June 24, 2011

Peek-a-Boo, I See You

Posted in Social Learning tagged , , , at 9:30 am by kristibroom

Babies and small children often enjoy a game of peek-a-boo. There’s a novelty at that age that allows us to believe that what we can’t see doesn’t exist, until we remove our hands and enjoy the surprise when we see that our mother/father/friend has returned.

Social Technology has allowed us to make visible distant friends, formerly unknown contacts, and innumerable resources. With all the good that it provides, though, comes some bad. What if you really don’t care what your sister ate for breakfast, or really don’t want to see yet another grainy children’s concert video? What about those distant school friends that are really better kept distant?

Here’s a news flash: social technology didn’t invent those problems. Unlike what we believed as infants, hiding the distant friend or the grainy video doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that you won’t come in contact with it eventually. Social technologies only bring them to us more easily.

I’ve been rolling out learning communities in various formats for a couple of years now, and over the years, have had discussions about the amount of “socializing” that takes place on them. Our eyes seem to quickly focus on the activity surrounding the community/class potluck or class introductions, and less on the rich content-focused discussions. In my experience, there are many more of the latter, though it’s often the former that draws us into the discussion. So if potlucks are a gateway to a rich experience, should we discourage them? What if, though, the only discussion that takes place is that type of surface socializing…at what point do we intervene to change directions?

Almost every community manager I speak to has a story of “that one posting” – whether it be a potluck discussion, or a rant by a disgruntled employee – that draws into focus the downside of what can occur on social technology. But the technology didn’t create potlucks or disgruntled employees; those discussions just happened previously word-of-mouth. Technology enables the conversations to occur more efficiently, maybe, but with that efficiency comes exposure.

How do we handle this type of exposure? I often reference the story that Andrew McAfee tells in Enterprise 2.0 of the European investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DrKW). McAfee tells it best, so you really should read it in the book (p. 156), but the gist of it is that the CIO defended the use of social technologies as an important compliance tool, saying that the uncovering of those less desirable posts allowed the organization to find problems, and address them, in advance of the regulatory agencies. The issues always existed; the social technology allowed DrKW to expose them, and fix them more efficiently.

So if we can get comfortable with surfacing issues, then we need to ask what is the right blend of “social” and “content” in a learning community? How do we avoid blaming the technology when we see postings that are unfavorable, and instead use it to enable and encourage the types of interactions we’d like to see within the group?

I think there are a few things that can lead to success:

Roles: A key step toward getting and maintaining the type of contributions you would like is to have someone in place to monitor the space. This person or people are empowered to remove truly inappropriate content, and also to coach for the type of content that is desired. This person should also be the one to communicate the expectations to new contributors, as necessary.

Rewards: Having a system, whatever the system, that rewards people for valuable contributions and not for noise, will lead to more of the valuable contributions. This doesn’t have to be difficult. A simple online or offline “thank you” is a start.

Recognition: …or acceptance that there will be noise. There will be a level of “social” that helps to build connections among members or your community. Figure out the tolerance level that is appropriate for your community, and as you begin to reach the tipping point, drive interactions to the content-rich discussions.

So, like our early games of peek-a-boo, we may want some of the information we can now access because of social technologies to disappear – and not return as we open our eyes. However, I think a better approach might be to look past the noise with an understanding that there is more good than bad, more benefit than detriment, and that collectively we can encourage the types of interactions on social technologies that allow us to get the most out of them.

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June 15, 2011

The Exceptional Coach

Posted in Learning tagged , , at 8:29 am by kristibroom

Like David Kelly, I often look for learning connections in everyday life. This week it happened during baseball.

Both of my sons are in baseball. My oldest, the 13 year old, is playing for his fourth year. We started him late, so he’s spent much of the last 3 years catching up on the fundamentals. This year we’re starting to see him really put it all together to become a real player. My youngest, the 6 year old, is in his second year, though he graduated from tee ball last year, to coach pitch this year. He is full of competitive spirit, and when many of the others on his team are digging in the dirt, he is paying attention to all of the critical details in play.

There are lots of stories and connections, and I’m sure we’ll explore some of them together in future posts. What struck me this week though is the coaching. Both of my sons, with their personalities, skills, and experience with baseball, probably could use some extra coaching. All of the coaches in the program are volunteers, and this year we are fortunate to have 3-4 coaches on each team. We are also fortunate that on each team, one of the coaches really wears the title well.

All of the coaches do what is necessary: they show up to the games and practices, they show the kids the fundamentals of hitting and catching and base running, and they keep track of who’s played which positions and how many hits they’ve made.

The exceptional coaches, though, go beyond that. They take the time to coach, in the moment, when there is maximum relevance. For the 6 year olds, the exceptional coach will see a coachable moment, and will gather the 5 or 6 boys closest to the scenario, and talk them through what happened, what should happen, and what they can do next time. Not all of those moments are when things go wrong – sometimes he gathers them in to congratulate a teammate on a nice play. For the older kids, it’s not much different, though there are generally fewer kids around since they occupy a larger portion of the field. This exceptional coach typically plays the role of 3rd base coach, an ideal role for him to take some individual time with each player, tell them what they did well, and give them a tip or two for next time. It seems so easy, but I often see the person filling that spot just standing by the player, not talking at all. It’s really an unfortunate missed opportunity.

Beyond the obvious connections to coachable moments, maximizing relevance, and giving targeted feedback, I think there is more here. I think about our learners, who, like the rest of our coaches this year, do what is necessary, but no more. How many of us do the same? And then I think about the learners who, like the exceptional coaches, look for opportunities to improve, even if it’s in just a couple brief moments, and take full advantage of them to up their game.

How do we find those brief moments of intense and relevant learning? How do we encourage those who are just getting by to see the value in them? How do we get people to share what they’ve learned in those moments with others?

I would love to hear your stories of moments, or people, like those I’ve described above. Let’s capture what people are doing, and in the process encourage others to find ways to do the same.