan for personal performance and learning improvements

What do you think? Do we need to add a learner column here? If so, have I missed anything? And how do you think social media can support all of this?


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I made a similar suggestion (need a focus on the learner) on Will's blog without having first clicked through to this post -- so I may not have connected in a timely fashion, but at least we're in sync.

I think you have a good suggestion in terms of applying social media, though I'm not convinced it's always and everywhere necessary.

You say, for example, "when workers are sharing and discussing via 'closed' systems such as email and face-to-face conversations," information about thinks like lack of understanding or need for new skills "is less accessble."

That's true to some extent, but a person could also read that as saying social media is preferable to face-to-face conversation, which is just silly. (I realize you don't mean it that way, but I'm always leery of the manager in search of Magic Beans.)

Not every interaction between people needs to take place in the open -- as the mindless use of cellphones demonstrates. Not every individual responds well to public criticism, even if it's dressed as "constructive feedback."

I'm not saying never to use these tools. What I am saying is they are no more The Answer than any other tool-as-bandwagon.

Speaking for myself, I'd rather have root canal work without anesthesia than have all my on-the-job coaching occur through blogs, wikis, or (saints preserve us) tweets.

Perhaps before the "learning professionals" plunge in and provide additional support and job aids, they ought to deal directly with an individual to confirm that he or she does "need" these things.

Otherwise, you end up with management-imposed requirements that, for example, everyone in the organization has to have a blog. Next, you have to post at least four times a week. Next, you have to have two posts a month on My Personal Learning Reflections. (It's not all that far down the road to "What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?")

This mindset is what's made performance appraisal such a roaring success throughout the workplace.

Michele, thanks for elaborating on this. You're right on target. I'm grappling with how to shift the organizational mindset from control to getting out of the way so this good stuff can happen. We who have drunk the KoolAid applaud open learning ecologies; abstainers don't get it. I envision a meta-diagram with Will's diagram in the middle, following pervasive change in the organizational culture. Do you know of examples of people who are doing this right?

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