Systemic thinking about social networks

October 15, 2007

I latch on to just about everything that comes across my screen on social networks and learning. I try not to get too discouraged by the number of new! social network services I’m invited to (or my hesitation at inviting other’ people) but instead get in there and have a go. I try to make connections: Facebook as an LMS? (I tried but doesn’t work for me in the corporate setting because it lacks reporting and, we know how important reporting is. A University would probably find value though).

Here’s one thing that caught my eye…Jay Deragon, in several posts, writes about the future of social networking and includes predictions from several social network executives. Here’s my synopsis:

  • Ubiquitous: ‘Social networks will be woven into every product and thing we touch.’ (Karl Jacob, CEO of Wallop)
  • Open: ‘We are pushing boundaries of what closed and open mean. It’s very necessary for people to take identities with them and supplement with content from elsewhere.’ (Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder or Facebook) “…portable profile that allows single log-on and pick and choose what to expose on different social nets.’ Rich Rosenblatt, CEO of Demand Media
  • Profitable and targeted: business model integrates social networks using ads targeted from social graphs (Moskovitz). As well, the gap between total ad dollars and online ad dollars close. (Safa Rashtchy, from the investment firm Piper Jaffray)
  • Fueled by wireless devices: mobile growth complemented by rich media like video will further grown social networking (Rashtchy, Deregon)
  • Big chasing the small driven by the growth of user-generated content in niche areas, small players are driving acquisitions.

I agree with these – they’re not all that provocative. For helping people learn I see much discussion on how we can use social networks in new models of blended learning, the call for SSO (please! I’ve run out of password variations), targeting groups, wireless, multimedia, and how acquisitions impact corporate programs.

But what really interested me is Deragon’s idea on a missing piece-systemic thinking. Someone who wrote a bit about systemics and learning, Robert E. Young, writes about how systemics may recognize links between learning and motivation in his call for classroom reform. We can easily make a jump to apply this to corporate learning. An oft-quoted passage from his book in his book, Critical Theory and Classroom Talk, is:

…avoid a split between what men consciously know because they are aware of having learned it by a specific job of learning, and what they unconsciously know because they have absorbed it in the formation of their characters by intercourse with others, becomes an increasingly delicate task…

Don’t we do that? Split how we track what was learned? Is this motivating?

I think this delicacy is especially important in the performance-based training that is becoming common in many corporations. Driven by assigning learning interventions (which include training and other activities) to skill gaps under the umbrella of talent management, we can create a divide between I know what I know because (you told me) I learned it (or should learn it) and “I know what I know because I formed it with others. The latter is not tracked in the LMS. Instead, it’s our own measure. Is there some devaluation of the connections created through social networks because of how we traditionally have measured and tracked learning? Does is make social networks unappealing?

Since processes such as talent and learning management aren’t going away any time soon (quite the oppositve), I think it calls out for the need to keep many elements of subjectiveness attached to the processes associated with corporate learning and talent management and – more importantly – approach the process systemically by looking at the whole vs. the parts.

As “Jane Doe Researcher” I don’t want my performance to be evaluated on what someone else tells me I’ve learned and don’t want to be held to a list of competencies. I’d want my learning to be evaluated based on the character, depth, and richness of what I’ve learned alone and through my connections – globally, locally, within the corporation, and externally. {AND THANK GOODNESS IT IS!}. Does this make any sense whatsoever?

  • http://www.downes.ca Stephen Downes

    Ah. You’ve hit on the distinction between evaluation as assessment and evaluation as a (not so subtle) way to telling you what to do.

    The question is: does management, properly so called, extend into something as deeply personal as your learning, your character.

    Well, you saw the presentation at the conference, the one preceded by the WalMart cheer. Some obviously think that it does.

  • http://www.downes.ca Stephen Downes

    Ah. You’ve hit on the distinction between evaluation as assessment and evaluation as a (not so subtle) way to telling you what to do.

    The question is: does management, properly so called, extend into something as deeply personal as your learning, your character.

    Well, you saw the presentation at the conference, the one preceded by the WalMart cheer. Some obviously think that it does.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Now and then I burp and a little bit of the corporate Kool Aid I once drank leaves my body. It’s visible to others because it is followed by the word ‘duh’ rather than ‘excuse me.’

    I’ve worked with a lot of people who wanted to be told what to do. I don’t believe they saw their (workplace) learning as deeply personal. Their motivation would have had to come from within and I could never reach them. So competencies it was. Burp. Excuse me.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    “I don’t believe they saw their (workplace) learning as deeply personal.”

    I think this is true for a number of people I worked with in a couple of corporate environments, and certainly true for a number of people in more blue-collar settings.

    Many guys (and they were all guys) in my generation agreed to the Motown tradeoff: I’ll punch in and I’ll do my job, and when I clock out, I’m on my own.

    Whatever the shape of the new economy, that was an exchange that both worker and employer in theory understood.

    In white-collar settings, I’ve often seen a great desire on the part of some upper management to tell people how to think, as well as what to produce. Gilbert wrote about the two sides of performance (behavior and accomplishment), and the pendulum swings back and forth. Nothing about having a C in your title immunizes you against faddism.

    All that said, I agree with you that organizations often don’t have a way (and, I suspect, often don’t have a will) to perceive, let alone value, the learning that the individual does outside of formal, go-on-the-record stuff. I tend to think that the only value to CEUs was to satisfy some outside demand (e.g., the company says, get X amount of training).

    They’re sure easy to count, though.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    “I don’t believe they saw their (workplace) learning as deeply personal.”

    I think this is true for a number of people I worked with in a couple of corporate environments, and certainly true for a number of people in more blue-collar settings.

    Many guys (and they were all guys) in my generation agreed to the Motown tradeoff: I’ll punch in and I’ll do my job, and when I clock out, I’m on my own.

    Whatever the shape of the new economy, that was an exchange that both worker and employer in theory understood.

    In white-collar settings, I’ve often seen a great desire on the part of some upper management to tell people how to think, as well as what to produce. Gilbert wrote about the two sides of performance (behavior and accomplishment), and the pendulum swings back and forth. Nothing about having a C in your title immunizes you against faddism.

    All that said, I agree with you that organizations often don’t have a way (and, I suspect, often don’t have a will) to perceive, let alone value, the learning that the individual does outside of formal, go-on-the-record stuff. I tend to think that the only value to CEUs was to satisfy some outside demand (e.g., the company says, get X amount of training).

    They’re sure easy to count, though.

  • http://ballisticlearning.com/ Himmat Singh

    We are the Moodle and Dokeos partners in India. We are planning to merge Elgg and Moodle or make a Facebook clone and merge Moodle or dokeos with it. Would welcome anyone interested in joining in the effort :).

  • http://ballisticlearning.com Himmat Singh

    We are the Moodle and Dokeos partners in India. We are planning to merge Elgg and Moodle or make a Facebook clone and merge Moodle or dokeos with it. Would welcome anyone interested in joining in the effort :).

  • http://jnthweb.pbwiki.com/ Joan Vinall-Cox

    I hear you, Janet. I’ve written on being an autodidact – which is what I am on- and off-line. Yet what I teach myself is discounted when it comes to bureaucracies. Sigh. (and a small burp.)

  • http://jnthweb.pbwiki.com/ Joan Vinall-Cox

    I hear you, Janet. I’ve written on being an autodidact – which is what I am on- and off-line. Yet what I teach myself is discounted when it comes to bureaucracies. Sigh. (and a small burp.)

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Now and then I burp and a little bit of the corporate Kool Aid I once drank leaves my body. It's visible to others because it is followed by the word 'duh' rather than 'excuse me.'

    I've worked with a lot of people who wanted to be told what to do. I don't believe they saw their (workplace) learning as deeply personal. Their motivation would have had to come from within and I could never reach them. So competencies it was. Burp. Excuse me.

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