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Training, Technology, and "The Law of the Hammer": Part 2


Thu Mar 21 2013

Training, Technology, and "The Law of the Hammer": Part 2

Last week, I discussed the importance of applying the right tool to the right learning scenario, and I stressed that regardless of the tools we have at our disposal, a few maxims about effective learning systems remain unchanged. Specifically, we need to ask ourselves:

  • What is the desired and necessary learning outcome? Is it awareness, knowledge, basic skill, or skill mastery?

  • What is the nature of the content? Is the learning conceptual and/or kinetic in nature? Is the content sensitive or proprietary?

  • What is the nature of the learner population? How do they best learn the type of content needed? What is their prior learning and technology experience? Are their learning styles homogeneous, or do learners come from different backgrounds, experiences, and generations?

  • Is the environment around the learner conducive to the learning delivery modality being considered? Will the learners be able to be available, focused, and responsive?

  • Will the learner’s managers and colleagues support the investment of time and money? Do they know how to reinforce (and value) learning in the workplace?

These tenets of learning system design apply regardless of the tools and technologies being used. In fact, the thoughtful application of these considerations can help any modality or approach shine when used in the situations for which they are best suited.


On the flipside, new technologies can suffer guilt by association when imposed improperly into circumstances ill-suited to their strengths. Let’s not kill promising young technologies with ill-conceived overuse and misuse.

What Should Guide Your Social Technology Strategy?

The good news is that there are three general principles that should guide your plans to leverage social technology, particularly for leadership development and other “soft” skills:

  1. Formal Learning Is Still Important. Our experience is that most interaction and leadership skills are actually best acquired and honed in a formal, intentional learning experience that includes lots of time for controlled practice and feedback. Social media tools should never serve as a replacement to formal learning. Rather, they are ideal for surrounding and enriching the formal learning events. Social media technologies are best suited to:

    • setting the stage for learning

    • helping extend the learning

    • keeping learners focused on applying their skills

    • enhancing networking opportunities within a cohort of learners

It is our firm belief that while the social tools sometimes seem magical, the true magic remains in the optimal mix of learning experiences.

“Let’s not kill promising young technologies with ill-conceived overuse and misuse.”

  1. Test to Learn, Adapt to Perfect. There are two major arenas to pilot and test before you take social learning technology wide and deep: the people and the technology. Don’t underestimate the challenges with either. Use focus groups, test cohorts, feedback surveys, and anecdotal hearsay to test and refine your approach with your people. Seek help from technical partners (internal and/or external) to shake out the new technology in your environment, on your devices, in your software mix, and through your firewall.

  2. Don't Cut Communication Corners. When an organization chooses to use social media to drive learning and development, it should take care to devote the same communication and orientation resources that it would for any major change initiative. There are no smart shortcuts to introducing technology for something as personal as learning. Be sure to plan and execute a thoughtful approach to communication and implementation suited to your culture and objectives.

Sometimes Pliers Are a Better Option

While there are numerous social media types and platforms available, some are more appropriate than others for learning and development in “soft skill” areas, including leadership. We need to match the tool to the need; some social learning tools are better pliers than hammers. Each technology provides a different array of benefits, but no technology will work across all organizations or implementations, nor will it suit every type of content or topic.

Remember to seek an effective and balanced mix rather than put the full training burden on just one approach; to test for both people and technology compatibility; and finally, to thoroughly communicate and execute the strategy.

My father taught me at an early age two important things about household and automotive tools: (1) Having the right tool for the job is one key to success, and (2) knowing how to use it is equally important. Our craft in learning and development is no different. Matching the right mix of solutions for each situation is more important than conjuring up as many ways to use our “hammer du jour” as we can contrive.

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