We're working in a wonderful era of easy-to-use, readily available social media technologies ideally suited to learning and instruction. These tools--blogs, wikis, social networking sites, microblog sites, video sites, and more--provide wonderful, new opportunities to invite participation from our learners. Anecdotal reports from learning and development (L&D) professionals indicate that trainers and instructional designers are enthusiastic about and interested in using new tools and approaches, but just don't have a good understanding of how to do so. Industry news and technology aficionados offer frequent updates about new social media tools (such as the recently launched Google+) or updates to old ones--often without much in the way of ideas for integrating them into practice.
Advantages are many: Social media allow more participation over a span of time, encourage people to "learn out loud" for the benefit of others, and provide ways to more closely embed learning into work. So what are some strategies for workplace learning practitioners seeking to incorporate these new tools into their training design?
Defining social learning and social media
Social learning is not new, and just using social media tools doesn't make learning "social." Also, social learning and social media aren't the same thing. In fact, social learning isn't necessarily connected with social media.
Social learning is learning with and from others by moving within one's culture, workplace, and world. It's often unconscious and unintentional, and it often looks more like solving a problem or working together to make sense of something. Social learning is how most of us learn most things: through living in our cultures and interacting with others there. It's how babies learn to talk and how we learn the basic rules of getting along on the playground. It's all around us every day, from water cooler conversations to asking a co-worker for an opinion.
Social media are the tools that enable social learning to happen on a large scale, and their popularity has gone a long way in bringing increased awareness of and interest in social learning in the workplace. In seeking to be part of this, practitioners can begin by expanding their current practices and finding ways to extend their reach.
It's important, for instance, to begin practicing what some call social instructional design: incorporating collaborative activities, particularly with new online tools. But it's also important to start moving past our traditional notion of instruction, particularly as it is delivered in the form of discrete modules or courses. For instance, we know learners talk during breaks, after class, and in between sessions or modules--how can we be part of those conversations? We know that workers often turn to one another for help--how can we listen better to have answers more readily available to them?
Identify the instructional goals
This seems obvious, but a focus on outcomes often gets lost in enthusiasm over new tools and products. "Doing Twitter" isn't a goal. Do you want learners to explore, listen, share, reflect, interact with the instructor, interact with one another, or some combination of these? Does the material indicate an assignment such as: Read an article or watch a video, and comment on either; brainstorm and arrange ideas into categories; or work together to lay out the flow of a process or project? Or do you want to find new means of continuing classroom conversations or conducting formative or summative assessment activities? These kinds of decisions will affect your choice of tools.
You should identify where performance gaps are. Where are your learners struggling, and how can you help? Most of us likely will agree with Josh Bersin Associates' David Mallon when he says, "It's easier for me to find a long-lost high school friend than a document I need at work." Few of us complain that information is too easy to find, or that communication is too smooth. …