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Learning Delivery

Join the Club … the Book Club, That Is

How virtual book clubs can further continuous learning

As professional development programs focus more on giving learners exactly what they need to know in the shortest amount of time, it may come as a surprise that traditional books, the kind with a few hundred pages, are welcomed by employees as part of their professional development. In fact, creating the opportunity for staff to read business books regularly can be a simple and high-ROI employee development program.

Books — physical, digital and audio — offer employees a “learn anywhere, anytime, my way” tool, and they are relatively inexpensive. There are at least a handful of fantastic books related to nearly any learning goal and these books can offer stronger content for less than $20 than many much pricier training programs. These business books can offer a deep dive into effective communication, management, leadership, innovation, strategy and more.

You may be thinking, “I know there are good professional development books out there, but who has time to read?” However, when we set up optional virtual book clubs for companies, an average of 20 to 40 percent of staff opt into the program. People know that reading regularly helps their career, and many jump at the chance to do more of it when a program is structured in the right way. When they offer a virtual book club, companies have reported a 30 percent increase in participant satisfaction with opportunities for professional development.

A key strategy to making book clubs effective tools for modern learners is to center the discussion around an asynchronous online forum rather than traditional in-person or phone meetings. This allows people to participate from wherever they are and at whatever time is convenient for them instead of adding one more meeting to overloaded calendars.

Virtual book clubs are also scalable, which allows hundreds or even thousands of people to efficiently participate in the learning opportunity. This means a program can be created for an entire company to foster a shared language around the organizational culture. On the flip side, they can be focused on specific groups such as middle managers, emerging leaders, young professionals or project teams.

There are four elements required to create a successful, effective virtual book club:

  1. Clearly stated program goals: Like any learning program, a clear purpose for a book club is needed to inform book selection, who should be invited, the focus of discussion and how success will be measured.
  2. A virtual discussion forum: The “virtual” component of the book club requires an online discussion group where the conversation around the books will take place. The key requirements for this are that it’s easy to use and accessible from any device so people can participate when it works for them. Many company’s existing collaboration platforms can be set up for this, and there are several free tools available for creating online discussion boards.
  3. A dedicated facilitator who communicates regularly: It’s not enough to create a space for book club discussions and hope that engaging conversation will flourish. A book club needs a facilitator who manages the reading schedule, creates meaningful discussion questions and set expectations for participation. They also need to communicate these details regularly to the participants so everyone stays in step with the group. Facilitation requires consistent attention, meaning the facilitator needs dedicated time to support the group.
  4. Evaluation and improvement: Evaluating the success of the book club against the learning goals is a critical step in getting the most value from the investment. Have the books been relevant to staff learning needs? Have employee engagement scores or other metrics that were part of the program goals improved? What ideas do participants have to make the book club better?

Once you establish the infrastructure for your book club, it’s easy to use the program to support new and varying learning goals for participants. There is always a new book to read, and continuous learning is baked right into the book club as the group discusses one book and moves onto the next.

The result is a low-cost learning initiative that staff appreciate, which helps get people on the same page — no pun intended — with a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

Zach Rubin is co-founder and CEO of PBC Guru. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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