The ongoing convergence of technology, communication and entertainment has benefited the learning profession tremendously. The function has pushed past previous limits, finding innovative new ways to address old (and evolving) training and performance problems. In many ways, it’s been on the forefront of the effort to use technology to drive human behavior change.
The new landscape of learning
As technology has become a mainstay of many L&D efforts, a range of learning methods and modalities have emerged. Online learning, microlearning, podcasts, on-demand content and countless other resources are available 24/7. Learning is just-in-time, just-for-me, and just-send-it-to-my-device. This expanded use of technology means that training is less tangible than it was when we could produce a roster of who attended workshops that had a clear beginning, middle, and end.
The learning landscape has changed. More choice. Less oversight. More engagement. Less pushing of content. More 70 and 20 (learning via experience and exposure). Less 10 (traditional training methods).
Address new challenges with a learning community manager
While these advances offer many possibilities, L&D departments have struggled with how to:
- connect distributed learners,
- mine the learning for mutual gain,
- extend critical concepts and skills,
- source and communicate best practices, and
- translate individual activities into profound insights and action at all levels of the organization.
In response to this challenge, some learning functions are taking a page from consumer product organizations’ playbooks and are experimenting with a new role: the learning community manager. In a consumer products company, the community manager is the face of the organization, charged with capturing and retaining the hearts and minds of the customer.
They usually engage digitally through social media to communicate with customers, encourage constructive online relationships and exchange among customers, offer additional information, resolve issues, share successes and more. With just a few minor shifts, many of these practices can be used to dramatically enhance the learning experience (and related results), something that savvy training professionals are discovering.
What does a learning community manager do?
In one example, an international cosmetics company began assigning learning community managers (LCM) to cohorts of managers participating in a virtual development experience. These LCMs were exclusively dedicated to ensuring an exceptional learner experience. They offered structure and support throughout the learning journey, monitoring involvement, following up on assignments, and gently nudging those who might be falling behind.
They fostered connections with and among learners, encouraging participation and exchange in all directions. They addressed issues that were impeding the process and challenged participants to apply what was learned. They even reached out to the learners’ managers at key points with suggestions for targeted support. In the process, they deepened the learning as well as the network of support among participants.
In another case, a technology firm hired interns to assume the LCM role with cohorts of global managers participating in a leadership development program. They used the social tools within the company’s LMS to bring participants together virtually, facilitate a robust exchange, encourage networking, and monitor participant engagement. They generated and appropriately timed the delivery of additional relevant content and encouraged participants to do the same.
As a result, the course was enriched and made all-the-more credible with user-generated content and best practices. And when the LCMs surfaced success stories, they promoted them widely to help others envision and attain similar success.
LCMs help build a better learner experience
The role of the learning community manager is different from other L&D positions. Rather than focusing on content, instructional design, or implementation, the LCM’s priority is to optimize the participant experience and build strong learning connections.
But there are many other benefits associated with having someone who thinks deeply about and engages with others constantly around a particular topical area. This level of participant intimacy and ongoing dialogue allows LCMs to surface and respond to feedback and issues proactively. They can recognize shifting needs and exploit emerging opportunities. And they can contribute to innovations in the content and methods based upon their first-hand experiences.
So, perhaps it’s time for the learning and development function to think like a consumer products company, manage the customer experience, and connect participants to drive the learning deeper. Perhaps it’s time to welcome a new role: the learning community manager.
Editor's Note: Saba has some really cool new stuff coming in the near future for learning community managers. Be sure to subscribe to our blog for updates!