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(A new TOC link will be inserted weekly until entire research paper is published)

Abstract

Chapter I – INTRODUCTION

Background

Problem Statement

Purpose of the Study

Research Questions

Significance of the Research

Chapter II – LITERATURE REVIEW

Informal Learning

Electronic Performance Support Systems

Microblogs

Theories

Situated Cognition

Distributed Cognition

Communities of Practice

Chapter III – METHODOLOGY

Yammer Functionality

Recruiting Participants

Materials and Procedure

Messages to Recruit Participants

Interview Protocol

Chapter IV – RESULTS AND ANALYSIS

Participant Characteristics

The researcher’s approach to the study

Research question 1: Does using a microblog in the workplace allow employees to become more aware of what each other is doing?

Yammer Experiences

Getting back to: 1. research question: Does using a microblog in the workplace allow employees to become more aware of what each other is doing?

Research question 2: Does the reading of status messages posted on a microblog lead to employees learning something new or receiving assistances with their jobs?

Interactions Because of Yammer

How Did Participants Find Posts that Grabbed their Attention?

Results of Using Yammer

Research question 3: Will the use of microblogs result in people feeling like they are part of communities where they can reach out to each other for assistance?

What Value Yammer Provides

Yammer’s Challenges

CHAPTER V – DISCUSSION, IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Introduction

Discussion of Results

Research question 1: Does using a microblog in the workplace allow employees to become more aware of what each other is doing?

Research question 2: Does the reading of status messages posted on a microblog lead to employees learning something new or receiving assistances with their jobs?

Does reading Yammer posts that prompt participants to reach out to each other contribute to learning and performance?

Does reading Yammer posts contribute to learning and performance when people don’t reach out to each other?

Connections, Learning and Performance Improvement

Research question 3: Will the use of microblogs result in people feeling like they are part of communities where they can reach out to each other for assistance?

Implications

Guidelines on How to Use Yammer to Maximize Its Effectiveness in the Workplace

Recommendations for Future Research

Knowledge Management

Expert Networks

Limitations of Study

Conclusion

References

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A-cross-organizational-study

Renata E. Gorman
Teachers College, Columbia University

Abstract

In this day and age when knowledge workers are entering and exiting organizations practically on a daily basis, many organizations struggle with how best to arm their workforce with the knowledge they need to maximize their performance thereby increasing the organizations efficiency and effectiveness. This study investigated whether or not emerging social media tools like microblogs can be used by organizations to foster informal learning, provide performance support and ultimately improve performance through the creation and utilization of communities of practice. The hypothesis was that when participants used the tool to: 1. Post questions, 2. Answer Yammer’s question: “What are you working on?” they would reveal information that would inspire colleagues, in their Yammer community, to reach out and offer performance assistance. This would result in colleagues learning from each other and assisting each other and would eventually turn these groups into Communities of Practice.

Findings indicated that:

  1. Participants used the tool to post many different types of information, not just questions, and work activity updates;
  2. Participants did not generally reach out because of work activity updates but they did reach out to respond to questions;
  3. Participants perceived that their learning, effectiveness and efficiency were increased because of their Yammer use;
  4. Participants received assistance on the job through many different types of information that they post, not just questions and work activity updates;
  5. Participants felt supported by the Yammer community.

Keywords: microblog, Yammer, Twitter, informal learning, performance support, communities of practice, situated cognition, distributed cognition, knowledge management, expert networks

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

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This is a section of a research proposal, to read more, go to the Table of Contents

Knowledge Management

This research does not address microblogs as Knowledge Management Systems but the connection is important to point out for potential further research and microblog development.

Imagine that a person has found a solution, posted an updated with a link to that solution, and tagged his solution with a hashtag—a microblog’s version of meta data. He is now embarking on knowledge management, “the generation, storage, transfer, transformation, application, embedding and protection of organizational knowledge” (Hedlund, 1994, p. 10; Nonaka, 2005). Perhaps communities of practice can use Yammer to manage their knowledge. In fact, in 2000“…the American Productivity & Quality Center began to notice how important communities of practice were in creating, gathering, and sharing knowledge as part of formal knowledge management (KM) efforts” (Hasanali, et al., 2002, p. vi). To that end, they conducted one of the largest studies on communities of practice to date that included many public and private organizations.

Knowledge management is a term that received some negative press because many organizations spent significant amounts of funding on them in the 1990s and they didn’t quite work as expected. There are many reasons for this but two relevant ones are:

  1. People did not participate either citing time constraints or because cultural values encouraged them to hoard knowledge (Guptara, 1999). Taking a look at the popularity of Twitter, a public microbog, one can see that microblogs have solved this issue; in fact many people just can’t stop contributing (Nagle, 2010).
  2. The other challenge was that KM systems had a hard time ascertaining what a person’s context was and context is a critical component for an effective knowledge management system (Degler & Battle, 2000). One could offer a colleague a great paper but if it is not relevant to what he is doing or otherwise interested in, it will most likely, not be consumed. So, microblogs also have also solved the issue of context.

Expert Networks

Finally, organizations often struggle with figuring out who their experts are, but have begun looking at social media analysis for assistance (Fu, Xiang, Liu, Zhang, & Ma, 2007). For example, imagine if for a year, everything employees were working on was captured in their status updates through Yammer. What if the leaders of that organization could search for certain keywords and could see all the people in the organization who have ever, at least in that year, worked on something like that or are currently working on something similar? How much easier would it be to assemble the best project teams?

This is a section of a research proposal, to read more, go to the Table of Contents

Wenger (1998) highlights an obvious yet very compelling point that we are always learning and we are always participating in various communities from work groups to families. Therefore, learning is situated in a given context and part of that context is a given community, therefore learning is also social (Wenger, 1998). It is logical then that the concept of communities of practice emerged from situated cognition (Brown, et al., 1989), previously discussed, and Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978), that learning is enhanced through social interaction. In fact communities of practice in the work place produce significant learning and innovation (Brown & Duguid, 1991).

Specifically, Wenger et al. describe (2002, p. 4) communities of practice (CoP) as a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession. These groups can either grow organically because of people’s interests in the same field, or they can be created with the goal of sharing and learning from each other (Wenger, et al., 2002).

Eloquently stated by Wenger (1998, p. 8): “learning is an issue of sustaining the interconnected communities of practice through which an organization knows what it knows and thus becomes effective and valuable as an organization.” Therefore, if a tool like a microblog, can help create, strengthen and sustain communities of practice it would be impacting learning and the effectiveness, or performance, of the organization. “Communities of practice are thus key to an organization’s competence and the evolution of that competence” (Wenger, 1998, p. 241). In fact, researchers state that they “have seen communities of practice improve organizational performance at companies as diverse as an international bank, a major car manufacturer, and a U.S. government agency” (Wenger & Snyder, 2000).

Wenger describes three key characteristics of communities of practice: domain, community and practice (Wenger, 2010). A domain does not equate to an area of expertise; in fact, members can have different areas of expertise within the same domain. Therefore, domain could be a field, such as education, which could have teachers, instructional designers, performance strategists all part of the same community of practice because “They value their collective competence and learn from each other…” (Wenger, 2010). Wenger (2010) goes on to elaborate in each of the three characteristics. A community is defined as a group of people who interact and learn from each other as they pursue their domain. Finally, communities of practice do in fact share a “practice”. In the example above, different people with different titles are still all practitioners in the domain of education.

“Communities develop their practice through a variety of activities. The following table provides a few typical examples:” (Wenger, 2010)

Problem solving “Can we work on this design and brainstorm some ideas; I’m stuck.”
Requests for information “Where can I find the code to connect to the server?”
Seeking experience “Has anyone dealt with a customer in this situation?”
Reusing assets “I have a proposal for a local area network I wrote for a client last year. I can send it to you and you can easily tweak it for this new client.”
Coordination and synergy “Can we combine our purchases of solvent to achieve bulk discounts?”
Discussing developments “What do you think of the new CAD system? Does it really help?”
Documentation projects “We have faced this problem five times now. Let us write it down once and for all.”
Visits “Can we come and see your after-school program? We need to establish one in our city.”
Mapping knowledge and identifying gaps “Who knows what, and what are we missing? What other groups should we connect with?”

 

Most people’s objection to participating in communities of practice is that they do not have time (Lujan & Day, 2010; McDermott, 2010), they consider participation to be something extra that they have to do, taking them away from the task at hand (Hara, 2009, p. 21). However, updating a status message on a microblog that doesn’t allow more than 140 characters makes the time it takes to update it, even several times a day, minimal. In addition, if employees found participation valuable, they would make the time. Isn’t the true goal of communities of practice to help with the task, or project at hand? Isn’t that the true just-in-time learning and performance support? It always benefits people when they accidentally come across another person who has experience and knowledge in a given area – there in lays the value.

Given that it is so easy to see what others are doing on microblogs, could it inspire people not just to reach out when they need help but also to notice if they have knowledge they can share with others? Can this notion of using Yammer to find experts and to offer expertise take off and become viral—infecting everyone, or at least many people in an organization? Can this model, if tested in an organization, demonstrate that members would find it valuable enough to keep up with Yammer to become self-sustaining community of practice?

Imagine the following scenario: An employee comes across a challenge, something he could really use some help with and his first thought becomes: to search Yammer to see if there is anyone else in his organization who can help. So he searches for a keyword and finds someone who he can speak with. He reaches out to this individual and before he knows it the two of them (or more) are helping each other and before they even realize it, they are now part of a community of practice.

This is a section of a research proposal, to read more, go to the Table of Contents

“EPSS are primarily applicable in the workplace to promote learning and offer immediate performance guidance” (Ahmad, 2009, p. 8). Researchers agree that performance support systems can help improve communication and, ultimately, performance (Ahmad, 2009; Bayram & Crossman, 1997; Chang, 2007; Gamson, 1994; Marion, 2002; Raybould, 1995). Nguyen and Klein (2008) showed that participants using an electronic performance support system performed significantly better than those receiving formal training. It makes sense that aided task performance yields better results than unaided (Frank Nguyen, Klein, & Sullivan, 2005; van Schaik, Barker, & Famakinwa, 2007). The most effective performance support is context specific (Tessmer & Richey, 1997). In this researcher’s experience, the hardest aspect of designing a truly effective electronic performance support system is ascertaining when each employee is working on which task—in other words, the context needed to serve up the right kind of support. With the use of microblogs and consistently answering the question: What are you working on? Context is easily sourced and peer support can be engaged.

In addition, the perceived most effective aspect of an EPSS is the advisory, job-oriented or problem solving components (Chang, 2004). In fact, packaging and bringing expert knowledge to users is a key goal in creating an EPSS (Hile, Campbell, & Ghobary, 1994). Therefore a microblog can be considered an EPSS as it can bring not just content to employees when they need it but it can actually connect them to the expert to talk to. Performance support systems have not fundamentally been viewed as systems that can bring people, not just content together. Ultimately, a performance support system can be used as a cognitive tool for employees in organizations (Wild, 2000).

This is a section of a research proposal, to read more, go to the Table of Contents

Organizations make significant investments in creating training content. However, in this researcher’s experience of nearly 20 years in learning and learning technologies mostly in a corporate environment, and observed through an unpublished study, when given the opportunity to informally ask an expert or learn through formal training, a vast majority of people will chose to ask an expert. Social media tools called microblogs have emerged that can assist organizations in connecting people just when they need it.

A microblogging service allows users to send “updates” (or “tweets”; text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) via short message service (e.g. on a cell phone), or instant messaging. As an example, Twitter is a popular microblog that anyone and everyone has access to. This research focuses on Yammer, because it is a microblogging platform used by organizations that is secure—meaning that only people within the organization have access to it. Yammer asks the following question: “What are you working on?” People in an organization can sign up to “follow” each other to submit and read these short updates in just a few seconds. In a work setting, such as that of a training consulting firm, a consultant may find out that someone is “designing a new curriculum for advanced pharmaceutical representatives”. This consultant may read such an update from a colleague she would not normally reach out to. However, upon reading such an update the consultant may contact this colleague to learn more because she may be doing something similar. This could open up an opportunity to brainstorm, learn and share. As people continue to use the microblog, they read each other’s updates and reach out to help. “Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge (Locke, Levine, Searls, & Weinberger, 2000, p. 183).” Maybe the colleague has a great research paper or framework they are using as part of their engagement that the consultant could learn from and maybe even use in her current project. This is an example of something that can provide the consultant performance support, informal learning and maybe even enhanced performance, and ironically, she may have never become aware of it otherwise. Therefore microblogs can be the ultimate performance support and informal learning tool. Proving support when employees don’t even know they need it, and offering a network of people, a community of practice, to reach out to when they do know they need it.

This is a section of a research proposal, to read more, go to the Table of Contents

Abstract

In this day and age when knowledge workers are entering and exiting organizations practically on a daily basis, many organizations struggle with how best to arm their workforce with the knowledge they need to maximize their performance thereby increasing the organizations efficiency and effectiveness. Social media tools such as microblogs are emerging and can be used by organizations to foster informal learning, provide performance support and help create communities of practice that result in employees enhancing their learning and knowledge and improving their performance. It is worthwhile thinking of microblogs in the context of situated cognition to understand that learning and performance are intertwined in day-to-day work activities. While distributed cognition helps us understand and view microblog users in organizations as one system that drives the collective forward.

This research aims to uncover that microbloggers in organizations enjoy enhanced learning and performance improvement through the use of the tool and that this results in communities of practice.

Finally it is also important to note that because microblogs can uncover context, manage content and provide access to experts, they could be examined in the context of a knowledge management system and used not just to manage an organization’s knowledge but also to find an organization’s experts.

Keywords: microblog, Yammer, Twitter, informal learning, performance support, communities of practice, situated cognition, distributed cognition, knowledge management, expert networks

Table of Contents
(TOC links will be inserted as content is written)
Background
Problem Statement
Purpose of the Study
Research Questions
Significance of the Research

Literature Review
Informal Learning

Electronic Performance Support Systems
Microblogs

Theories
Situated Cognition
Distributed Cognition
Communities of Practice
Recommendations for Future Research
Knowledge Management

Expert Networks
Summary
Method
Yammer Functionality

Participants
Materials and Procedure: Messages to Recruit Participants
Materials and Procedure: Interview Protocol
References

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