Five Myths of Social Learning

December 3, 2009 Dawn Poulos

LochnessThere is no question that the rise of social networks is creating a profound shift in the way training departments are delivering knowledge to their employees, partners, and customers. According to a McKinsey executive survey, a whopping 71% of enterprises are using Web 2.0 tools for training purposes and this figure is rising fast. While I could write an entire blog post on the reasons for this, I think Clark Quinn summarizes it quite nicely:

“As work becomes more complex and the level of information explodes, speed-to-competence will depend on an organizations ability to allow learners to support themselves by tapping into the knowledge of others.”

Social learning is all about providing more flexible and responsive ways for delivering this knowledge through user generated content, engagement, and feedback. The Web 2.0 revolution has brought learning networks front and center with “Connect and Communicate” becoming the new mantra for training organizations.

As with any revolution or uprising though, there is a natural tendency to take on the attitude that everything has changed and “all bets are off.” How many blog posts do we read these days whose title ends with the words “IS DEAD”?

Social learning is disruptive and training organizations need to evolve or die, there is no disputing this. However, let’s take a step and examine more closely some the most common current proclamations.

The 5 Myths of Social Learning:

Myth #1: User-generated content in social media platforms will replace formal content development processes.

Reality: User generated content will supplement the formal content development process and create efficiencies in Subject Matter Expert (SME) contribution, knowledge capture, and content review.

The obvious point here is that due to assessment, certification, and regulatory issues, training content will still require formal development processes. That’s true, but it goes much deeper than that. Social learning is bi-directional and user-generated content and feedback can be a valuable asset for instructional designers to develop more compelling and timely learning, whether that learning is published to a formal course, a non-formal podcast, or an informal blog. We are seeing this today. Leading social media vendors like Jive Software are integrating with the top ECM platforms to provide unified search, workflow, and storage of enterprise and social content, proving a cohesive environment where formal content is supported by an ecosystem of users that contribute expertise and relevant information.

Myth #2: Learning objects are dead.

Reality: Reusable content elements are even more critical for the deployment of content to social learning platforms to support incremental learning.

Charles Jennings of the Internet Time Alliance calls performance support the silver bullet for training, where learners are guided incrementally via relevant nuggets of information delivered at the point-of-performance. And as Charles demonstrated with the Thomson-Reuters Learning Exchange during his session at LearnTrends, social networks are becoming the de-facto performance support platform for SMEs to deliver targeted information. So, while many like to proclaim the death of learning objects, the fact is that social media applications, including mobile, are inherently designed to leverage small reusable content components and are more valuable tools to learners when they do so.

Myth #3: Training and development organizations will make stand-alone social media platform decisions.

Reality: Social media platforms have great organizational significance and will ultimately become part of the enterprise “fabric” just as we have seen with email, instant messaging, and other collaboration tools.

Although it starts as a groundswell, the fact is that if social learning is to be successful, it needs to go across the entire enterprise as a core infrastructure. McKinsey’s data supports this assertion: companies that reported the highest level of satisfaction with their social media deployments, more than half of all employees are using them. For all others, it’s about one in four.

Given the need for enterprise adoption, Forrester reports two key criteria that organizations need to look for in their community platform vendors:

  1. Full solution services: In addition to the technology, they must bring experience branding in this new medium and deploying communities, strategy & education services, and community management services.
  2. Integration with other enterprise systems: Organizations should seek vendors that understand how communities ties into other systems such as CRM, customer support, and marketing dashboards.

While many learning vendors have thrown their hat into the Web 2.0 ring, community needs to be a core competency, not simply an extension of an existing learning silo. Contrary to what we’d like to believe, social learning doesn’t always start at the training department and work its way up, quite the opposite. So while implementing social media tools provided by an LCMS or LMS vendor may ensure departmental adoption, experience and today’s market show us that enterprise adoption of these tools is not a likely reality.

Myth #4: Social media platforms can be implemented “organically” without any formal planning or oversight.

Reality: The vast majority of organizations will not deploy an enterprise social media strategy without governance policies for the use and oversight of these tools.

While one of the big benefits of social media platforms is the ability to create content quickly and eliminate rigid taxonomies for classifying content, policies will need to be put in place to ensure the integrity and proper use of this content. Many people feel that this is the antithesis of learning networks. But remember, even Wikipedia has formal processes for making sure user generated content is accurate – the organization has over 100 people worldwide dedicated solely to ensuring content integrity and penalizing those who attempt to use the platform for self promotion.

Myth #5: The LMS is dead.

Reality: No, it’s not.

This has been a topic discussed for ages (there is actually an absolutely excellent recent conversation on George Siemens’ blog with additional commentary by Jane Hart on her own blog as well as on the Learning Conversations blog) and I won’t spend much time on it except to say if you need tracking capabilities, an LMS is your only option. In order for social media platforms to totally eclipse the function an LMS plays, they would be forced to support interoperability standards like SCORM, AICC or Common Cartridge. Does it really make sense to build all of this functionality into social media platforms? The answer is probably no. This is why we are seeing LMS vendors merge social media tools into their platforms. So, the real discussion should be around the viability of an LMS as a social media platform. Will this strategy enhance the role of an LMS within an organization, or will their role continue to diminish as new network tools continue to arise?

About the Author

Dawn Poulos

Dawn is the main contributor to the Dawn of Learning blog and her writing is behind its success, driving readers back time and again. She is a proud vegan and health enthusiast and lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter. She is an accomplished speaker and writer, having written numerous white papers and trade articles and speaking yearly at numerous tradeshows on the popular subjects of personalized learning experiences, cloud learning, content strategy, single source and XML.

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