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Blogging to learn and learning to blog

By Karl Kapp, Lisa Neal / December 2006

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Most learning in organizations is informal, yet the majority of learning dollars are spent on formal courses. If organizations are going to successfully transfer knowledge between employees, they must tap into informal learning. One approach that has been used successfully is the corporate blog.

Blogs provide a mechanism for employees to write about what they are doing and learning in their jobs, providing sequential posts that others can read and comment on. They are a bottoms-up approach to communication and knowledge management. An expert, thought leader, or industry-segment leader within a company can write his or her thoughts concerning a particular issue in a blog and then anyone within the organization can assess the information, ask questions, make comments, or contact that person directly for more information. A blog allows others to "see" what is inside a person's head. This can be a great tool for transferring knowledge such as lessons learned, new development techniques, or information about the latest news within an industry—as long as some structure is imposed.

Design Guidelines for Blogs
Typically, blogs have minimal organization, no navigation tools, and no instructions for our informal learners. Applying the instructional-design principles of organization and information-chunking makes a blog easier to read and more efficient for employees, without burdening the author. Providing templates and guidelines for blog creators can increase the usefulness of blogs and make them lead to a richer learning experience for busy employees.

A table of contents for a blog "chunks" information and makes it easy for a visitor to quickly navigate to the exact piece of information he or she is seeking or to scan what is available. A description of the blog's purpose allows employees to quickly understand why the blog is being written and how it can be of use to them. Another effective technique is to create summary or digest entries periodically. These entries pull together several previous entries and provide access to those entries in one location. If an entry on the blog is especially relevant or of interest to a visitor, a permanent link to that entry can be created in the heading of the blog so that any visitor can quickly go to the table of contents to guide them to the information they are seeking.

Content Guidelines for Experts
Many experts in knowledge-based organizations are busy and their time is at a premium. Fortunately, blogging doesn't need to take a lot of time. The idea of a corporate blog is not to flood readers with the expert's random thoughts or ideas but to focus the blog on a specific topic and provide facts and insights into that focused topic.

There are three types of entries that are typical in most corporate blogs. The first type of entry is answers to the most frequent questions asked of experts during the course of a day. Placing information on a blog provides the expert with an easy and convenient place to store these questions and answers. It also provides others within the corporation quick access to information regardless of the expert's availability.

The second type of entry is a link or links to useful information on the company intranet. These could be important documents like a proposal template or specific pages on a Web site like a link to the policy on traveling to bidders' conferences, for example. The value of the blog is that it is a one-stop-shop for someone seeking information. They can quickly go to the entry, view several links on a topic and then navigate to the link they feel is most relevant. Since the expert probably knows all the links anyway, putting them in one place saves others in the company hours of searching.

The third type of entry is specialized information. Many experts who are knowledge workers write numerous emails and documents for a variety of reasons. One set of items that can be posted on a blog are critical pieces of information from those documents. An opening paragraph from a particularly effective sales letter can be copied and pasted into the blog as an example. A summary of competitor information written in an email could be copied and placed on a blog. The procedures someone wrote down when they were orienting a new employee to the company can be summarized on a blog. There are literally hundreds of times when knowledge workers capture their knowledge in writing and then store it in an email archive or an obscure location on their C drive and never recover it again. A blog is a great place to post those knowledge gems so they have exposure. It also prevents that knowledge from being "lost."

Increasing Everyone's Expertise
Blogs, in and of themselves, are just a communication mechanism, but blogs that follow the above guidelines are easier to create since some structure is provided. They help promote informal learning since information is better organized and more useful for others. Not only can employees learn more this way, but they can create their own blogs, modeling them after experts' blogs, and share their own expertise with others within the organization.


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    Karl Kapp
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