The dilemma around social learning in the corporate sector

Social learning through the means of an internal online learning campus causes a lot of questionsaround engagement. We are often asked if we can introduce gamification to stimulate discussion and social learning in online learning environments. The solution is never really that simple.

If all it took was adding a few game mechanics and everyone would share freely then our work would be easy. The challenge is usually two-fold namely the learning culture within an organisation and the willingness to publicly mess up on the job. Where we find organisations with an open learning culture, where all levels of an organisation are sharing information freely and without holding back, we usually have very little that needs to be encouraged. Discussion and debate will evolve naturally. The companies that have an open learning culture are actually not that plentiful. For most it is aspirational.

The other side of the coin is that people don’t like to be perceived as stupid or failing, especially when you want to grow and get promoted in a company. Hence reluctance to ask a “stupid” question or look for advice on a specific scenario. Not that asking questions or looking for advice is a negative, quite the contrary, but in the eyes of the asker, it needs to be safe and supportive as well as without repercussion on their perceived ability. When there is even just a little bit of doubt, then most people will resort to asking the questions privately or on a one to one with a trusted advisor.

Where I see social engagement working is when a subject matter expert regularly contributes, answers questions and starts discussions. In organisations where the manager lead by example again we can see more engagement. To look for the kind of engagement in a work setting like what you see on social media networks is in my view confusing purpose. On social media we hang out to find out about friends and contacts and sharing what we feel is useful for them or what we are passionate about. In work, this could be construed as wasting time, hence most people don’t spend their time on company social channels if it isn’t their day job.

For me, social learning and any gamification you include should be built around the end-users why is he or she learning. Depending on the why you may not even want or need to share anything, you may just be totally satisfied in knowing that you have increased your skill. For those that still have questions or want to delve deeper, an ask the expert forum or even a private chat function would work well. Setting quota’s for questions and answers by default will drive quantity and not necessarily quality. When a subject matter expert receives the same question a few times, it could be useful to create a poll to see how many others would like this question answered and then build your next course around it.

Giving ratings to answers and courses is useful to find out if they were helpful. A poll to find out if the questions are useful topics for further courses again can be seen as helpful.

Peer-to-peer questions and answering work in systems like StackOverflow where you have a significant amount of people keen to share their expertise. Here upvoting and earning points for appreciated values also boosts your esteemed status in the community.  I have yet to see this work in the same way for companies, mainly because of already perceived status based on hierarchy, job title or other.

My best advice for gamification to stimulate social engagement is to keep it limited to the types of things your end-users are likely to respond to. That includes knowing whether they prefer closed private chats or open peer-rated environments. Each company will have a flavour of their accepted social norms, work with them, not against them.


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