2: Social media and its impact on workplace learning

This is the second Chapter of the Social Learning Handbook 2011, a new version is now available SOCIAL LEARNING HANDBOOK 2014 

What are social media?

Social technologies, aka social media, are a new breed of technologies that have emerged over the last few years and have changed the face of the Web. So how do these technologies differ from early web technologies?

Web 1.0 v Web 2.0

Early web technologies are often referred to as Web 1.0, whereas social technologies are also known as Web 2.0. Table 1 summarizes the main difference between the two technologies, which are explained further below.

Table 1:  Web 1.0 v Web 2.0

EARLY WEB
Web 1.0
Web technologies

SOCIAL WEB
Web 2.0
Social technologies

read-only web

read-write web

content publishing

user-generated content

social software

Web 1.0 is defined as the “read-only web”, that is content produced by an expert author and published on the web to be read by consumers.

Web 2.0 is defined as the “read-write” web; it provides all the services and applications to allow individuals to co-create content, collaborate and share it with others.

Web 2.0 supports user-generated content, that is content created by “users”, rather than specialist authors or publishers using a variety of affordable technologies like blogs, podcasts and wikis.

Web 2.0 encourages social interaction, e.g. through the use of social media like blogs, wikis, social bookmarking tools and social networks.

What do social technologies look like?

Many social media tools are now becoming household names, e.g. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and so on.  Fig 4 shows a few of the social media tools that have become very popular.

Fig 4: Some common social media tools

Social media technologies fall into a number of different categories:

  • Social networking – for establishing and building online relationships with others
  • Micro-sharing (aka micro-bloggng, micro-updating and micro-messaging) – for sending, receiving and replying to short messages with others, in real-time
  • Social bookmarking – for storing and sharing web links
  • File-sharing – for saving and/or sharing files in all formats: pictures, videos, presentations, documents, screencasts, etc
  • Communication tools – for communicating in various synchronous and asynchronous ways
  • Collaboration tools – for working collaboratively with others to co-create documents, presentations, mindmaps, etc
  • Blogging – for reading, commenting on, or writing blog posts
  • Podcasting – for creating or listening to audio (MP3) files
  • RSS – Really Simple Syndication – for subscribing to blog and other web news feeds

Is social media a fad or a revolution?

A number of people have tried to dismiss social media as a fad, but it is clear from the statistics provided in Eric Qualman’s Social Media Revolution 2 May 2010 video, that a huge number of people are using social media in their daily lives.  This includes facts like

  • If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 3rd largest ahead of the United States and only behind China and India.
  • The #2 largest search engine in the world is YouTube.
  • 80% of companies use social media for recruitment; 95% of these are using LinkedIn.
  • Wikipedia has over 15 million articles…some studies show it’s more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • There are over 200,000,000 blogs.

Consequently, social media use is having a big impact on all aspects of our daily life – including our work and the way we learn.

Table 2: The effect of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 technologies

EARLY WEB
Web 1.0

Web technologies

SOCIAL WEB
Web 2.0

Social Technologies

publishing content
reading content
some interaction with content

sharing information and knowledge

collaborative working and learning
social learning

CONTENT

PEOPLE

Web 1.0 was all about publishing and delivering content.  Web 2.0 is about individuals creating content in a variety of formats and sharing information and knowledge using tools like blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and social networks in order to support a new collaborative approach to working and learning.

If only one word could be used to describe the Early Web and one to describe Web 2.0 then those words would be CONTENT and PEOPLE.

The term 2.0 has now been added to many words to show that these new technologies are bringing about new thinking and approaches in different industries and areas, e.g. Enterprise 2.0, Library 2.0, Museum 2.0.  Although the term, Learning 2.0, is in use, the term Social Learning is actually becoming more widespread.

How is social media being used?

Many people believe that the main purpose of the Social Web is only for personal use –  that is for socializing with friends and family, and for fun – but it is apparent that it is now being used for many other purposes.

A growing number of organizations are using social media to promote their products, services and activities to consumers.  They are also using social media sites for online recruitment.

Social media is also being used by many people for professional use, e.g. to connect with colleagues outside their organizations.  Social media is even being used within organizations for both individual and team productivity and collaboration purposes.

Table 3 summarizes the different users of social media.  In this Handbook we are concerned with how social media is being used both professionally and organizationally to work and learn smarter.

Table 3: Uses of social media

PERSONAL USE

PROFESSIONAL USE

INTERNAL ORGANIZATIONAL USE

EXTERNAL
ORGANIZATIONAL USE

Socialising with family and friendsPersonal productivitySocial gamesOnline shoppingFor fun Keeping up to date with professionProfessional networkingProfessional developmentJob seeking Keeping up to date with industryOrganizational networking and sharingTeam collaborationJob/team productivitySocial training Communicating with existing clients/ customersMarketing & PRCustomer serviceOnline recruitment

It is ironic to point out, that some organizations who use these tools to promote their products and services to consumers, do not allow their own employees to make use of them inside the organization. (Later this Handbook will address the issue of the banning of social media tools).  Fortunately there are many others who do understand the value of social media in organizations.

Social media and Learning

So let us turn our attention to the use of social media for learning. As we shall see, social media is having a major impact on learning in the workplace in more ways than you might think!

For the last 4 years have been compiling a list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning generated from the Top 10 Tools contributions of those working in education (i.e. teachers, academics, etc) as well as those involved in workplace learning (i.e. learning managers, instructional designers, trainers, consultants, analysts, etc).

Although it is often pointed out to me that the contributors to the list are a self-selecting bunch of contributors – ones who are perhaps more web savvy than a large number of workplace learning professionals – the Top 100 Tools list generates a huge amount of interest each year. For instance the presentation I created of the 2009 Top 100 Tools list has had over 100,000 views on Slideshare.

The  2010 Top 100 list was finalized in October 2010, and was based on the contribution of 545 learning professionals worldwide.  The Top 12 tools on the list are shown in Table 4 on the next page.

When you take a look at the list you will note that it also provides the rankings of each of the tools over the last 4 years. This offers some valuable insights into the trends that are emerging in terms of the popularity and use of learning tools and systems – particularly when read in conjunction with the individual contributions to the list, which often provide reasons for tool choices.

There are two very striking things about the tools on the list.  The first is that the majority of the tools are free, and the second is that most of them are social tools – that is tools that support the co-creation of content, as well as the connection, communication and collaboration of individuals, and the sharing of resources, ideas and experiences.

Table 4:  Top 100 Tools for Learning 2010 – the Top 12

Key: O=Online, D=Desktop, S=Server, F=Free, C=Commercial

2010

2009

2008

2007

TOOL

#
Votes

Name/Type

 How

Cost

1

1

11

43=

Twitter
Micro-sharing tool

O

F

346.5

2

3

18

22=

YouTube
Video sharing site

O

F

229.5

3

5

7

14

Google Docs
Collaboration suite

O

F

214.5

4

2

1

2

Delicious
Social bookmarking

O

F

167

5

7

20

31=

Slideshare
Presentation sharing

O

F

151.5

6

11=

4

3=

Skype
Instant messaging

D

F/C

138

7

4

3

7=

Google Reader
RSS reader

O

F

134.5

8

6

5

6

WordPress
Blogging tool

O

F

128.5

9

31=

24

17=

Facebook
Social network

O

F

105

10

14=

9

12=

Moodle
Course management

S

F

102.5

11

8

6

3=

Google Search
Web search tool

O

F

89.5

12

28

-

-

Prezi
Presentation tool

O

F

87.5

13

71=

-

-

Dropbox
File sharing tool

O

F

85

14

14=

10

9

Blogger
Blogging tool

O

F

84.5

One fact seems to be clear, that is that the popularity of pure content-creation and delivery tools appears to be on the decline as social learning becomes a key theme within education and workplace learning.  Learning professionals are beginning to recognize the huge value of encouraging participation and interaction of learners in formal learning – rather than focusing on the delivery of passive (albeit highly content-rich) online courses.

However, from the list it is also possible to see three other key trends emerging:

1 – The increasing consumerization of IT

“Consumerization of IT” is the term applied to the use of users’ own software tools and devices in the workplace to address their own organizational needs.

Over the last 4 years there has been a steady increase in the use of consumer tools for organizational learning purposes, as the majority of the tools on the list demonstrate. In fact, very few LMSs have appeared on the Top 100 lists in the past few years; the only one to have shown a regular and steady position is Moodle .

It seems that many of the contributors to the list are making significant use of their own software tools, and in doing so are by-passing the normal channels of both L&D and IT. There appear to be a number of reasons for the decreasing interest in enterprise systems:

  1. they are lagging behind in terms of the functionality that is required by users; and
  2. they are  often seen as unwieldy and not very user friendly,

Because it is very easy for individuals to set up accounts on online tools (the vast majority of which are free) and then use them with others, a lot of “learning activity” is now taking place outside the organizational firewall – “in the cloud”.

Personal devices like iPods, iPhones and iPads are also on the increase as “learning devices”, as it is also so much easier to access online tools on these devices rather than on enterprise PCs, which

  • are often configured not to allow users to install their own software or else because, or from which
  • access to certain online tools is actually banned in the organization.

Additionally, L&D is often seen as unable to respond quickly enough to learning and performance problems, whereas individuals can easily use their own tools and devices, with which they are personally familiar, in a professional or organizational context to address their own problems.

2 – Learning, working and personal tools are merging

This increase in consumerization of IT is resulting in the merging of tools for personal as well as professional and organizational purposes. Previous comments about the Top 100 Tools list have been that the tools appearing on the list are not “dedicated” learning tools; and this would be fair comment again this year. However, this should be seen as a strength rather than a weakness.

In addition to the reasons given above why these tools have become so popular, another is that many learning professionals prefer to exploit the tools that they and their learners are using on a daily basis (e.g. Facebook and Twitter).  They often feel it is more appropriate to take the learning to the learners, rather than force the learners to come to the learning – all too often hosted on unpopular, and as stated earlier, not very user-friendly enterprise systems.

Many of the tools on the Top 100 Tools list, which started life as personal tools have therefore evolved into valuable working and learning tools.

3 – Personal learning is under the individual’s control

With the easy availability of tools, as we have seen above, people are now “doing their own thing”.   This is not just the case for those who are designing and/or delivering training or education for formal learners, but also by many to address their own learning and performance needs. There is a huge amount of evidence that shows that individuals (and teams) are using these tools for their own personal, informal learning.

Instead of going to the LMS to find answers to their questions or solve problems, they are using tools like Google, Wikipedia or YouTube, or simply posting questions to their networks on Twitter or Facebook in order to get immediate, up-to-date and relevant answers.

It is also interesting to note that the success of their “learning” is measured in how well it helps them to address the learning or performance issue in hand, not in course completion data in the LMS. In very many cases, individuals are therefore now directing and managing their own learning primarily though the use of these new tools.

What does this mean for workplace learning?

“Social learning” is undoubtedly becoming a hot topic in the L&D world. We can see that social media tools are increasingly being used to engage learners both in the classroom and in online courses, but what is also becoming very clear is that it is not only in the area of formal learning where they are having an impact. Social media tools are also being used in the workplace by individuals and teams to solve business and performance problems.

The term “social learning” therefore has a much wider meaning than simply “social training” – where the focus is on the top-down creation, delivery and management of the LEARNING (see Fig 5).

“Social workflow learning” (as it might otherwise be called) is about workers sharing information and knowledge with one another in networks and communities as well as adopting a new collaborative approach to working.  It’s all about DOING their jobs (better).

Fig 5: Social Training v Social Workflow Learning

This is an essential and defining point about social media; it has turned the concept of “learning” on its head.  It’s no longer about waiting to be taught or trained, but about individuals having the power in their own hands to deal with their own learning problems much more quickly and efficiently than before.

In their recently published book, The New Social Learning, Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham reinforce the significance of social media for organizations.

“At its most basic level, new social learning can result in people becoming more informed, gaining a wider perspective, and being able to make better decisions by engaging with others. It acknowledges that learning happens with and through other people, as a matter of participating in a community, not just by acquiring knowledge.

Most of what we learn at work and elsewhere comes from engaging in networks where people co-create, collaborate and share knowledge, fully participating and actively engaging, driving and guiding their learning through whatever topics will help them improve.”

Fig 6 (below) is a modified version of Fig 3, and shows that social media is having an impact on all areas of learning, but significantly in the area of informal workflow learning.

Fig 6: Impact of social media on workplace learning

In The Internet Time Alliance we refer to this as “working smarter”. Jay Cross, in the Working Smarter Fieldbook, explains why we believe this is important

“Working smarter is the key to sustainability and continuous improvement. Knowledge work and learning to work smarter are becoming indistinguishable. The accelerating rate of change in business forces everyone in every organization to make a choice: learn while you work or become obsolete.”

By helping individuals work smarter, organizations can reap huge rewards, for it is in social (workflow) learning where the “real” learning in the organization takes place.

In the next chapter I take a look at some examples of the use of social media for learning.

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