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Twitter and Toddlers

There’s a lot of chasing of tails in the L&D conundrum of how to supply “just-in-time” learning solutions:  User-generated content, hurrah! Blogs and wikis and social, oh my! Embedded performance support tools, the more the merrier!

All of these start to feel like a never-ending loop where L&D tries to appease the learner like a parent treats an over-tired toddler throwing a tantrum in the supermarket, “Stop screaming! Here’s the chocolate bar! Take this learning objective! Please don’t tell HR we aren’t relevant! *shakes baby rattle*”. Too often, it’s a spray and pray approach to content development.  There has to be a better solution.

There was a tragedy yesterday involving a train failing to brake whilst pulling into a station this morning. (I’m not mentioning the name of the city because I do not want this article to inadvertently pop-up for people searching for information. I will not capitalise on a terrible accident to drive blog traffic – that’s called being a jerk). As the events continue, my thoughts are with all those involved and I sincerely hope the injuries are few and not life-altering.

As with most mornings, I had my TweetDeck open. Around 8:15 AM I started to notice a few unusual trending hashtags. It was clear that there had been an accident, but details were uncertain. By 8:19AM a video shot by a bystander was tweeted:

This is where it gets interesting. Within a minute, there were scores of posts to the video poster; CNN, Boston Globe, BBC, etc. All of them asked if they could use the footage and/or interview the witness. Interestingly, only a couple (that I could see) actually asked if the poster was okay or safe, which was a nice and human touch. Generously, the poster agreed to all requests to air the video (and was unhurt, despite having been a passenger on the train).

Fast forward and here’s the front page of the digital version of the Toronto Star (a major newspaper in the city that I live in).

The posting time of this article about the accident is 11:09 AM – under three hours after the accident. Personally, I have yet to see that time record broken by any L&D department producing content. This begs the question: is it possible?

When producing highly interactive, complex content, we are probably not there yet. Likewise, content that has risk or compliance issues definitely requires more rigour due to the dangers of propagating misinformation. In more dynamic environments such as call-centres or mobile workforces, it could be a reality. It would, however, require some critical success factors, along with a change in methodology.

The first must-have is a socially-savvy audience. I’ve seen many companies launch internal collaboration sites that quite frankly, bomb. The reasons are numerous. Sometimes, the culture is already deeply embedded with a risk mentality so few are willing to work loud. No one tweets in Pyongyang. In others, the social media literacy levels are quite low. This means that your feeds are filled with well-intentioned, but meaningless posts such as “#MondayMotivation: A hamburger never judges its worth based on number of sesame seeds on its bun – always be #authentic!” Okay, I made that one up, but the pain is real.

Yes, I know many will wave metrics in the air, like they just don’t care, to prove that people are indeed collaborating; 32 likes on a post about a Bake Sale is not building business results, only waistlines.

A socially-savvy audience means that the first reaction to an event is to share. You can build and coach this capability, but this post is not about that. My point is that this behaviour is critical to a rapid development process.

The second change is to lose the ego. Compare reporters twenty years ago to today: in a breaking news context in 2016, the media is relying heavily on content (videos, tweets, photos) produced by non-professionals. This is essentially what we would consider user-generated content in an L&D perspective, and it takes a leap to be comfortable with this. In L&D we like our theories and structure. When it comes to content that falls more on the spectrum of performance support such as a job aid or how-to video, we might be better to take an approach of simply collating and validating, even if the content is rougher than we would like.

Thirdly, be comfortable with a bit of mess. The Toronto Star did post an incorrect headline. Thankfully, the number of deceased was one, rather than three. This was easily corrected and communicated. In a dynamic environment, lengthy hesitation leaves a content vacuum. Too many L&D departments want a clear sign-off. Is the time delay for this oftentimes CYA exercise of benefit to the learner?

Consider the following scenario: A call centre begins to experience a rapid increase in call volumes. Employees begin sharing short posts on what they are hearing from customers. In this case, the company website is not accepting credit card purchases. One employee discovers that PayPal is still working and posts a work around. Based on this knowledge, L&D builds a quick job aid that is a script on how to explain the current issue with customers and offer resolutions. It is posted within an hour and call volumes return to normal.

Today events, good and bad, play out in real-time all around the world. And by bad, I’m talking to you Ryan Lochte. That hashtag dominated my Twitter feed for way. too. long. Still, these trends tell us what is important to our audiences and in the way they want to both consume and express it. A smart L&D department would be wise to listen.

That’s all for now – offer to quell a toddler tantrum kicking off in aisle 8.