A tale of two Communities

Written by: John Faulkes


People learn by interacting with their colleagues and networks. It's true. In fact, the real impact of  learning from one's working community is commonly judged to be higher than anything achievable from a formal training course. It's no surprise therefore that in this day and age, staff are encouraged to network with their peers, sometimes using internal social media platforms, as an aid to learning.

However, this works in some cases, and not others. Consider these two examples, both from global Pharma companies.

Community 1 - Using the new Logistics System

The launch of a new global IT platform to manage a myriad of transport partners, licenses and schedules kicked off with comprehensive user training. However, the platform is a complex product and many staff struggled to manage some of the more special functions. A central helpdesk was of some use, but was more suited to local IT support people rather than end users' many queries.

What really helped was a chat board system set up by a group of Head Office users. Using this, people working anywhere in the world could post problems they'd encountered and others would post solutions or guidance.

Why did it work?

Overcoming the many usage snags of the system was pivotal to users everywhere doing their days' work. They quickly grew to trust the chat board as a resource that would help them. Furthermore, expert users were proud of their ability to help others - and received recognition from Supply Chain management.

Community 2 - Leadership Program Alumni platform

In parallel to a global leadership development program that had been running successfully for several years, L&D launched an internal social media platform for all participants, based on (when it was a thing) Google Plus. It's objectives were several: to maintain communication between course alumni groups;  to deploy leadership-related articles on a regular basis; to enable people to share their success stories and also post requests for peer advice and help with challenges they experienced in the workplace.

Unfortunately, the platform did not last beyond six months.  The flow of articles slowed and dried. Members rarely posted anything - and even more rarely anything beyond simple 'hello from..' messages.

Why did it not work as expected?

There are several reasons why peer-learning systems of this kind often fail. The flow of useful reading content is exhausting to maintain, for L&D people with many other priorities. People will often have set up email address lists on the course, and will prefer this over the social platform. But there's a more fundamental cause. The critical relationship following a person's attendance at a soft skills (i.e. leadership) program is not their fellow attendees, but their line manager and team members. For the attendee, slipping back to pre-training ways is frequently only too comfortable and happens commonly. Without an imperative to perform differently at work, there's no real need to reach out to the platform.

What can we conclude from this?

It's great to be up with the times, but we need to think carefully about setting up learning communities. We especially must be cautious about promises from vendors of peer learning social platforms. These work well where learners are motivated to work toward accreditation - they're particularly prevalent in academic settings. But the jury is out for organisational learning.

We can help

We'd be very happy to talk to you about how you can best follow up training programs. One important thing to note: in making sure that training 'sticks', it's really the learners' line managers that need support. How do you do that? Talk to us!

John Faulkes - 27th August 2021 @ 11:44