Social Learning Powered by E2.0

By Bert Sandie posted 08-09-2010 22:44


Social learning is a powerful instrument available to all organizations as part of enterprise 2.0 toolsets. Let’s start with a definition of social learning to get alignment on what we are talking about before we dive deeper.

Social learning allows humans to learn through a self-directed mechanism that involves finding, organizing and categorizing resources in a coherent manner for their personal learning needs. Resources include connecting with experts and communities; watching presentations and videos; listening to podcasts; reading articles, blogs, books, and documents; and observing others perform tasks.

Social learning has the potential, when used intelligently and thoughtfully, to enable employees to learn new capabilities and accelerate existing capabilities to higher levels of competency in rapid fashion. When social learning is coupled with traditional corporate learning and development programs (i.e., classroom instructor-led programs) this can provide a competitive business advantage for any organization. The advantage stems from the fact that employees are able to learn then apply capabilities or find critical resources (people or information) in real-time as they need it to perform their daily job.  

For example, imagine an employee needs to use a feature in a tool but does not know how. The employee starts with accessing his/her E2.0 applications, he/she goes to the “tool” community and searches for information about the feature. The results return a blended set of information including user profiles of experts of the tool, a video tutorial on how to use this feature, an article describing best practices of this feature, and a blog entry that points to a few external sites and books to read. The employee watches the video tutorial, reads the best practices articles, starts his/her work and then contacts one of the recommended internal experts for some advice and feedback. This whole process happened in a very short time period with the employee driving the how, when, where and what they were learning.

This example demonstrates how social learning places the “learner” in complete control of the learning process.

As we can see from the example above, online communities are an excellent anchoring point from which to provide many social learning opportunities for employees to get started with. Online Communities enable employees to learn through effective new models of collaboration, sharing, collective intelligence, expert connections, etc. Listed below are some of the most promising and successful technologies that leading organizations are using to help support social learning:

  • Internal “YouTube-Like” Solution – provides a mechanism for subject matter expert (SME) employees to create and share tutorial videos; ability to purchase industry expert tutorial videos
  • Connecting With Experts – the prevalence of social networking as part of E2.0 toolsets has created a mechanism called “Expert Exchange” where a set of experts can share and collaborate with an entire community of people. This of course assumes that you have rich social/user profiles in place which is really the new-age employee directory!
  • Instant Messaging/Twitter – provides an informal real-time mechanism to chat with one or more individuals
  • Webinars and Narrated Presentations – the ability to easily capture a presentation with full audio and video then post for others to watch; the narration provides essential context which is otherwise difficult to convey
  • Video Conferencing – connecting with one or more people with full-streaming video provides a rich collaboration platform; the ability to see facial expressions, emotions and body language are extremely important …

The foundation of social learning can be viewed as a set of underlying characteristics that when joined together in a cohesive manner provides a powerful offering to individuals and the organization. These characteristics include:

  • Known, respected and trusted learning resources (people and information)
  • Available anytime and anywhere
  • Searchable – able to easily and quickly find resources
  • Distributed Content Creation – any employee can modify existing or add new content
  • Personalized Learning – learn at your own pace and what exactly you need
  • Connect with Experts – the ability to connect with subject matter experts

Social learning stills needs to be coupled with other learning modals to provide a complete learning solution for an organization. Some complimentary learning programs to consider are:

  • Mentoring program – ability to work directly with experts inside the company on a project or assignment; you get to watch and interact with them
  • Mobility to experience new roles in order to learn new capabilities
  • Ability to learn on the job – a learning environments provides the opportunity for experimentation, making mistakes, and the ability to practice capabilities

Some final words of wisdom are start small, move fast, pilot for a particular discipline/topic, ask for continuous feedback, create or buy high-quality content before launching, identify experts to participate and have a community manager to drive the process.

Remember, along the way you will need to help shift mindsets on how learning occurs, undertake change management to introduce and adopt social learning, and provide the necessary infrastructure to support this model of learning.

Please feel share to your social learning experiences or ask questions in the comments section.

Additional Reading

#sociallearning #e2.0 #learning