A Overview of “A Process Model for Building Social Capital in Virtual Learning Communities”

An Overview of 
A Process Model for Building Social Capital in Virtual Learning Communities


By: Ben Daniel, Gord McCalla and Richard Schwier

This article briefly introduces the reader to the concept of social capital arising from social interactions in virtual learning communities. It explains how trust can be created through the act of storytelling, which is enhanced by a shared language including a common vocabulary.  Social capital is defined as “a stock of active connections among people: the trust, mutual understanding, and shared values and behaviours that bind people as members of human networks and communities” (based on Cohen & Prusak, (2001), p.1). Trust is build through social interactions which are sustained by two key factors.  First, there has to be a context or social space in which the interactions can happen.  Second, it takes time to build trust.

Daniel, McCalla and Schwier provide a brief introduction to social capital and prepare you for their second more detailed article on social capital in virtual learning communities.

 


Daniel, B. K., McCalla, G., & Schwier, R. A. (2002). A Process Model for Building Social Capital in Virtual Learning Communities. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Computers in Education (Vol. December 0, p. 574). Washington, DC: IEEE Computer Society. Retrieved from http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=839212

An overview of “Good To Great”

An Overview of  Good to Great
by Jim Collins


Good to GreaatIn this article, Collins summarizes his findings on how companies went from good to great.  You can find a more detailed explanation in his book – Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t.

The analogy that I appreciated most is his straightforward explanation of getting the right people on the bus. As  leader, you are the driver of the bus and your first priority is getting “the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats” (Disciplined People section).  He emphasized that great leaders start the bus trip with who is going.  The priority has to be about getting the right people together.  Good people are self motivated and being part of strong team adds to the motivation.

Second, once you know who’s on the bus with you, then you can clarify where you are going and most importantly what you are doing.  Your destination might change along the way and people who are only in it for the end game won’t stay.  The right people Collins argued are self motivated.  The wrong people he emphasized are just that wrong.  You could go in the right direction but it won’t matter because “mediocre people still produce mediocre results” (Disciplined People section).

Are you the fox or the hedgehog?  Based on a Greek parable, the fox knows lots of small things and the  hedgehogs know one big thing.  In business, that means simplifying the complex ideas into a single organizing idea.  One that will guide, direct and unify all future decisions (Disciplined Thought Section). In order to find clarity, Collins suggests three key questions:

  1. What can you be the best in the world at (and not be the best in the world at)?
  2. What’s the economic factor that best drives the economics?
  3. What are our core people deeply passionate about?
    (Disciplined Thought Section)

Put all of that together and provide enough momentum to get the flywheel going so it can sustain itself and you are on your way.  You just have to focus on what you need to do and stop doing what’s not helping you (Disciplined Action Section).

In an article sidebar, Fast Company asked Collins – why are most great companies lead by relatively anonymous people?  It turns out what Collins calls celebrity leaders tend to make decisions that favor their ego more often.  Anonymous leaders are passionate about the cause and when faced with ego or the company and the work, they choose the latter.  The biggest challenge Collins explained is to get and hang onto the right people.

 


A Review of “Social Captial, Intellectual Capital, and the Organizational Advantage”

A Review of 
Social Captial, Intellectual Capital, and the Organizational Advantage
By J. Nahapiet & S. Ghoshal


This article considers the value of social capital in providing an organizational advantage, which is rooted in the idea of “the significance of relationships as a resource for social action” (p. 242).  Nahapiet & Ghoshal (1998) define social capital as:

“the sum of the actual and potential resources embedded within, available through, and derived from the network of relationships possessed by an individual or social unit.  Social capital thus comprises both the network and the assets that may be mobilized through that network.”
(p. 243)

Nahapiet & Ghoshal broke social capital into 3 clusters:

  • Structural embeddedness – the overall structure of the network; the connections between people. (p.244)
  • Relational embeddedness – the actual relationships that connect the different people; how the relationships affect their actions; who you know and how you know them; they are behavioural (p. 244).
    • Key aspects also include trust, trustworthiness, norms, sanctions, obligations, expectations, identity and identification (p.244).
  • Cognitive dimension – the symbols, systems of meaning and how we interpret things is common to a group (p. 244).  It includes the shared language that Daniel, McCalla & Schwier (2002) referenced.

Nahapiet & Ghoshal (1998), along with Daniel, McCalla & Schwier (2002), all noted that “social capital is owned jointly by the parties in a relationship” (p. 244).  No one person has all the social capital.  To add to it’s complexity social capital is something that the individual invests in and builds up within the network.  “It has value in use” (p.244) but it can’t be traded or exchanged.

It reminds me of my transition from a high school teacher and differentiated instruction facilitator within one building to my role as a learning consultant within the school division. Within my home school, I had build up 13 years of credit with both staff and students.  My interactions with the larger network of people was relatively limited. As you grow and change networks you have to reinvest in building your social capital.  It’s obvious in a building when a teacher has social capital.  They can look at a student and the behaviour will stop, when you don’t have the ‘street cred’ in that building, the students just look at you and wonder why you’re looking at them funny.

Nahapiet & Ghoshal (1998) also noted that social capital makes it possible to achieve goals that would not have been possible as an individual.  A strong community of practice with high social capital will produce better results at lower costs (p. 244-245), which is very similar to Covey’s (2006) motto that when trust goes up, speed goes up and costs go down.

Social capital has been shown to encourage cooperative behaviours, which has the potential to lead to new associations between group members along with increased innovation (Nahpapiet & Ghoshal, 1998, p. 245).  As Daniel, McCalla & Schwier (2002) noted, so to did Nahapiet & Ghoshal, social capital is a balancing act. It has the potential to be very positive within an organization; however, if the group becomes so strong that it’s hard for new members to access or integrate into then it can begin to have detrimental effects.   If the group takes on a mind of it’s own then the group becomes more prone to blindly following along rather than building on the strengths and diversity of it’s team (p. 245).

Intellectual capitalrepresents a valuable resource and a capability for action based in knowledge and knowing” (Nahapiet & Ghosal, 1998, p. 245).  This includes four aspects:

  • Individual explicit knowledge – the facts and concepts that are available to us in our personal memory framework
  • Individual tacit knowledge – it’s what becomes automatic to us based on our knowledge and skills.  It’s the knowledge in our heads that we have processed, made connections with and organized according to our experiences.
  • Social Explicit knowledge – the objective knowledge that is known to the people in the group
  • Social Tacit knowledge – the understanding embedded into what happens in that community.  It’s the unwritten knowledge and connections that bind teams together and make institutions unique.
    (p. 247).

Knowledge creation often involves the exchange of information between people or people learning new information (p. 248).  First, there must be an opportunity for knowledge to be exchanged, then people must anticipate the value that will come from it and be motivated by this prospect. Lastly, Nahapiet & Ghoshal referred to the absorptive capacity.  You have to be ready to recognize, incorporate and use the new information to move forward (p. 249-250).

Intellectual capital grows when there are opportunities for information to flow within the network.  This flow is dependent upon your connections and your ability to receive valuable information and know who to share it with in a timely fashion.  Gladwell (2006) illustrated this concept when he retold the story of Paul Revere’s famous ride and the other guy’s less effective attempt.  The more referral ties within a network the more opportunities for quality exchanges (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998, p. 252).  When the authors discussed network configuration and the importance of  having “a player with a network rich in information benefits [along with one who] has contacts established in places where useful bits of information are likely to air and who will provide a reliable flow of information” (p. 252), it reminds me of Gladwell’s (2006) connectors, mavens and persuaders.  These people are important in distributing and ensuring the flow of information.  Nahapiet & Ghoshal also noted the importance of bringing together diverse people within the network because significant creation of intellectual capital happens within those diverse connections (p.252).  Similarly, Gladwell explained the importance of connectors in bringing together people from different social circles.

“Intellectual capital is a social artifact and …knowledge and meaning are always embedded in a social context” (p.253) created and sustained through the relationships of the community. A shared language helps us connect and understand, while shared codes help us organize information.  Language helps us make sense of the world around us.  Shared narratives also play a significant role in facilitating transfer of knowledge often with tacit knowledge embedded into the stories (p. 254).

Trust is the belief that the “results of somebody’s intended action will be appropriate from our point of view” (as noted by Misztal – Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998, p. 254).  To trust includes becoming vulnerable, believing in the other person’s good intent, their competence, capabilities, reliability, and openness (p. 254). Trust in turn builds cooperation and cooperation builds trust.  The more trusting a relationship the more people are willing to risk in the knowledge that they share (p. 255), which leads to more opportunities to grow the intellectual capital.  Positive group norms, clear obligations and expectations facilitate people identifying with the group.  When people choose to become one of the group their identity changes, which in turn makes them more likely to exchange information and support the goals of the team (p. 256).

The authors reminded that social capital takes time to grow and requires that people are connected to each other in meaningful ways.  Interdependence will promote more interactions, which increases social capital.  Clear social, legal and financial boundaries will also create a sense of closure.  A defined group will grow more social and intellectual capital than an open group.

While social capital fosters the development of intellectual capital, the same can be said for knowledge supporting the development of social interactions. Nahapiet & Ghoshal explained that the cooveolution of social and intellectual capital lead to a strong organizational advantage.  Fostering the development of both types will build a stronger team.  Both are enhanced by the formal and informal interactions that happen during the day and the development of a shared identity.  Opportunities to interact and create shared stories strengthens the ties between individuals.  Nahapiet & Ghoshal asserted that the true organizational advantage comes when organizations commit to strengthening and continuing to maintain the the interrelationships of their teams(p. 259-260).

Step back for a moment and think about the communities and teams in which you participate. There is a constant ebb and flow of people coming into and leaving the group.  While some maybe more stable in membership than others the importance of developing strong interrelationships is essential in increasing the social and intellectual capital of the group. The more a person connects to the group, the longer they stay involved and add to the shared capital.


Nahapiet, J., & Ghoshal, S. (1998). Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. The Academy of Management Review, 23(2), 242–266. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/259373

Leaders have to lead or the change won’t stick

Life would be much easier if things stayed the same and you didn’t have to change, but it seems these days the only thing constant is change.

Alvin Toffler said, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those you cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”

toffler

So how do you, as a leader, help your followers navigate the ongoing changes?  How do you keep your team focused on a goal that moves toward the greater vision, while inhibiting the negative distractions and enabling them to “remember and build on relevant information” ( Boundaries for Leaders- Cloud, 2013, p. 27) which in turn creates a pattern in their working memory.  Dr. Henry Cloud (2013) explained “you always get what you create and what you allow” (p.xvi) so the person that has to help with the change is you.

It makes sense, you are the leader.  It would be nice if you could stand on your soap box and proclaim that we are now on the path to xyz and the change would ripple out virtually seamless.  But let’s remember, we live in the real world and change is hard.  How do you get change to reach the tipping point and then stick?

Here are a few of the most memorable suggestions that I have come across during my research. My two favorite reads were Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath (2010) along with The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (2006).  Both are filled with real life examples of how change happens.

elephant-48415_960_720
Pixabay – Clker

So it’s Chip and Dan Heath’s (2010) image of a rider on an elephant that has stuck with me.  (Borrowed from psychologist Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis.)  As all of the writers have shared, in order for change to happen someone has to act differently.  Okay, so by someone, I mean us.  We are in control of ourselves – the behaviour change has to come from within.

It’s the connection between your behaviours and your brain.  The Heath brothers (2010) suggested we think of each person as a rider on an elephant.  We are composed of the rational thinking part of our brain – the rider and the emotional elephant.  Yes there’s a significant size difference.  As a rider you will only be able to force the elephant to do want you want for so long and then you’ll be over-powered by the emotional side.  In order to succeed, you have to get them both going in the same direction (p. 7).

Here’s a very quick overview of Chip and Dan Heath’s 3 key suggestions on how to make change happen. (This summary is based on the 2010 book and the resources provided to compliment the book – available on their website.  Included in the overview are my personal thoughts and wonders). 

First you have to Direct the Rider:

  • Following a strategy similar to Wiggins & McTighe’s Understanding by Design, you have to understand where you are going and why it’s of value in order to direct the rider.  The Heath’s call it pointing to the destination (Switch, p. 73), begin with the end in mind.  On the way there, you have to focus on the bright spots.  All to often we tend to look for what’s not working and try to fix it, Chip and Dan Heath (2010) suggested focusing on what is working will lead to better long term performance than looking at what doesn’t work.
  • The rider has a tendency to analyze big problems which often causes the him to be obsessed with finding a solution to the same scale as the original problem.  The brain wants to match the big problem to a big solution.  The Heath’s reminded that big problems take time and are more effectively solved by a series of smaller solutions (p. 44).
  • Lastly, you have to script the critical moves (p. 49-72).  They explained that a group wanted people to eat healthier, so they advertised just that.  Everyone needs to eat healthier.  The problem: it was to vague.  People for the most part, do want to eat healthier but translating that general goal into an actionable behaviour is hard.  You have to be specific.  Switching the campaign to buy 1% milk lead to a documentable change (p. 15-17).

As leaders, we need to build on the positive, identify the specific behaviours that will get us there and build on the bright spots.

Next you need to Motivate the Elephant:

  • Just because you know we need to look after the planet doesn’t mean we will make better choices.  Aristotle’s explanation of rhetoric referred to ethos, pathos and logos as key aspects to persuading an audience. The rider would be similar to the logos appeal, but the elephant is moved by pathos.  For a change to start, there needs to be an emotional connection. The Heath’s (2010) noted Kotter and Cohen’s observations

    “that, in almost all successful change efforts, the sequence of change is not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE” (p. 106).

  • Then you have to “Shrink the Change” (p. 124-148). Turn the change into small manageable pieces that are doable rather than intimidating.
  • Here again the Heath’s mention culture.  You have to grow your people (p. 149-178) and you can only do that by creating a growth mindset that builds an identity.

Lastly, you need to Shape the Path:

  • It’s all about the environment you create.  Cloud (2013), Covey (2006), Gladwell (2006), Driscoll (2005) and the Heath’s (2010) all noted the environment you work and learn in shapes your behaviours.  So “tweak the environment” (p. 179-202) and you will shape the path.
  • The next time a minor change isn’t working think about how you play it out in your mind?  Is it the product you created or the people refusing to change that you are frustrated with?  Turns out all of us have a propensity to turn to incentives and consequences to force a change (p. 185).  Rather, we tend toward the fundamental attribution error.  We instinctively tend to “attribute people’s behaviour to the way they are rather than to the situation they are in” (as noted by Heath’s reference to Lee Ross, p. 180).
  • It’s where usability testing in the instructional design process followed by evaluation makes a significant difference to the end quality of the product. Feedback matters. Have you stopped to ask why people aren’t using it the way you expected?  Have you stopped to observe what they are doing instead?
  • Build Habits (p. 203-224) When you lead in a way that creates positive habits or relevant patterns in their working memory (Cloud, 2013), you free up the brain.  It’s energy can be spent on other processes.  The Heath’s (2010)explained when you change the environment, people’s habits change (p. 206-207).  It’s as Malcom Gladwell (2006) explained in The Tipping Point.  People’s behaviours tend toward the environment in which they live.  It’s the broken window’s effect.
  • Finally, you must rally the herd (p. 225-249). What can we learn from the herd?   It’s the first place you look, when you don’t know what to do.  Not sure when to stand up to show appreciation for a speaker, if you see others doing it you will too. The Heath’s explained that behaviour is contagious, just as Dr. Cloud noted that mood is also contagious.  We infect others with our feelings and energy (Boundaries for Leaders – Cloud, 2013, p. 57).  It connects back to Eric Worre’s assertion that you are like the 5 people you spend the most time with.

    In fact, Chip and Dan Heath (2010) noted, “you might not find a single statement that is so rigorously supported by empirical research as this one: You are doing things because you see your peers do them…Behaviour is contagious” (p. 227).

  • In unfamiliar situations, the Heath’s reminded, we are more prone to watching what our peers do.  It’s simple the elephant is going to follow the herd (p. 228).  So help spread the behaviours that are going to facilitate your change.

 


 

Other Resources:

Who’s going to help you tip the change?

justice-1296381_960_720
Pixabay – Open Clipart-Vectors 

In the Switch, Chip and Dan Heath (2010) explained the value of growing your people.  In particular, they noted the value of identity and a growth mindset. I was struck by their question, “How can you make your change a matter of identity rather than a matter of consequence?” (p. 154).  After all, they shared that a change which violates a person’s identity is likely doomed to fail and mere incentives will not change people’s behaviour (p. 154).

We see it in education… most students don’t change just because there’s a consequence and in business team’s don’t just increase their numbers because there’s a bonus.  It’s deeper than a simple exchange of service.  Each person is motivated by a different set of experiences, when you can unite your team toward a common goal that they truly believe in – that’s when you will see the most growth.

As a leader, how often do you stop to think about the identity or mindset that you are fostering?  James March identified two models of decision making.  People either make a rational decision based on an analysis of the pros and cons or they decide based on the identity they’ve adopted.   March suggested people using the identity model decide based on three questions,

“Who am I?
What kind of situation is this?
What would someone like me do in this situation?”
(Heath, 2010, p. 153).

Rational doesn’t always win and identities aren’t written in stone.

As a leader with ethos and logos, you may convince the rational rider of the value and cost effectiveness of your plan, but if the emotional elephant (pathos) isn’t moved by the numbers they won’t travel very far down the path with you. It goes back to knowing your students and your people.  What matters to them?  Have you listened first and spoke last?

Take for instance the fascinating example of Brasilata.  It illustrated how identities can be adopted and shaped over the course of people’s lives.  The Heath’s wrote of how Brasilata  chose to create an inventor identity.  Everyone in the company was considered an inventor and it was their job to share their ideas.  The company, in turn, built on the ideas suggested and in time became one of the top leaders in steel can manufacturing (p. 156-157).  As an educator, the story of how one principal changed the identity of a down and out inner city school to a one of striving for excellence was heart warming.  It’s certainly not easy, but there are bright spots.

change-1076218_960_720
Pixabay – Geralt 

It also turns out that there are 3 key types of people you want involved in your change efforts.  In fact as Malcolm Gladwell (2006) wrote, they will tip the change.  Have you heard of connectors, mavens and salesmen?

First, you need to find your connectors.  These are the people who know lots of people in a diverse variety of social circles.  They also make it a habit to introduce people from different circles.  They are the connectors. Think about who you know and who introduced you to those people….often, Gladwell noted, those connectors show up over and over in how you met your friends.

As an introvert, connectors are very helpful.  Finding people who genuinely care about connecting you with other people of similar interests decreases the energy it costs to meet new people. When I’m connected with a person who has similar interests, you can get right to the issues rather than the preliminary small talk. Less stressing about meeting people means more time investing in real learning.

You’ve likely identified the connectors, but have you thought about the mavens?  They are the “people we rely upon to connect us with new information” (p. 19). They are the curators of knowledge about very specific topics.  We all know them.  They are the people you go to when you have a question about something specific; moreover, you trust them and what they say because they have a great track record. People buy or go places because these people recommended it.

Lastly, you have your persuaders sometimes known as salesmen. Not the stereotypical used car salesman, but rather people with well developed rhetoric skill.  They have ethos (you trust them), they know their stuff (logos) and they can sell (pathos – emotion). Even their body language cues your brain to buy in.  We’ve all heard them.  They are the TED speakers that Carmine Gallo (2014) wrote about.  They are the people you would follow to places you’ve never wanted to go.  Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious.

To this day, I still remember attending my first Sciematics conference as a young biology teacher and listening to Brian Keating speak.  By the end of the session I wanted to travel to Antarctica and camp on the ice just to learn more about the penguins.  (I didn’t really but in that moment it sure felt like I did)  Just a few weeks ago I listened to Color By Amber Executive Chairman and Founder, Talley Goodson.  As he shared his passion for design and innovation in a way that not only gives back to the artisans but makes the planet a better place, his positive energy was contagious.  He not only wants to make the world a better place, he’s committed to making it happen.  Who doesn’t want to be part of that.

So we need all kinds of people to sustain change.  Gladwell (2006), Gallo (2014) and the Heath’s (2010) emphasized the fact the your message has to be sticky.  People have to remember the change to actually share it.  In fact in today’s social media world, Gallo (2014) reminded us that you need to be able to share your message in 140 characters or less.

Finally, remember the power of context.  Gladwell (2006) asked readers to think about the broken windows effect.  That is… our behaviour changes to fit the context of the environment in which we function.  If you walk down a dirty street with garbage strewn all around and broken windows surrounded by graffiti filled storefronts, the petty crime rate goes up.  An increase in small crimes is the gateway to more violent crimes.  So when people talk about cleaning up the streets, it does actually make a difference.  Start with the small changes and the bigger ones will follow.

As a leader, how are you empowering your team to shape the path to sustainable change?  Will it happen in the climate and culture you currently exist in?  Like Cloud (2013) said, “you always get what you create and what you allow” (Boundaries for Leaders, p. xvi).

Where do you want to be?


Resources