Building Communities – The Slope of Enlightenment

In my last blog alter egos I started to share some personal traits and experiences that led me in to the world of developing communities to support learning. It wasn’t an overnight thing and it’s still very much work in progress and I’m learning each day. I remember joining my first online community The Learning and Skills Group and being excited about what was happening in front of my eyes and like any newbie I lurked. I lurked……and I lurked.

I was learning lots of things, finding lots of resources and watching. Watching how other people were using the community and observing how the tools like discussions were being used and how conversations would start and develop, how groups were used and how things were tagged and shared. I was fascinated by the whole thing and started to see the potential value for collaboration and learning and I continued to lurk.

Simultaneously I was also developing my own community within RBS Insurance, I had created a private network and had started to create and develop my first community. This community was aimed at trainers just like me and it’s purpose was to connect my then L&D team together and create a social team space for us to share useful resources and keep in touch across the different sites. My inspiration had come from the Learning and Skills Group and from watching how others were using this community; I simply replicated what I saw in the hope that the same would work here. To a degree it did, I set the network up and created a discussion and blog area and added some groups and a photo area. I even made it look nice and invited my closest colleagues and it spread like wildfire with over 100 team members signing up within two weeks. This was it, this would change everything I thought, I hoped, the adrenaline and excitement of seeing this community spread grew and I waited in anticipation for discussions, blog posts and groups to spring up and photos to be added. Then it happened….

Hype cycleNothing.

Hype cycleNothing happened, there were very few meaningful contributions and whilst people had joined there was no real activity to speak of and I had unknowingly just left the peak of inflated expectations and entered the trough of disillusionment. There were lots of factors that contributed to the lack of activity which I only really started to understand much later but huge expectation and hope had given way to disappointment in a matter of four weeks. The Gartner Hype Cycle is a way to understand why this happened and whilst it is used to describe the path of emerging technologies it can also be used to understand behaviours or more specifically emerging behaviours.

The trigger points could be anything that is going to change something and that provides the opportunity to do something differently, for the purpose of this blog let’s focus on social technologies and the opportunities they provide for collaboration and learning. Behind the trigger is the person or the process that has created the technology and according to the law of diffusion of innovation, these are the innovators. I’ve talked about the law of diffusion of innovation in a learning context here with L&D being early adopters leading the way, using social technology to try new approaches transforming the way learning can be delivered, accessed and facilitated. Leading the way as connectors and role modelling how information should be shared and how people can collaborate in an ever more connected world.

law of diffusionLearning professionals as leaders yes, learning professionals as role models yes, learning professionals as change agents YES! If we don’t get it and see the application or understand how to use the tools ourselves to support our own development then what hope have the people who aren’t in the learning profession got. Those people who still think being trained is the primary way they develop, those people who are are still expecting a trip to the classroom to learn and those people who have been so scarred by our education system they lack the vision the see how learning can be approached in any other way, shape or form. This is our challenge.

How can we get inside learners heads when the expectations around working and learning are still deep rooted in the ‘old’ way. Yes there has been a huge amount of technological change in the last 10 years but have we or our behaviours, attitudes and organisational cultures changed in that time to truly use technology to it’s full potential and apply it in ways that add more value to all that we do. No. Not yet and the journey has only just started in the way we approach learning.

I’ve been thinking how I can represent the journey I’m personally using the hype cycle as technology in learning and the diffusion of innovation to represent changing behaviours as I move people away from the traditional approach to work and learning to a more social approach. It is fundamentally against how we’ve been brought up and how we are expected to act and behave but at the same point there are 1 billion people using Facebook to share their lives with others so it’s not like it’s a fundamental shift in human behaviour we are inherently social animals. It just takes time for this to spread its wings and fly in new directions and work in different settings.

Here is my go at trying to represent the fact that there can be disillusionment and gaps in understanding how social technologies can be used. Our efforts to educate, raise awareness and develop skills to move people from being early adopters, to “the way it’s just done round here” is explicitly linked to the slope of enlightenment. Everything you are doing or not doing to support this shift and change will determine how long or steep the slope is until it is just the way you do things. The red box is where it is at in terms of winning hearts and minds, developing skills to become better learners and increase understanding how technology can be applied and add value to support learning. In the red box you will find the answer to the WIIFM question and if this is done quickly the slope of enlightenment will be a short and steep one.

 The slope of enlightenment

You could be anywhere and at any point on the slope of enlightenment and I would hazard a guess that those that read this blog will be much closer to the way it’s just done than most. Having been developing the DPG Community for the last 12 months I’ve realised that there are still a huge amount of people and organisations out here that see using social technologies as foreign, strange and even dangerous There are many out there yet to experience the trough of disillusionment let alone set foot on and start to climb the slope of enlightenment. The red area should be our focus and continue to be our focus as we nurture and encourage change and shift our approaches to workplace learning and how we work. Clark Quinn sparked some fire in my belly yesterday when I read his post “Yes you do have to change” and there will be those out there content to bury their heads in the sand.

For those who wish to challenge and change let’s continue to share what is working for you from an individual and organisational perspective. If you’re looking for a way to change your thinking or for inspiration on different ways to approach the slope, take a leaf out of the WeeLearning book of design thinking and pull your hiking boots on as it’s a hill worth climbing.

Just imagine what the view will be like when you reach the top.