Sunday, January 30, 2011

Social Media vs. Social Learning

By Dean Hawkinson

Most of us have Facebook accounts and collaborate with friends, family and colleagues through this media. We also use tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media.

In a lot of cases, we are using internal corporate social media tools to collaborate.

However, how many of us have considered using these types of tools for collaboration in a training environment?

As a learning professional, I have been pondering this question a lot. This has included reading some books, attending some webinars, and talking with other learning professionals about how they are making social media work in a learning environment.

Out of all of this, one thing speaks perfectly clear: You have to understand your end goal before selecting the tool to be used.

For the sake of this post, I want to focus on an end goal of collaboration among learners experiencing a learning event together.

Here are a few things that have come to mind as I think about applying social media to my development for the purpose of collaboration:

--1-- Encourage collaboration among learners who are geographically separated, but experiencing the same training. Let’s say you have one group of learners in one region going through a four-week new hire program, but you also have another group going through the same four-week program in another region at the same time. What a great way for those learners going through the same training to connect region-to-region and share their learnings with each other.

--2-- Share “real world” learnings with each other after the training is complete. The four-week session has ended, and the learners have now started their assignments. What a great way for them to collaborate and discuss the informal learning that is taking place on the job. Another suggestion is to have an instructor, a supervisor, or other mentor create a blog with a daily or weekly question to be posed to them.

--3-- Create an Alumni group. Implement an online collaboration site for anyone who has gone through the learning event to share their experiences. This would gather both new and seasoned employees to share their tacit knowledge with each other.

All of this can apply to either instructor-led or online training. So why not plan for social collaboration within your instructional design?

--4-- Consider a collaboration site for anyone going through an eLearning course to discuss the learning. Releasing an eLearning course in conjunction with a collaboration site would be a great opportunity for subject matter experts to share information with learners going through the course and for participants to share how they will apply what they have learned to their job.

Something to consider – what tools can you use for this collaboration?

Many companies block external sites such as Twitter and Facebook, but a lot of them are deploying their own internal social media sites or corporate-friendly tools such as Yammer. Many are using Microsoft SharePoint, which includes discussion threads, wikis, and blogs, or using other similar collaboration tools. Check with your IT department to see what tools and guidelines may already be available to you for collaboration within your firewall.

Also, make sure you are familiar with any internal social media posting policies that your company may have, and make those available to your participants. You might even consider low-tech collaboration options to achieve a similar end.

Remember to make sure the tool is easy to access and use; you may want to include some instructions within your formal training.

How are you using social media with training in your organization?


  1. We have used a social network platform before a face-to-face training for 3 weeks online. We thought we could use the platform afterwards to share how it worked out in the workplace, but surprisingly, people were not that interested. I guess they were caught up with life as usual. So it is not so easy to make it work, unless people are very motivated and it is negotiated

  2. Good point, Joitske. That seems to be one of the biggest challenges to using Social Media as an enhancement to the training afterwords is how to make it attractive and get people to see the value added in using it. I am planning to try it out with an up-coming class, and hope to show the value in extending the learning beyond the classroom by being able to learn from each other's "real life" experience while being geographically spread around the country.

  3. Interested to see if anyone has had any success with this? Just as Joitske mentioned, we've tried it utilizing our internal social networking tool build on Jive. The groups are created to "extend" learning beyond the classroom or learning event. They always start of well, but die pretty quickly. Not sure if that is because our company has really adapted the social networking tool culturally, or if we are doing something wrong from a learning design perspective. Any insight would be helpful.

  4. That seems to be the million dollar question with Social Media, at least from my experience - how do you sustain participation over the long term? My experience has been that you really need someone who is going to be the "champion" of the social media in your organization. This person would be the one to continully drive usage, keep communication open, and basically be "public relations" for that initiative. Without someone to drive it and keep it fresh in people's minds, it won't get used.


Thank you for your comments.