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

Social media is more than just a fad, it is shaping the way organisations communicate and engage with their employees, their customers, and their business partners. As a consequence, the nature of business is changing. There is an irrepressible shift to social technologies that connect people, break down silos of information, and reach beyond the boundaries of offices, to enable the creation of innovative practices that re-ignite the collective intelligence within the organisation. The rise of the “social business” is not only enabled through the use of social technologies, it is also being reflected in the re-design of how we approach our work.

“Social business is one of the biggest shifts in the structure and process of our organizations in business history. It taps into entirely new sources of creative output (everyone on the network), relinquishes structure that reduces productive outputs, and inverts methods of traditional control and decision making in work processes (anyone can contribute as long as they create value) while focusing on useful outcomes.”

An excerpt from Social Business by Design, co-authored by Dion Hinchcliffe and Peter Kim, published May 2012, p.20

How effectively organisations harness the power of these fundamental shifts in workplace practices, will be reflected in their ability to adapt to these disruptive, changing environments.

Further supporting the case of social business changes, organisational research reports are providing evidence of impact from the early adopters. The result are impressive:

  • Organisations who use collaboration and social networking tools are 57% more likely to out perform their competitors;
  • 65% of employees state they can find the answers to questions more quickly;
  • 83% of new workers say they feel better connected with co-workers through internal social networks – giving them a stronger sense of community;
  • Classroom courses blended with social learning communities now experience 97% course completions – up from only 60% in solely face-to-face delivery environments.

(Figures sourced from McKinsey reports and IBM C-Suite reports).

Back 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.