3: Examples of use of social media for learning

This is the third Chapter of the Social Learning Handbook 2011, a new version is now available Social Learning Handbook 2014 

How learning professionals are using social media for learning

From the contributions to the Top 100 Tools for Learning activity over 100 examples of the use of social media for learning have been mentioned. Here are just a few examples taken from the list.

“Blogging is my chief way of making sense of things.”

“Through blogs, we humans learn from each other every day.”

“Keeping up-to-date is a rapidly changing field, and knowing what the market is saying about learning, about technology, and about us is critical for success. An RSS reader allows me to do that without having to go to dozens of websites to see if they’ve got anything new.”

Mindmapping is a very powerful methodology for structuring your own ideas but also within workshops it can be a strong tool for both learners and trainers.”

“Twitter is a performance support tool, learning platform and social network all rolled in one.”

Social bookmarking is one of the most useful tools on the web. I can save, tag, and easily re-find sites that are useful, and I can see what others with similar interests to mine are saving. It’s almost a research assistant!” 

“We achieved more with Ning in 3 months than we could achieve in 2 years with Moodle. It has helped us bring about a genuine learning community among our students and has enriched their experience considerably.”

“I use iGoogle to manage my personal learning and work environment. On my home page, I have Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Bookmarks, Google Reader, and Google Docs and use each daily.”

From these examples it is clear to see that many individuals use social media not only to create learning solutions for their students or trainees but also for their own personal learning.

How organizations are using social media for learning

We have also collated links to a number of articles documenting the use of social media in the workplace.  Here are a few examples.

TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications company shifted its investment in 3rd party learning for its 35,000 employees by adopting the MS SharePoint server as the focus of its new information and social learning initiative. It is using the system to support learning through a formal, informal, and social content paradigm, including networking, blogs, wikis, videos, communities, and collaboration sites to foster knowledge sharing among team members. The company expects to see increased team member engagement, better sharing of institutional knowledge, and 20 percent savings on learning costs in 2010 alone.

BT is also using Microsoft SharePoint to enable employees to create, find and view learning segments (podcasts, documents and links), and also discuss and debate the content being created. It calls its system Dare2Share.  This environment encourages people to experiment, innovate, collaborate, communicate and share their experiences and knowledge in engaging ways. The knowledge sharing has a positive impact on how other employees serve customers, find information or solve problems. (source)

Océ, Nationwide Insurance and Qualcomm have been using Yammer (a Twitter-like micro-sharing platform) to help employees connect across divisions and geographic regions and to foster collaboration around the globe.

From this list it is also clear that a number of organizations are employing enterprise-wide systems to underpin more informal and social approaches to learning and working.

5 categories of social media  for workplace learning

From these two collections of examples of the use of social media learning, we have identified five different categories of social learning in the workplace

  1. Formal Structured Learning (FSL)
  2. Personal Directed Learning  (PDL)
  3. Group Directed Learning (GDL)
  4. Intra-Organizational Learning (IOL)
  5. Accidental & Serendipitous Learning (ASL)

Below we take a closer look at what these five categories of learning mean, as well as how social media is being used within each.

1 – Formal Structured Learning (FSL)
Learning in formal classroom or in online courses

Social media is being used to improve engagement in classroom or online courses. Its use varies from wrapping social activities around existing online content to a fully collaborative approach to learning, so that the learner is a full and active participant in the learning.

Examples of the use of social media for FSL include:

  • Building a collaborative library of course links in a social bookmarking tool
  • Creating course/class blogs with learners writing learning (b)logs
  • Using wikis to create collaborative course learning spaces where all learners can participate and interact with one another
  • Sharing of course presentations, videos etc, which are often embedded in blog or web pages
  • Using micro-blogging services for disseminating course news and tips
  • Using social networks to create learning communities and to enable easy communication and enriched learning experiences.

2 – Personal Directed Learning (PDL)
Learning by finding things out for or by oneself

This is where individuals are using social media to organise and manage their own personal or professional learning.

A large number of people are now making significant use of social media tools to build their own Personal Learning or Knowledge Networks (aka PLN, or PKN) – although they may not realise this is what they are doing – in order to access their own trusted “learning” resources or connect with people whose opinions they value.

Examples of the use of social media for PDL include:

  • Joining social networks to interact with others, ask and answer questions, start discussions and build a personal or professional network
  • Using micro-sharing services, to share their own daily information, as well as follow people that share tips, guidelines and tools
  • Using a social bookmarking tool to find the best sources of information about a subject (“crowd-sourced learning”)
  • Using an RSS reader to subscribe to blog and web feeds to keep up date with what is happening in their field of interest

3 – Group Directed Learning (GDL)
Learning by working with a team or other group of people to solve problems

This is where groups of individuals, e.g. work and project teams,  study groups, or communities of practice, work or learn together.

GDL is an extension of PDL, where groups use social media tools to share information, resources and experiences with one another.  Self-organising groups of employees, are using a variety of social media  tools to provide the functionality they need to collaborate and work and learn together, or even for coaching or mentoring purposes.

Examples of the use of social media for GDL include:

  • The use of group spaces or social networks to store and share ideas, experiences, resources and contacts
  • The use of collaborative tools to work together on common documents, or to brainstorm together
  • The use of social bookmarking tools to create bookmarks for the team or project
  • The use of private micro-blogging tools to talk (in real-time) about work issues, ask questions of colleagues and join work groups.

4 – Intra-Organizational Learning (IOL)
Learning from everyone in the organization

There is also the bigger “organizational learning” picture.  This is where employees cooperate with one another by sharing information and resources inside the organization, as well as generally keep each other up to date and/or up to speed on strategic and other internal initiatives and activities.   

Examples of the use of social media for IOL include:

  • The use of blogging by senior managers and project leaders to provide a perspective on organizational policies or to disseminate information about current initiatives around the organization, which others can comment and feedback on
  • The use of a private micro-sharing service where colleagues can keep each other updated with their news and activities
  • The creation of a collaborative resource or knowledge base which all employees can contribute to
  • The creation of an organizational community or network where employees can establish contact with colleagues (who may be remotely located) as well as enable easy communication and collaboration between them.
  • For file-sharing in the organization where employees create and share, or else find and view podcasts, documents, etc which they can rate for others

5 – Accidental & Serendipitous Learning (ASL)
Learning without realizing it

This is where individuals learn without consciously realizing it, and is also known as incidental or random learning, or even “learning at the water cooler”.  Although accidental learning can take place in any of the above scenarios above as well as in other personal or professional settings, some individuals like to take advantage of possible serendipitous learning that might occur.

Examples of the use of social media for ASL include

  • Finding out about new things by using micro-sharing services, joining social networks, viewing photo-sharing, video-sharing or presentation-sharing services
  • Finding links to resources in a social bookmarking site that can help prompt ideas and creativity

Social media and self-directed learning

When Harold Jarche, of the Internet Time Alliance, read about these 5 categories of learning, he remarked:

“social media for learning requires a lot of self-directed learning, either individually or as a participant in a group/  organization”

Harold also drew the diagram below to show the amount of learning directedness for the 5 categories of learning, re-categorizing them as:

  • Undirected Learning (ASL)
  • Self Directed Learning (PDL, GDL, IOL)
  • Directed Learning (FSL)

Fig 7: 5 categories of learning and the amount of learning directedness

In a later posting, Harold Jarche went on to refer to learning in the following terms:

  • Dependent Learning (FSL) – direction is required in terms of objectives, curriculum, expertise and facilitation. The learner is dependent on others.
  • Independent Learning (ASL & PDL)- self-motivated people can get what they need in the manner they want
  • Interdependent Learning (GDL & IOL) – learning that requires connecting to others and cannot be done alone.

Harold also added:

“For workplace learning, especially in complex environments, I would want to support interdependent learning as much as possible, as this would create a more resilient learning community, not dependent on any individual nor any formal training program.

I would also encourage independent learners to share what they know so that the best learners could set an example. I would minimize dependent learning because it is obviously a cost centre and too much dependent learning may adversely influence mastery of independent and interdependent learning.”

This Handbook has now considered a number of different categorizations of learning and learners:

  • Formal and Informal Learning
  • Social training and social workflow learning
  • Directed, Self-Directed and Undirected Learning
  • Dependent, Independent and Interdependent Learning

All these terms are mapped together in Table 5 shown below:

Table 5: Mapping of terms

Formal Structured Learning


Social Training



Group Directed


Social Workflow Learning



Personal Directed Learning


Accidental & Serendipitous Learning


Examples of social media for learning by technology

Using the two collections of examples of social media in learning referred to above, I produced the following table with examples of how different media can be used for the 5 categories of learning:

  1. Blogging
  2. Podcasting
  3. RSS readers
  4. Micro-sharing services
  5. Photo sharing
  6. Presentation sharing
  7. Screencast sharing
  8. Video Sharing
  9. Social Bookmarking
  10. Collaborative calendaring
  11. Collaborative documents
  12. Collaborative workspaces
  13. Community space

Table 6: Use of social media for 5 categories of learning







Senior managers can write blogs about their perspective on the organization: strategy, etc, for employees to comment

Project teams can write blog postings about current initiatives that others in the organization should know about – and comment on

Trainers can write course blogs to provide a chronological focus for  assignments, a site for student interaction and discussion, where students can contribute thoughts and experiences, and provide additional information following classes that students find difficult

Trainers can write course blogs that can be used to create a community of learners following learning events

Trainers can write a daily blog to share a daily training tip, piece of vocabulary, etc

Trainees can write blogs to reflect on their learning in the course (e.g. Learning Logs), and to comment onother trainees’ blogs.

Students can use course (or personal) blogs to post ePortfolios

Groups can write (and read) postings in a group blog to keep others in the group up to date with what happening in the team, group, project

Individuals can read (and comment on) a range of internal and external blogs

Individuals can write their own blogs for general reflection for sensemaking

Individuals writing their own blogs for philosophizing, providing opinions, or to record updates on their own activities







Managers can create briefings and strategy podcasts for whole organization use, and project teams can create project update podcasts

Trainers can create course podcasts

Trainees can create their own course/ classroom podcasts

Individuals can listen to course (and course-related) podcasts created internally or externally

Individuals can listen to a range of internal and external informational and instructional podcasts

Individuals can create personal podcasts for philosophising, providing opinion, or to record updates about their own activities







Individuals can read a range of (internal and external) informational or instructional RSS feeds to keep themselve continuously up to date with what is happening in their area of personal or professional interest, as well as for inspiration







Employees can keep colleagues in the organization up to date with what they are doing or working on

Trainers can keep their students up to date with course news and information as and where to find it

Trainees can get a daily or more frequent training tip, piece of vocabulary, etc

Trainers and trainees can use this as a backchannel during a live learning event

Groups can keep each other up-to-date with group-relevant content

Individuals can use a service as a backchannel at conferences or other  events to add extra value to presentations or discussions

Individuals can keep up to date with activities, ideas and resources from others in their professional or personal network (internal or external), e.g.  to hear from thought leaders and to get inspiration

Individuals can share their own activities, ideas and resources with others in their personal or professional networks

Individuals can ask questions and get immediate replies from those in their network – a performance support tool

Individuals can find out about things they would otherwise have missed or to learn completely new things







Organizations can share organizational photos, images and clip art for use in organizational projects: documents,  presentations etc

Trainees can use public domain/Creative Commons licensed, or even commercial, photos in their blogs, presentations or other workshop materials

Individuals can browse photo libraries to find new things







Presentations by senior managers, project teams etc can be shared with the whole organization for comment and feedback

Trainers can share their own as well as other user-generated presentations and embed them in blogs, websites, etc

Trainees can share their own presentations for courses

Groups can create and share presentations for group use

Individuals can locate and learn from user-generated presentations on many different subjects

Individuals can browse presentation sharing sites to find out about new things







Trainers can create and share screencasts aka tutorials or software demos, to explain how a piece of software works or to carry out specific tasks – with or without narration

Groups can create and share screencasts for team use, e.g. to demonstrate how to use some software or carry out a process

Individuals can access and learn from user-generated screencasts on many different applications







Video recordings of senior managers’ briefings and projects can be shared with the whole organization

Trainers can quickly create short instructional videos for students

Trainers can embed other useful, relevant and/or  inspirational user-generated videos into course blogs, wikis, etc

Trainees can create their own videos and share them with the rest of the course as well as comment on (e.g. for peer assessment )

Groups can create and share videos for their own team use

Individuals can browse video sharing sites for new things







Employees in an organization can contribute to a library of internal (and even external) links relevant to different activities and projects categorised using specific tags.

Trainers and trainees can build a course library of relevant course links (to research, presentations, videos, etc) using a course tag

Groups can create a group or project library of links using a group tag

Individuals can save, tag, share and easily find websites of personal or professional interest to them

Individuals can see what others with similar personal, professional or research interests are bookmarking

Individuals can browse social bookmarking sites to find links to resources that can help prompt ideas and creativity







Organizational dates can be scheduled and shared

Trainers can create course timetables sharing relevant dates – assignment submission and other events

Trainers can organise training schedules through their teaching timetables

Trainers can share their timetables that show open office hours or for students to book appointments for support

Groups can schedule group/project meetings and events

Individuals can share their own personal diaries – for meeting or appointment planning







Trainers can share documents (articles, presentations, spreadsheets) they have created with their students

Trainees can write, edit, brainstorm and compare points of view on a shared document

Trainees can contribute data (via an online form) which is collected in a spreadsheet

Trainees can contribute to a collaborative assignments, where each of their contribution is noted

Groups can work together on collaborative documents, e.g. agendas, strategy, project or bid documents, academic papers, presentations and spreadsheets

Groups can use online forms to create surveys and add data into a spreadsheet

Individuals can create documents and then share them for review (rather than editing)







Trainers can set up a collaborative class space, into which they embed videos, documents, presentations etc, in which students can interact

Trainees can set up their own study space which they can use for personal assignments and activities

Groups can set up group spaces for specific projects to link to and store group resources

Individuals can set up personal workspaces to link to and store their own personal or professional resources







An organization can set up a community space for its employees to establish contacts with colleagues, and provide easy communication and collaboration between them.

Trainers can set up a “class communities” or “learning communities” for trainees to meet and communicate with one another – before, during and after the course

Groups can set up “communities of practice”  for projects and teams (ask questions, have discussions)

Individuals can set up and/or join professional communities and/or networks to learn from other like minded people (ask questions, have discussions)

Individuals can join personal networks to communicate with friends and family, (ask questions, have discussions)

Next chapter: Social media tools and systems for learning