Using Social Tools to Ensure Transfer of Learning in Your Training Sessions

By Elaine Biech

Social media is all the rage. You can use this to your advantage in your training sessions. Web 2.0 technologies have created fast growth in the use of social media tools and social networking activities. For trainers, social media provides information to learners who need it, when they need it, and where they need it.

It is efficient when learners ask their colleagues or tap into their networking resources to find answers. From your perspective as a trainer, social networking enables you to extend learning between formal training events. Using blogs, wikis, community spaces, Facebook, Instagram, Google Wave, Skype, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media tools for learning multiplies your opportunities to increase learning for your participants. It is a good investment in learning for your organization.

A huge advantage is that social media helps ensure that learning is transferred from a learning experience to implementation on the job. Humans have an inherent drive to learn together. In fact, collaboration is something humans do their entire lives, so social media provides a natural foundation for learning. Social media also allows you to embrace the needs of the changing workplace demographics. You can provide ways for everyone to learn in ways that are most comfortable and convenient for each individual.

Even though Millennials are more likely to rate social media tools as helpful in the workplace, social media is used by every generation. Today’s global environment requires people to work across time and space to make informed decisions and solve complex problems. Social media ensures that learning is transferred to support decision-making and problem solving. When employees have transferred learning to the workplace through social media, they are better able to solve problems more efficiently, find resources more easily, improve communications, and boost their collaboration.

Initiating and implementing social learning

Social learning makes up a large part of your newly defined role as a trainer and learning professional. Within this scope you have probably been developing your own skills and competencies. Some of the skills required are those you’ve used before: knowledge about team dynamics and team building, reward and recognition, and networking skills. You may still be polishing other skills: knowledge about social media tools, key concepts of social psychology, promoting employee participation in social learning, and community management strategies.

Wherever you are personally, you also need to learn about any obstacles in your organization. Even if your organization does not restrict access to tools and does not have issues with firewalls, you may still need to address employees who have privacy concerns. These are real concerns and you should be aware of options and other anonymous tools that are available, such as Padlet. You may also have individuals who may not want to invest effort in social media-based learning. If this is the case, start small and ferret out the early adopters in your organization who are excited about trying new tools and approaches.

You may find that you need to solidify the social learning foundation in your organization. You may need to develop employees’ confidence in the usefulness of social learning as well as build their trust in how to use the platform. In some cases, you may still need to promote participation by developing cultural awareness. Support those individuals who are reluctant to jump on the social learning bandwagon. Clarify and publish the “ground rules” to ensure that everyone understands the expected behavior and norms. Publishing guidelines help learners know how and when to contribute and what positive behaviors are expected.

You should also ask yourself whether you need to develop employees’ technical knowledge and aptitude. You may need to provide basic skills to those new to social media, but even those who have been involved for a long period may not know everything. For example, does everyone know how to use RSS feeds or tagging? Is everyone familiar with polling and curation tools? How about online file sharing and all the community spaces that are now available? It is better to assume limited knowledge and provide support than to assume that everyone knows how to use Twitter.

Social learning ideas you can implement

The following ideas are divided into three categories that will help you introduce and use social learning tools to support the transfer of learning into the workplace. The ideas are separated into what you can do before, during, and after your formal learning event. Suggestions are short and generic so that you can plug them into any topic or formal learning event you might conduct.

Before your training session

Introduce social learning before your training session. Get your learners to think about what they really need to learn prior to the session. This leads to an increased chance that they will be more focused on what skills they need to implement and what problems they need to solve on the job. The result is that they will be ready to learn what’s most important to them and to implement it when they return to the workplace.

  • Needs assessment tweet: Connect with your participants via their Twitter usernames prior to the session. If you learn that they do not have accounts, provide them with a tutorial. Ask three to four questions that will help you tailor your content. For example, “What is your biggest challenge related to this topic?” Tweet each question separately by inserting a link that takes them to a tool such as SurveyMonkey. Compile and share the results at the start of your session.

  • Insta intros: Send instructions for how to set up an Instagram account and how to use hashtags. Tell learners to use a photo from their phone to introduce themselves. The photo can be of an activity that they enjoy, someplace they’ve visited, or anything else. If they don’t have a smartphone, they can use a photo from the Internet. Have them upload the photos to Instagram and add a brief statement that connects them to the photo. Encourage them to use a hashtag to catalog the introductions.

  • Look who’s coming: Provide learners with an opportunity to get to know the other learners. Ask learners to create a short presentation using the multimedia presentation tool Prezi. Learners will create a presentation and post it on your LMS to introduce themselves. Make suggestions for what to include, such as their backgrounds, interests, favorite part of their job, why they are interested in the topic, or others.

  • Read ahead: Start the learning before the session. Select a short article that you’ve written or found on line. Share the link with your learners or post it on your discussion board. Tell learners that discussion questions will be posted a week prior to the session. Create badges to encourage participation — for example, a badge for the most practical, most verbose, most perplexing question, and more.

  • Agenda video: Create a short video as you discuss the agenda. Don’t script it. Keep it informal and fun. Upload the video to YouTube or SharePoint, or anyplace that your learners can read it and provide feedback.

  • Tweet and follow: Share the hashtag you will use for the learning event. Encourage learners to follow each other, not just the session’s feed. Create short questions within the hashtag for participants to answer. Encourage them to ask questions.

  • Send quotes: Curate quotes that are related to the training session topic. For example, if the content is about leadership, you could Google “leadership quotes” and select a few of the best. If everyone has a Twitter account, tweet a quote every day. If you do not know the status of Twitter accounts, post on SharePoint, or a group LinkedIn site, Yammer, or other available locations.

  • Link ’em up: Send links to recent online articles or videos that are related to the topic. Refer to these resources during your session.

During your training session

Use social learning tools during your training session to locate additional resources, practice using the social media tools, and prepare to apply the knowledge and skills in the workplace.

  • Show me: Provide a short introduction to the content. Have participants form small groups of three to four learners. Ensure that at least one person in the group has a mobile device that can take pictures. Tell participants to walk through the organization for 20 minutes and take pictures that demonstrate how well or not well the organization demonstrates the content. For example, if the topic is teams, a team might take a picture of a team meeting or a manager helping someone solve a problem. Post the pictures to the group’s community space.

  • Easy web addresses: Provide participants with links directly to content, such as a video, website, or article that you reference during the session. Post these links to the group’s Yammer, LinkedIn, or other space.

  • Take me home: Sometimes participants take part in a team report, demonstration, or practice session, as they might in a speaking class or an action learning skills class. When that happens, have others in the larger group use the presenters’ mobile device to take a video of the practice session. That way all learners can take their videos with them when they leave. Encourage participants to take the recording home and share it with their children or friends for fun. Also encourage them to share with their social network to obtain feedback.

  • On the spot data: Use a mobile survey tool such as Survey Anyplace, SurveyGizmo, or FluidSurveys. Ask small groups of participants to examine the content you just completed in your session and create a five-question quiz that they will upload to your computer and assign a QR code. Each group downloads the quizzes from the other groups onto their mobile devices and completes them. Post the questions and answers for later reference.

  • Make it stick: Post a flipchart with the title “What Actions Will You Take Starting Tomorrow?” Ask learners to record actions on sticky notes during the learning session and have them place the sticky notes on the flipchart. If you want, you can organize the actions by themes. Debrief the actions near the end of the session. Invite participants to record additional actions and “stick” them to the chart. Take a picture of the flipchart page and post it to the group’s community space.

  • My own job aid: Ask each participant to create a job aid and personalize it so that it will be meaningful upon return to the workplace. It could be just a simple to-do list or a list of do’s and don’ts. Take a picture of each job aid and curate them on a curation site such as Gingko or Padlet.

  • Starring you: Ask participants to film each other during the summary part of your session stating what they have learned and how they will implement the concepts. Create a YouTube account where you can upload and organize the videos.

After your training session

If you have introduced social learning tools before and during your training session, your learners are more likely to continue to use them after the session has ended. Although the actual implementation of each of these ideas occurs after the training session, many require you to set them up during the session.

  • Create a LinkedIn group (WeChat in China): Following a learning event, create a group using the course title and post discussion thread questions. You could require learners to read and comment on an article or website. To encourage participation, you could gamify it with the highest score or rating winning something. Provide a leaderboard.

  • Twitter review: Wrap up the session by informing the group of a designated Twitter hashtag. Ask them to log into their Twitter accounts and, in 140 characters or less, share one key point they learned from the session by posting a tweet that includes the designated hashtag. Ask them to review others’ key points. Re-tweet or “favorite” some of your learners’ posts as encouragement and to prompt them to follow each other.

  • Provide follow up: Share follow-up materials and enrichment exercises by tweeting links or locations.

  • Introduce experts: Invite learners to follow specific people who are thought leaders on the subject.

  • Meet me: Schedule time for learners to meet after your session so you can clarify material, answer questions, and provide extra individual support. Use tools such as Google Video Hangouts, Skype, Hipchat, or FaceTime. Decide what days and times you are available and announce your schedule.

  • Mobile just-in-time: M-learning allows you to pair a tiny but critical data point with a skill check, producing a quick connection with your learners. This accomplishes several things. It provides the learner with content, allows the learner to provide you with an update, and maintains the relationship between you and the learner. After a learning session, use a text to provide follow-up reminders or data just in time. This means you also need to learn when each person may use the content. For example, following a “how to conduct a performance review class,” you could provide a list of tips the week before performance reviews are scheduled.

  • Create just-in-time support: Ideally m-learning offers performance support or knowledge required just-in-time, like an updated policy, a job aid, or a short communication skill.

  • Follow up: Support learners once they return on the job by using Twitter to ask what they need, or provide a recommended reading list. Help learners manage the 140-character limit by offering a sentence stem so they can just complete the thought. For example, “One thing that concerns me about performance reviews is . . .”

  • Send well wishes: Tweeting “good luck” before a big meeting or presentation will be appreciated.

  • Flip your charts: Participants frequently compile ideas on flipcharts in small groups. Take pictures of each chart and upload the pictures to a file storage service such as Google Drive or simply post on your group’s LinkedIn page. Send the link to the learners after the session.

  • Check out a book: A book recommendation is good. A list is better. Create a virtual library with all your recommended titles and reviews. This is easier than you think by creating a Shelfari account linked to Amazon. Send the link to participants so they can check out the resources after the session.

This list will get you started on your way to using social tools to ensure transfer of learning. There are hundreds of social tools out there available to use. Be sure to experiment with each tool and network with your colleagues to learn about others.

Set clear goals and expectations

Your job as a manager is to get big things done in your organization by leveraging the talents, abilities, and brain and muscle power of your employees. In short, to get much of your work done as a manager, you must delegate a lot of work, and you have to be able to rely on the people to whom you delegate it.

When you delegate work to an employee, though, it’s not enough to simply make an assignment and hope for the best. You must also set clear goals and expectations for your employees. When employees aren’t sure what exactly they’re supposed to do and when they’re supposed to do it, they can’t meet your expectations — whatever they may be. However, when you’re crystal clear about what you want your employees to do and when you want it done, your employees can prioritize their own work to ensure that they meet your deadlines. This approach provides a great learning opportunity for them to take on new or different projects, too.

Work with your employees in setting goals and expectations. Goals must be realistic, and you must ensure that your employees have bought into them and committed to achieving them. By making your employees a part of the goal-setting process, you not only get their vital input on the goals (for example, you may not be aware of a conflict that interferes with a deadline), but you also increase employee engagement.

Don’t play favorites

Think back to your school years. Was someone in your class the teacher’s pet? If you were the teacher’s pet, you probably enjoyed the position. However, if you didn’t hold that coveted position, you probably weren’t happy that your teacher played favorites with one or more of your classmates.

The same is true in the workplace. No one likes a manager who plays favorites with certain employees. Of course, people naturally like some people better than others — interpersonal chemistry simply favors some relationships over others. However, as a manager, your job is to be as impartial and fair as you possibly can in how you treat your employees. You can’t punish an employee you don’t like and then excuse the same behavior in an employee you do like. And you can’t give favored employees raises, time off, bonuses, and other rewards when employees you don’t favor exhibit the same performance or achieve the same goals or milestones.

Employees know when a manager is playing favorites — they can sense it a mile away. Treat all your employees the same as the ones you like best.

Set a good example

Research shows that the most important relationship at work is between employees (at any level) and their direct supervisors or managers. As a manager, you set the example for all the employees who work for you, and you influence the behavior of your peers and colleagues. The example you set sends a clear message about the kinds of behavior you personally find acceptable in the workplace. If you’re chronically late to work, your employees will assume that being late for work is okay, and they’ll be late, too. If you aren’t ethical in your business dealings with customers, clients, and vendors, your employees will assume that they also don’t have to behave ethically.

Model the behavior you want from your employees, and they’ll reflect that behavior right back to you.

Remember that you get what you reward

Managers are often surprised when an employee exhibits a particular behavior or achieves a particular goal that’s completely different from what they intended. When that’s the case, you need to take a close look at exactly what behavior you are rewarding. For example, you may tell your employees that you want them to submit suggestions for cutting costs. However, when an employee submits an idea, you either ignore it completely or chew him out in front of his peers for having such a “stupid idea.” In this case, instead of rewarding employees for submitting ideas, you’re punishing them for it. You can bet that employees will think twice before ever again submitting an idea to you for consideration.

Catch your employees doing something right. This approach works particularly well for managers who like to focus on getting things done. Just add the names of the people who report to you to your weekly to-do list. Then cross them off when you’re able to praise those employees — because you catch them “doing something right” in accordance with their performance goals.

Although money is important to employees, what tends to motivate them to perform — and to perform at higher levels — is the thoughtful, personal kind of recognition that signifies true appreciation for a job well done. This recognition also builds trust and a collaborative relationship, which leads to higher levels of employee engagement.

Get to know your people

You may have been told not to get too close to the people you supervise because it undermines your authority and makes it harder for you to make your employees do what you want them to do. This old-style management philosophy is now officially obsolete. Using raw authority to make employees do what you want them to do is out. Instead, you should involve employees in decision-making and get them engaged in their jobs. When you do that, they want to achieve the goals that you set together.

You may not be inviting your employees to your house for the holidays, but there’s nothing wrong with getting to know them as people. In fact, you stand to gain a lot by having normal relationships with your employees. These benefits may include increased levels of trust and loyalty, better communication, and higher performance.

Learn how to delegate

Delegation is the most powerful tool at the disposal of any manager — it’s the way managers get work done. Delegation is a win-win activity. When you delegate, others do much of the day-to-day work of the organization, freeing you up to manage, plan, and take on more complex work, with the potential for earning a higher salary. As your employees develop a broader range of skills, they’ll be ready to move up with you. This partnership builds trust, enhances your career potential, and improves the health of your organization.

Effective delegating involves more than asking someone to do something. It includes mutual consultation and agreement between the manager and team members. Solicit team members’ reactions and ideas, thereby bringing trust, support, and open communication to the process.

Encourage teamwork

Smart managers realize that they can get far more out of their organizations when employees cooperate with one another than if they compete against one another. Many tasks now get done through teamwork, and organizations are changing the way they do business. Organizations no longer measure employees only by their individual contributions; they also take into account how effective employees are as contributing members of their work teams.

As a manager, you want to encourage teamwork in your organization. Carefully assess work assignments and decide whether it makes more sense to assign them to individuals or to teams of employees. Reward your employees when they exhibit good teamwork skills — every business needs more of these skills.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Good managers are skilled at communicating with their employees, and they do it often and through every means at their disposal. As a new manager, set aside some time each day to communicate with your employees. Walk through the work area to casually meet with employees and discuss current projects or customers. Keep in touch with employees through email messages or telephone calls. Have regular staff meetings to discuss current opportunities and issues and to keep employees updated on the latest company happenings. Create a department blog or Facebook fan page to enable discussions within your organization. Overcommunicating is definitely better than undercommunicating.

Be a coach

A good coach helps employees perform at a higher level, in the same way that a baseball, football, or soccer coach helps athletes perform at a higher level. Coaches in business do this by offering advice on how to perform better, giving valuable feedback, and supporting the people they coach. They help employees gain confidence, and they applaud their efforts when employees make progress toward completing a goal. As a manager, you’re in the perfect position to coach the people in your department or other organizational unit. Let them see that you’re a human being; if you’re approachable (and not perceived as perfect), your employees will find you more genuine, resulting in a better working relationship.