Originally published September 20, 2020
This is the 60th article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Marcia Conner is a former corporate executive who now dedicates her time to reinventing a vibrant and healthy global ecosystem. She specializes in social learning. Described as a “blank page systems architect,” she works closely with risk-taking leaders, impact entrepreneurs, and unreasonable thinkers, ready to use their powers for good. Marcia received the Jay Cross Memorial Award in 2017. She currently lives in Jacksonville, Florida.
Marcia advises executives in some of the world’s largest companies on how to unite technologies, analytics, and human power into the energy that drives best-around-the-globe performance. Often brought in as a “fixer,” she quickly aligns collaborative strategies with organization culture and amends skill shortages to radically change the speed of innovation. Marcia speaks on outcompeting current structures through system innovation and ingenuity.
I met Marcia at the 2010 Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston. We are both proud to be from St. Louis. She included me in the acknowledgments for The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media (2010): “Practitioners who graciously furthered this topic included Jane Bozarth, Aaron Silvers, Koreen Olbrish, Paula Thornton, Luis Suarez, Ellen Wagner, Stan Garfield, Luis Benitez, Mark Oehlert, Jane Hart, and Jay Cross.”
From Normal>Next: Removing obstacles and crafting alternative approaches
Marcia Conner works with big-vision leaders and impact entrepreneurs ready to use their superpowers for good. Specializing in the complex work of Octopus Organizations (with many arms going their own way), she focuses on modern collaborative approaches to solve pressing problems and is brought in to quickly address catastrophic challenges. Conner sidesteps traditional notions of engagement, best-practices, and business-as-usual to connect, streamline, and energize entire ecosystems for rapid phase change.
For enterprise clients, Conner addresses will-building, change readiness and stymied relationships with cultural assessments and strategic recommendations. For software vendors, she provides tactical guidance in go-to-market strategies; reviews products for usability, learnability, and adoption; delivers competitive evaluations; and recommends software partnerships. For heads of state, community leaders, civil servants, and bipartisan coalitions, she advises on policy related to changes in the nature of work.
Conner is a SupporTED Mentor, a Fellow of the Darden School of Business, and has been a columnist for Fast Company. She has been an advisor to RWJF’s Culture of Health Leaders program and Wellville. Her fourth book, The New Social Learning: Connect, Collaborate, Work (2015), addressed modern organizational challenges such as widely dispersed employees and striking differences in work styles across ages and demographics. She is currently working on her next book about human ingenuity to foster societal transformation.
- Experience Highlights
- Proof+Geist — Principal, 2021 — present
- Normal>Next — Cofounder, 2020–2021
- Impact Ingenuity — Managing Director, 2010–2020
- PeopleSoft, Inc. — Vice President of Education Services and Information Futurist, 1996–2001
- Wave Thomson Learning (Thomson Reuters) — Director of Employee Development and Learning Strategy, 1993–1996
- Microsoft- Worldwide Training Senior Manager, 1989–1993
- Earlham College — BA with honors. Political Science, 1985–1988
- University of Wisconsin-Madison — International Communications, 1983–1985
- Informal Learning: Even though most of what is written about learning and education are about formal (organized, scheduled, and directed) learning, people learn far more through informal means. Often, the most valuable learning takes place serendipitously, by random chance. This introduction will help you recognize where learning is already taking place and how you might be able to get more from what you are already doing in order to learn.
- Experiential Learning: We take in information through our senses, but we ultimately learn by doing, and then reflecting on the experiences that we’ve had. This backgrounder offers an introduction to the field of experiential education and resources where you can learn more.
- How Adults Learn: This introduction helps you become acquainted with adult learning theory and where to find additional resources where you can learn more about how adults learn. Also, you can learn about andragogy & pedagogy, learning styles, motivation styles, as well as educational psychology.
- Articles and Papers
- Fast Company
- ATD (Association for Talent Development)
- Google Scholar
- Personal Website
- The New Social Learning
- LinkedIn Posts
- Linking, Lurking, Listening, and Learning: Interview with John Seely Brown from Upside Magazine with Dan Pontefract and Kerry Brown
- Defining Social Learning: 10 Things Said About Social Learning that you shouldn’t fall for
- Social learning is new.
- Social learning requires digital tools.
- Social learning needs social learning policies.
- There’s not data to support social learning, and no way to show ROI.
- It’s always informal (or never informal).
- A vendor can sell you social learning.
- Social learning only works for white-collar workers.
- L&D needs to initiate a social learning program before the organization learns socially.
- For social learning to provide value you need a new LMS. Or an upgrade. Or an LMS at all.
- Social learning doesn’t affect you.
Of all the reasons corporate leaders give why they don’t invest or actively encourage people to learn from one another socially, one disappoints me most: the excuse that social value approaches allegedly can’t be measured.
Perhaps “social” (communicating through relationships) seems too ephemeral or tacit for hard analysis. I encourage them to look again.
In The New Social Learning: Connect, Collaborate, Work we created a compendium of measurement approaches that analyze how people are learning and working in social ways — connecting them to organizational priorities. Most methods are free. All are straightforward. None require leaders to participate themselves, though we know from experience this accelerates their organization’s success.
Here is one approach, from the many quantitative and qualitative approaches that we feature, that every organization can adopt right away.
Use Social Network Reporting to Glean Real Insights
The dashboard most social networks deliver for administrators to track online participation is usually designed for maintenance, not necessarily aligned with business outcomes. It provides aggregate numbers of visits to a network, growth in that over time, and the number of people who subscribe to particular news feeds.
Although easy to dismiss as not useful overall, the data provided can tell a compelling story that can further meaningful objectives.
The power of collaborative learning is a trusted and repeatable activity, where people can bring their ideas together, vet them with their peers, and share them in a way that can be revised and revisited, representing multiple viewpoints.
Three qualities stand out as markers of success: vibrancy, socialness, and relevance.
Vibrancy characterizes the inviting, energizing places that showcase people’s needs, interests, passions, and emotions — so they must mirror the vitality humankind can provide. If the network is alive with energy, people come back because they find value.
Rather than looking at participation alone, gauge:
- if the number of participants is growing.
- if an increasing proportion of members is actively involved.
If, as Woody Allen once said, showing up is 80 percent of success, at least half of the rest requires socializing with others, building off one another, interacting and amplifying contributions in innovative ways.
Measure if people are joining together in different combinations as well as:
- if they are engaging in multiple kinds of activities, and if that’s increasing.
- if membership is increasingly diverse.
What good are vibrant social exchanges if they aren’t pertinent to the people and mission of your organization, though?
Convene a group of community members that meet periodically to discuss how they know if your network is “healthy,” and the sorts of topics and conditions essential for the network to achieve its long-term goals.
While numbers will always ebb and flow over time, track if an indicator that’s important drops too soon to create a sense of vibrancy or dramatically, for reasons that can be addressed and turned around. This is the sort of data easy to watch for, useful to learn from, and vital to improve over time.
Articles by Others
- Lucidea’s Lens
- Transforming Organizations through Social Media and Social Learning by Esteban Contreras
- Working Remotely? Here’s Some Help by Rick Ladd
- What is social learning? by Roberta Gogos
- A new focus for my blog: the new social learning by Joitske Hulsebosch
- Luis Suarez
- Bill Ives
Jay Cross Memorial Award 2017 by Clark Quinn
The Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award is presented to a workplace learning professional who has contributed in positive ways to the field of Real Learning and is reflective of Jay’s lifetime of work. Recipients champion workplace and social learning practices inside their organization and/or on the wider stage. They share their work in public and often challenge conventional wisdom. The Jay Cross Memorial Award is given to professionals who continuously welcome challenges at the cutting edge of their expertise and are convincing and effective advocates of a humanistic approach to workplace learning and performance.
We announce the award on 5 July, Jay’s birthday. Following his death in November 2015, the partners of the Internet Time Alliance (Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, and myself) resolved to continue Jay’s work. Jay Cross was a deep thinker and a man of many talents, never resting on his past accomplishments, and this award is one way to keep pushing our professional fields and industries to find new and better ways to learn and work.
The Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award for 2017 is presented to Marcia Conner. Marcia was an early leader in the movement for individual and social learning, and an innovator. As a Senior Manager at Microsoft, she developed new training practices and wrote an accessible white paper on the deeper aspects of learning design. She subsequently was the Information Futurist at PeopleSoft. She also served as a co-founder and editor at Learnativity, an early online magazine.
Marcia co-organized and co-hosted the Creating a Learning Culture conference at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, leading to a book of the same title. As an advocate for the power of learning, alone and together, she wrote Learn More Now and co-wrote The New Social Learning (now in it’s second edition) with Tony Bingham of the Association for Talent Development. She also was the instigator who organized the team for the twitter chat #lrnchat, which continues to this day.
Marcia’s a recognized leader, writing for Fast Company, and keynoting conferences around the world. She currently helps organizations go beyond their current approaches, changing their culture. She’s also in the process of moving her focus beyond organizations, to society. In her words, “I’m in pursuit of meaningful progress, with good faith and honesty, girded by what I know we are capable of doing right now. When we assemble all that is going on at the edges of culture, technology, and (dare I say) business, we find a wildly hopeful view of the future. People doing extraordinary things, on a human scale, that has the potential to change everything for the better.”
Marcia was a friend of Jay’s for many years (including organizing the creation of his Wikipedia page), and we’re proud to recognize her contributions.
- ELC 029: Social Learning Is A Way Of Life with Connie Malamed
- How can I work with robots instead of against them? with Ross Dickie, Owen Ferguson, and Jonny Anderson
- Supply Chain Talent and Reskilling with Lora Cecere
- Shift — Episode 009 with Megan Murray and Euan Semple: Workplace culture, how to set about shifting culture, what this means for individuals, and how to help them
- The New Social Learning with Steve Hargadon
SIKM Leaders Community
- The New Social Learning
- If Social Learning is the Answer, What’s the Question?
- Questions About Social Media You Haven’t Dared to Ask
- Imagine a Smarter Workforce. . . because a dumb workforce never made sense
- Social Media for Learning with Dan Pontefract and Aaron Silvers
- Amazon Author Page
- The New Social Learning: Connect. Collaborate. Work., 2nd Edition with Tony Bingham
- The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media with Tony Bingham
- Jack Vinson
- Joitske Hulsebosch
- Harold Jarche
- Jeff Whitney
- Clive Shepherd
- Neil Vidyarthi
- Sumeet Moghe
- Jason Murphy
- Creating a Learning Culture: Strategy, Technology, and Practice edited with James G. Clawson
- Leading Organizational Learning: Harnessing the Power of Knowledge edited by Marshall Goldsmith, Howard Morgan, and Sandy Ogg — Chapter 9: Informal Learning: Developing a Value for Discovery
- Changing the World of Work. One Human at a Time with Jonathan Anthony, Thierry de Baillon, Ayelet Baron, Carrie Basham Young, Rob Caldera, Dany DeGrave, Bruce Galinsky, Rainer Gimbel, Jon Husband, Harold Jarche, Kevin Jones, Richard Martin, Jane McConnell, Clark Quinn, Celine Schillinger, Susan Scrupski, Catherine Shinners, Joachim Stroh, Simon Terry, Bryce Williams, and Jim Worth — Chapter 6: The Hill Worth Climbing