Archive for January 2010



Adding social media to an LMS

It sounds like a great idea, and in the right circumstances, it can be. But done wrong, it can simply take us further down a rabbit trail that takes us further and further away from learning that leads to performance enhancement. Here are five critical success factors that nine years of experience in creating online social learning solutions for Fortune 500 companies suggest are important before consider before simply tacking Facebook or a wiki onto your LMS, or when thinking about integrating social media into your training solutions.

Avoid being attracted to shiny objects

If you read the forums and blogosphere, you keep seeing post after post asking about which social media are best for learning. We’re like five year olds, attracted to shiny objects. It’s not the technology, stupid!!! We’ve been down this road before when we were suckered into putting years of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars into LMS implementations and SCORM compliance – changing our focus from instruction to “content.” If content were king, then universities could all close down in favor of libraries. Content is not instruction. And an LMS – the chief disseminator of content – cannot substitute for a true learning strategy. And here’s a news flash. Adding a coffee shop where people socialize onto your library still doesn’t make it into a university. Even if the coffee shop has a great espresso machine. And bolting fancy social media onto a fancy content management system doesn’t create learning in and of itself.

Start at the end

Social learning does not equal informal learning. While some social learning is informal, much is not. So like with any other instructional design, start by asking what the business purpose is for the learning initiative, whether it’s a training problem, and what the learning objectives are. (Alternatively, at the enterprise level, identify key strategic learning initiatives for the next year, etc.) Drill down into the audience characteristics, mapping them against principles of technology availability, organizational culture, and online social dynamics. Use these data to determine whether the time is right to begin to introduce social media into your learning organization.

Ask the magic question

We know how to deliver good training. We’ve done it for years. And shame on us for now doing it now, because most eLearning replicates the worst practices of education online – lecture and multiple choice tests. And rapid eLearning lets us do it faster, and make even longer boring page turners! Shame on us!

When we design social learning interventions, we start by asking the magic question: Given the right setting, the right amount of seat time, the right class size, the right number of instructors, and the right resources, how would we design our training? How would we weave together presentations, individual exercises, small group discussions, case studies, individual or group projects, simulations, seminar-type discussions, games, etc. into our training event? What would we do prior to that event to prepare people? How much of that “seat time” would we devote to post-event coaching, mentoring, stretch assignments, action plans, communities of practice, or other on-the-job reinforcement activities?

The promise of social media – when used appropriately – is that we can enhance and extend the best practices of face-to-face instruction to audiences distributed across the city or across the globe. And I believe this because for me this is not a theoretical statement – our customers have documented hundreds of millions of dollars they have saved or made using interventions designed in this fashion.

The key is focusing on designing the right learning process, not on acquiring a shiny new technology.

A seamless learner experience is critical

Think about Disney World. Like it or hate it, everything you see, hear, taste and smell is part of one unified experience. The “cast members” never take off their costumes in public to smoke a cigarette, litter doesn’t stay on the broad, inviting walkways, fireworks light up the night sky – everything points to family, fun, safe, magical…

We’ve found that it’s important to provide a social learning platform that provides a similar integrated experience in several respects. Whether the learner is launching a SCORM package or adding a page to a wiki, looking for a course or locating an expert, content and collaboration should provide the same experience.

  • A single sign-on and the same branding and colors are no brainers.
  • The location and labeling of navigation controls should be identical.
  • The online manual or help system should be comprehensive, and context sensitive help should function the same way everywhere.
  • Profiles and search should reach throughout the system.
  • The learner should see and be able to easily create links between content objects and collaboration tools whenever appropriate – that’s how learning happens.

In general, the learner should never realize that they are using tools that may have originated from different point providers (if, in fact, you choose to purchase a system that combines such tools).

Don’t kill the administrator. Please.

In a similar way, an effective integration of social media with learning management provides a single point of administration for the learning professional.

Users should not only be registered in one place, but permissions should be able to be set in one place as well.
The administrative interface should be identical for the learning management and social media portions of the platform.
Content libraries should be accessible throughout the platform (i.e., referenced from a wiki a well as displayed as a folder)

But to be effective, social media must map to social structures in the real world. This means long-term bodies as well as quick-forming quick-dissolving teams, informal networks as well as hierarchical groups. Your platform must have the ability to allow individual collaboration tools to support role-based management, with groups of people being given roles to multiple tools with one operation, and different levels of permissions available (i.e. guest, participant, facilitator, administrator).

In addition, to replicate the best practices of education effectively using social media, instructors should be able to quickly create learning maps that combine content, assignments, webinars, asynchronous discussions, and the like. There should be a role for coaches as well as the learners’ managers in these activities, so that (for instance) to be considered complete, an assignment must be approved by a coach or a manager. To be effective, dependencies between activities should be supported, as well as email pings for learners, coaches, and managers.

Measure social learning

For all too long we’ve been simply measuring what’s easiest to measure – the equivalent of electronic “butts in seats” – completion of eLearning modules. So if a person saves a company 55 minutes of time by finding the answer after 5 minutes of watching an eLearning course, he is seen as “not complete.” And – again- shame on us! It needs to stop now.

As you look at integrating social media into your LMS, ask questions such as:

Does the system report on social media usage (number of posts, etc.)
Does the system report on completion of social learning activities in learning maps, i.e., coaching sessions, work samples, webinar attendance)
Is the reporting of social learning integrated and presented in the same way as reporting of content learning?


People like to learn from people. We’ve been doing it this way for 20,000 years or so, and we’re pretty used to it. As learning professionals, we’ve allowed ourselves to get away from it a little bit too much over the last decade or so, but now the new social media technologies offer the promise of allowing us to get back to basics, to get back to what works, and to focus once again on letting people learn from people.

But we have to keep the focus on the people, and on the learning – and only THEN find the technology that will be most appropriate for the job. We can’t just find the newest, neatest, shiniest object and bolt it on to our LMS. That way lies madness.

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