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Swimming in the Social Stream

Swimming in the Social Stream

On the 16th October 2014 the first ever Social HR Conference took place at the rather splendid Old Trafford cricket ground. Manchester CIPD branch did a fantastic job of organising what was a unique blend of conference / unconference formats that I felt worked really well. There have been a number of great blogs written about the event with some cool Storify action being curated and shared too. You can read about and find out more here to get a sense of the conference content and format.

Social Learning Gang

I had the honour of working with Flora Marriott and Rachel Burnham on the Social Learning stream and we worked together to co-create and shape what we could do and how the session could be run. We had about 3.5 hours ish and whilst we were facilitating, the purpose of an unconference is to allow the attendees to create the agenda and talk about things that mattered most to them.

In Bruce Lee terms it kinda feels like the ‘art of facilitation without facilitating‘.

We did decide to put some sort of structure to the day as we wanted to capture the conversations in some way and Flora came up with the fabulous idea of setting a fun challenge to anyone who attended the stream. The challenge was to create a 3 minute presentation on social learning using social media – simple!

To help get conversations going and to help frame the Social Learning topic we each spent a few minutes sharing our own stories and experiences.

  • Flora talked about using a Wiki as a collaborative tool to get people to share what they knew.
  • Rachel talked about her experiences in using Scoop It to curate and share content.
  • I talked about my experience using social networks to bring people together to form communities of practice

It was important to us all that we really conveyed to those who attended that Social Learning isn’t just about Social Media or Social Technologies. It is plain and simply learning through people. The way we have learned since we were able to communicate through grunts and gestures. Social Media helps us to get involved in the conversation and connect with others, enabling tools that allow us to amplify, contribute and share, something that removes geographical boundaries. For me Social Learning:

Is telling stories.

Is sharing experiences.

Is learning from things others do well.

Is learning from things others could do better.

Is listening.

Is talking.

Is watching.

Is drawing.

Is writing.

Is reading.

Is a behaviour (in terms of sharing what you know through all the above ways)

Is a mindset (in terms of understanding the value of sharing what you know and encouraging others to do the same)

Social Learning in Action

It’s a realisation and understanding that EVERYTHING we do and every interaction we have with other people is an opportunity to learn with and from them. And that in turn they can learn from you, me, us. Unconferences are social learning in its rawest form, people from different organisations, ages and backgrounds coming together to tell stories, discover and learn from each other. No hidden agenda other than wanting to explore new concepts, new thinking and to be inspired and motivated to go and improve what they do and how they do it. Powerful stuff.

After the larger group had introduced themselves and we had told our stories we split the group in to 3. Each took a table and myself, Flora and Rachel sat with a group to participate and provide support if required. There were no awkward silences, no false starts, no egos. Conversations were natural and flowing, jumping and bouncing from how people were using social tools to support their business to what tools were available to how these tools can help people to connect and learn. So much was happening and in true unconference fashion ‘the rule of two feet’ applied so anyone could get up and move to another table or even to another stream.

This format can take a little getting used to as the unstructured nature unsettled some but others were enjoying the ‘chaos’, most importantly everyone had the opportunity to speak, people respected the views and opinions of everyone else and we were all present in the conversation. One big melting pot of learning messiness.  I Loved It.

Of course the conversations weren’t constrained to the four walls we were after all at a Social conference and we were getting contributions from all over the country via the Twitter hashtag #socialHRmcr. When asked what Social Learning meant to those on Twitter we got some great replies:

Tweets from backchannel

This of course is the power of Social Tools and why they are almost synonymous with Social Learning but we need to ensure that we make the distinction between the two as they are NOT one and the same thing. They are purely tools that when used in a certain way can have a huge impact on how we access content and communicate with each other. As L&D professionals we have a wonderful opportunity to help shape how organisations can use these tools or enterprise versions of them to help people communicate and collaborate. Help them make the most of opportunities to learn from each other, creating and supporting the conditions where learning happens as described above by Con and David.

The water type analogy has been used quite a lot when describing the use of social. For example:

  • You can be scared of jumping in
  • You can dip your toe in
  • You can swim with or against the tide
  • You can jump in and make a splash
  • You can control the power of the stream
  • Drip content through or have it as a torrent
  • You can go deep diving

You get the idea.

We had swimmers at every level at the Social HR Conference from those who were scared to death to those who were treading water comfortably to those who were confident and looking for new waters to dive in. It was an eclectic mix but it worked so well as people were sharing openly being supportive and helpful irrelevant of the experience of those involved. Everyone got something out of it and left having learned something new or had had their thinking influenced in some way. It was Social Learning at its best, people engaged in healthy and purposeful conversation. Our presentation summed this up perfectly which I’ll share shortly.

Well done to everyone who was involved on my table. It was a swim I will remember for sometime.


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