Magazine article Talent Development

Learning Communities with Purpose

Magazine article Talent Development

Learning Communities with Purpose

Article excerpt

During the past few years, there has been increased demand on public health organizations to be more efficient and effective in the way that information is collected and used. As a result, the full spectrum of health services are beginning to embrace informatics--the systematic application of information and computer science and technology to public health practice, research, and learning. These organizations are seeking new technologies to help with collecting and analyzing data, but they often have limited experience managing technology projects.

At the Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII) Academy, which supports the development of the global public health workforce, this public health need resulted in the development of an eight-week blended learning course offered twice a year. The course's goal is to support practitioners who are designing and managing public health information systems through a systematic approach called the IT life cycle.

The challenge is that the course, in its current state, doesn't scale to meet growing demand while retaining relevance to individuals who, in their day-to-day work across the country, need to manage such projects effectively. The solution was to create a community of developing practice (CDP).

Description

A CDP is an approach to blending formal and social learning through an online space. It is organized by competencies, with the intent of orienting new learners with formal, more traditional content experiences. At the same time, it seamlessly integrates a social component through discussion forums to reinforce the formal concepts presented.

The strategy allows for new, actively relevant discussions to emerge. It also informs the organization of what new content is needed, and what should be edited or archived. This continuously feeds into the community and improves the learning experience.

CDPs are expressly meant to develop practice in novices and support them until they achieve competency. At first, novices receive help from the community and then eventually help others, which reinforces their learning until their skills mature beyond the utility of the community. In this way, the life of a CDP may vary depending on the subject matter and the maturity of the practice needed by the sponsoring organization.

A CDP is not just a discussion board, blog, or social network. We have all seen our fair share of failed social learning in organizations in which it was either a bolt-on to existing formal learning practices or an experiment that went well for the first couple of weeks, but with no strategy behind it. The design of social elements in the CDP is deliberate. Engagements should be monitored and evaluated, and changed if they are ineffective.

In addition, a CDP is not an event. Rather, it is a persistent offering that can span a few months to a couple years, depending on how long it takes to develop an individual's baseline competency.

Essentially, a CDP may include events, such as webinars or person-to-person gatherings, and discussion boards, blogs, and social networking. However, such activities should be used only if they contribute to the overall learning experience to achieve specific outcomes. Their use is designed to be integrated into the subject matter to result in "living" course content.

A CDP vs. social learning

While social learning is great for getting answers, what a CDP is good for are those times when you need more than answers. With social learning (using tools such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Yammer), people generally engage with one another ad hoc. The model is transactional and helpful for an audience that has recurring questions, which results in multiple, but often fixed, sets of answers.

When we look at traditional courses, online or offline, the static design and fixed delivery of the learning experience is full of canned answers to questions that no one may really be asking. …

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