As Social Media and Web 2.0 applications make their way from the public/consumer sphere into organizations, learning professionals are thinking about how it will change the way they design, support and facilitate learning. Some of the trends early adopters are seeing:

  • Control of learning content is starting to shift from the few (instructional designers) to the many (all employees) who can now both produce and consume content. This has always been the case really; it’s just that social media tools make employee content more visible, raises its profile and gets it out of e-mail silos.
  • Social media tools connect content and best practices to individuals. Earlier knowledge management and collaboration tools created highly structured information repositories with tight controls that were (are) disconnected from people who created it.
  • Employees are using social media to create best practices and approaches that can challenge the prescribed methods defined by the organization and the learning programs designed to teach them.
  • Content that evolves through the organizational use of social media tools can be a great source of content for the development of formal learning programs. Also, unexpected thought leaders emerge as they bubble their way to the top of social media networks. They are an excellent source of expertise for learning programs.
  • Social media tools can enhance and extend formal learning programs (e-learning and classrooms) in ways that previous tools have not been able.
  • Use of social media skews to a younger demographic (outside and inside organizations). Special effort is needed to involve boomers especially if their knowledge is to be captured before a large segment of the population begins to retire.
  • Social media tools makes informal learning visible and public (vs. personal and hidden) and thus available for easier sharing. We’ve always known that formal learning account for less than 15% of most learning that takes place in an organization. Social learning tools allows learning functions to monitor the pulse of informal learning and structure ways to support it more effectively.

These and many other experiences with business social media suggest minor adjustments and more fundamental shifts in the way we might use social media for corporate learning.

Wrap around traditional learning programs

Start enhancing and extending your traditional learning and e-learning programs with Social Media.  You’re already likely doing this with On-line discussion and chat.  These tools brought a collaborative and social element to asynchronous e-learning.  Social media can replace these tools and have greater chance take on a life of their own long after the formal program is finished.

Integrated within a learning program

Social media can become a key feature within a traditional e-learning program.  For example a management development program could be enhanced with case study elements driven by a wiki tool.  Managers in the program could create personal blogs to share and build on management experiences.  Shared video or audio podcasts could be used to develop and share personal management stories related to a subject.  Again these environments could become more powerful outside the formal program than within.

Wrap around a job

If most learning takes place informally why not go to where the real action is…the job or the workflow.  Catherine Lombardozzie has done some nice thinking on this idea.   She wrote a Learning Solutions magazine article and writes a blog about what she calls “Learning Environment Design”.  Her argument is that as learning professionals we should be designing learning environments. In her words:

“At its heart, the learning environment design model is an important reconceptualization of our mental model for designing learning….We don’t just let these tools fall into place, we deliberately design them for accessibility, flexibility and comprehensiveness”.

Her four categories of learning resources that should be part of a learning environment are:

  • Resources and tools
  • Relationships and networks
  • Training and education
  • Supervisor and company support

Communities of practice, social networking and social media are a big part of the relationships and networks category.  She offers a design methodology that shifts the focus of learning design away form the classroom or computer screen to the job environment where it belongs.

I’ll take this idea of building social media into jobs and workflow a little further in my next post.

Have you had experiences, positive or negative in the use of business based social media to support formal or informal learning, I’d love to hear from you.

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This blog contains perspectives on the issues that matter most in workplace learning and performance improvement.  It’s written by Tom Gram.

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