By John Ambrose
Over the past 18 months, I’ve been delivering a variety of talks to audiences of learning professionals large and small. The core premise is that
social learning, defined as the contextual blending of social conventions with learning content, will be profoundly transformative over the next decade.
Well, it’s time we stopped focusing on social learning. That is, until we’ve mastered learning social.
What I mean is that every learning professional who intends to remain in this field during the next decade needs to take the plunge. Now! Because learning about social technologies comes from experiencing them, not just reading about them. Like learning to swim, internalizing the real value of social technology requires active participation.
Don’t just take my word for it. American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) President and CEO Tony Bingham recently said, “Understanding the huge impact Web 2.0 technologies have on how the workforce learns is critical to engaging employees and customers, and ultimately, critical for an organization’s growth and success.”
As a learning profession, we have a long way to go. ASTD’s recent report “The Rise of Social Media: Enhancing Collaboration and Productivity Across Generations,” found that only 24% of survey respondents report that their own informal learning activities include social media. This jibes roughly with what I’ve seen from audiences in North America, but overseas I would put this in the single digits based on my informal polls. We can do better.
Diving In or Sitting on the Edge of the Pool?
I found it interesting that the same ASTD study reported that ‘nearly all’ survey respondents indicated they ‘use social media’ in their personal lives. I believe this obscures what’s really going on. My hunch is respondents equate ‘using’ to ‘having used or having some basic understanding.’ The vast majority of learning professionals are not swimming in social media, rather they are dangling their legs into the water while they sit on the ledge of the pool.
As proof, I’ve been conducting a little experiment with many audiences. I asked everyone to stand and then ask people to sit if they’ve used various social networks or technologies — from more obscure to less. In an audience of 75, I’d ask, do you use Orkut? Delicious? Maybe one or two sit. Foursquare? Yammer? Maybe three or four more. Twitter? Maybe five, ten will then sit in a really wired crowd. Facebook gets a good chunk to sit, maybe 20 or 25. Linked-in? That gets another swath of those still standing to sit — but not everyone. Believe it or not in most audiences, there is still a cadre of learning professionals standing! I resort to YouTube and email to get everyone in the room to sit.
My experiment is fun, but the underlying message is serious. Today’s learning professional is on the front lines of a sea change in how employees will learn. Navigating this sea requires more than a tacit understanding of one aspect of the water. It requires the ability to swim.
Here’s how to jump in and get wet:
Establish a Facebook profile. Don’t worry about embarrassing your kids. They have two profiles anyway – their real profile (for family and adults) and their pseudo profile (for talking to their peer circles).
Join one or more social communities on Linked-in. A variety of SkillSoft groups have been created around the world, including SkillSoft eLearning and SkillSoft Government Users Group.
Get on Twitter. I know you think it is a waste of time, but just create a profile anyway. It’s simple and fast. Then use search.twitter.com to search on the teams “#lrnchat”, “#educhat” or “#elearning”. The “#” acts as a community tag so it is easy to find related posts. These are some of the more popular and dynamic learning communities. Explore. Click a link. Reply to a message with a comment of your own. Congratulations, you just “tweeted”. Now, follow those with comments you find interesting.
You are on your way. You are now in the water. Feels good, doesn’t it?