Part 1: Creating a Social Learning Environment

Part 1: Creating a Social Learning Environment

Social learning. We’re all talking about it, wishing for it and hoping to facilitate it in our offices. But what is it, exactly? I participated in a webinar a few weeks ago in which the speaker used “social learning” and “social media” interchangeably, creating a confusing mishmash of misinformation. It’s a common misconception, so let’s clear it up.

Social learning is knowledge acquisition that occurs in communication between people. Not just the act of using social media to ask a question – but the act of communicating with peers, colleagues and the larger world to seek information. There are incredible folks like Marcia Conner, Jane Bozarth and Clive Shepherd doing hard thinking and writing about how social learning can help us work smarter and more efficiently.

Social media tools are technologies that enable communication and create connections between people. Social media can enable social learning and make it even more powerful by capturing, recording and organizing information exchange and learning that occurs between people.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, where I saw that institutional knowledge was lost every year as volunteers completed their two years of service and went home. It was a constant, depressing cycle of capacity loss as new volunteers confronted the same problems their predecessors had but could not learn from their experiences.

As I was finishing my service, an intrepid volunteer instituted a Peace Corps Mali wiki, and engaged volunteers in supplying content by adding project proposals, reports, analysis and descriptions as they worked. I’ve checked back into this wiki a few times and found that it’s growing at a great rate. This is an incredibly powerful example of how combining social media with social networks is making sure that Peace Corps Volunteers aren’t wasting time reinventing the wheel.

As in this example and many others, social learning networks promote collaboration, save time and enable workforces to innovate faster. Now, in an age of the globalized workplace, with dispersed employees, complex organizational structures and rapid change, combining social media and social learning is one way to make sure your organization has a competitive advantage.

Tools for Social Learning

Your coworkers are already using social media in their private lives. Take advantage of that familiarity with social media tools to connect people to one another in your workplace.

The tools for creating those workplace social networks are almost infinite. Jane Hart, an expert on learning in the workplace, curates an annual Learning Tools Directory, which is chock full of tools that can be applied to the learning workplace. Twitter, Yammer, Bloomfire, Facebook, wikis, SocialCast, Jambok and LinkedIn are all great networks and systems for facilitating communication between people, with varying degrees of privacy and flexibility. Traditional learning management systems are hustling to create features that allow learners to not just take courses and quizzes but to connect with one another in meaningful ways.

Do you want to see how it’s done? LINGOs, the fabulous nonprofit that connects elearning resources to the employees of international development organizations, uses an open LinkedIn forum to great effect. LINGOs staff members and member organizations participate in a high quality discussion on how they confront learning and development challenges in their workplaces. This is an example of connecting distributed human resources to create a knowledge base that’s smarter and more effective than just a bunch of individuals.

I’ve written about how my organization uses Yammer to share information in non-intrusive and simple ways. Using Yammer is also supporting our emerging work culture, which is great for boosting morale and team spirit. I encourage you to experiment with social media tools in your workplace to facilitate communication and collaboration.

In closing, the next post in this Social Learning Workplace series will focus on the techniques of promoting a workplace social network.

Photo Credit: oedipusphinx on Flickr