Monday, 25 January 2010

Josh Bersin on informal and social learning


   After a couple of years of phone and email communications (and a guest post), today I finally met up with Josh Bersin (and his colleague Allen Keetch).

Josh is in town for the Learning Technologies conference on Wednesday and Thursday, where he’ll be talking about informal learning.  Josh very kindly gave me a summary of his key points.


Transforming to a modern learning environment

The recession of 2000 catapulted e-learning forward as organisations rationalised their training and moved more on-line.  The current recession has kicked off informal learning.  At the same time, we have access to new social technologies.  These two factors have collided giving rise to a revolution in informal learning (Josh sees this as consisting of on-demand, social and embedded learning.

Trainers and instructional designers have always known that informal and social learning is the way people learn, but they’ve not spent any time on it.  They’ve tended to see their job as the formal stuff.  They now need to take on new disciplines, move to a new design paradigm and change their instructional design models – putting elements of social media into every development programme.

Social learning is a good thing for the learning / training industry, but it’s forcing practitioners to rethink – they’re past talking about what it is – but they’re still working out how they’re going to apply it – what’s their job – and whether they will have a job.

But it’s a bit like the rise of e-learning again.  L&D practitioners who ignored e-learning tended not to get involved.  It’ll be the same with social learning – practitioners need to get with it or they’ll become more irrelevant.


But why would someone read a blog?

After meeting Josh, I had another meeting and talked about this blog.  My contact responded that he’d read a blog once, but obviously wasn’t sure why he had, as he then asked “so why would someone read a blog?”.

Now, admittedly this person’s not in L&D, but he is a fairly high profile figure in the UK HRM and D world, and I don’t think his reaction was that different from that of many HR and L&D practitioners that I meet.

Perhaps this a difference between the US and UK, but whatever the reason, I don’t feel as positive about L&D’s sponsorship of social learning as Josh (or other speakers at the conference like Jane Hart).

And I think lack of understanding and involvement in social media is part of the problem with this.  So ’d encourage L&D (and HR) practitioners who want to get on top of social learning (and social HR) to get involved in using social media for themselves – it’s by far the best way to learn (mind you, I suppose the people this point applies to won’t be reading this anyway!).


Deepening cultural change

In Bersin’s recent report, ‘Enterprise Learning and Talent Management 2010’, Josh and his colleagues discourage L&D practitioners from acting on their own.  Social learning systems need to link with, align with and be integrated with those systems chosen by IT.

I think there’s a bigger issue than this too.  Social learning needs to link with other changes in the organisation.  It’s part of a more social way of behaving, of thinking, or working.  Learning – HR – Management – Enterprise 2.0.

So my advise would be not to start with learning – but with the need to be more social (nb meaning to focus more on relationships, not spend more time in the pub!).  See my Social Advantage blog for more thoughts on this.




Also see my post on social learning (vs learning socially – and why it involves more than just using social media)

Learning & Skills Group members can also view my Learning Technologies presentation from a couple of years ago at – see under LT 2008 track 3.



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