Social learning is not a fad – it’s the future of learning

You are hereBack in 2005, I wrote an article for AITD: “Social Software: The Age of Connection and the Connected Learner” which reviewed the application of a variety of social platforms, for example; blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, chat, and their potential uses and anticipated implications for organisational learning. I revisited this article as I drafted my thoughts for this piece and pondered how far we’d progressed in our adoption of social media technologies in our learning tool kits. Disappointingly, in the learning context, the answer is: not much had changed – despite the increase in positive outcomes demonstrated in case studies, journal articles, and conference presentations having dramatically increased.

At the same time, employees are frustrated by the disconnect between their workplace technology and personal computing experiences. Traditional enterprise IT systems (including LMS) do not afford the lightweight, ease of use people have come to expect in personal social media applications. In addition, the inability to easily share and collaborate with colleagues, a process that underpins the fundamentals in all social media, further increases current organisational technology dissatisfaction.

Anecdotal stories recount examples of employees relying more on their personal smartphones for faster more effective computing, than their workplace desktop – many of which still have limited internet access. Yet, as Learning & Development practitioners, we all know that learning drives organisational flexibility and adaptability, so being able to foster practices that will keep pace with the changes in not only the organisational context, but also the learners needs and expectations will be critical. Shouldn’t we be leading by example and demonstrating the value that can be attained through the effective implementation of social, collaborative platforms?

However, learning with social media is NOT the same as traditional learning practices, including existing eLearning courses.

Learning with social media is dynamic, learner controlled, self-directed and at times, it may even appear to be chaotic. Results from my doctoral research that explored the learners’ experience of social media in learning contexts found that:

  • Learners are more actively engaged – both with each other and the content,
  • Learners report feeling more empowered, and
  • Learners demonstrate deeper levels of critical reflection.

BUT – It’s important to highlight that it’s not about the technology, it’s about how we use it!

It’s about creating learning opportunities by engaging, creating, and sharing through platforms that connect people with others in ways that have never been previously accessible. By integrating social media into their learning strategies, organisations can generate powerful networks where the current practices of learning are being challenged by reframing the transfer of knowledge and skills in traditional delivery modes to participatory environments where learning comes from social interactions.