A Primer on Social Media and Learning

By Mark La Fave, Senior Instructional Designer

As an Instructional Designer, I am always fascinated by how technology plays a role in learning development. Social media tools have grown and matured over the last several years. As tools became available, learning organizations study and adopt some of them for social or collaborative learning. The following is a look at how social media and technology tools can be an extension of learning, knowledge management, and collaboration within your organization.

What is Social Media?

Social media is found in web-based technologies and mobile applications to enable interactive dialogue. It allows us to come together around a particular idea or interest. Social media has found its way into everyday life through Internet forums, Blogs, Wikis, and other technologies; it is proving to be an extension of everyday communications. In fact, let’s take a look at some fascinating Facebook statistics from newsroom.fb.com, which shows how this popular social media tool has found its way into daily life:

  • Facebook had 845 million monthly active users at the end of December 2011
  • Approximately 80 percent of the monthly active Facebook users are outside of the United States and Canada
  • There was an average of 483 million daily active Facebook users in December 2011
  • There were 425 million monthly active users utilizing Facebook mobile products in December 2011
  • Facebook is available in more than 70 languages

What social media tools are available? How can they be applied to learning?

When people think social media, they often think of instantly recognizable names such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. There are many other social media tools and most are free (or are available for free with the price of Internet connection). Below are some of the social media technologies and links to popular sites, including their potential uses as part of your overall learning strategy for your organization:

  • Blog: This is a website where you can post entries that are listed chronologically. Blogger and WordPress are two popular blogging sites.
    Potential use: The subject matter experts within your company may want to publish blogs on best practices and knowledge for junior members.
  • Microblogging: As the name implies – this is blogging at a much smaller scale. Twitter and Tumblr are excellent microblogging examples. At Information Experts, we use an enterprise microblogging service called Yammer.
    Potential use: You can share snippets of information and links in a real-time format across an organization.
  • Social Bookmarking: This allows you to save your bookmarks on the Web and share your bookmarks with other users. A popular social bookmarking site is Delicious.
    Potential use: For teams, this could be used when working on projects that require the use of common websites to perform the work.
  • Social Networking: This is used to connect and share with other online users. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ are popular examples.
    Potential use: You could create an internal group to post, collaborate, and share knowledge. You can also join external groups to share and gather information.
  • Video Sharing: Provides the ability to upload, host, and share videos on a website as well as comment on others’ videos. YouTube, for example, is used by many companies to share knowledge, provide training, and disseminate information about a company.
    Potential use: You can capture an undocumented process on a video and upload it to YouTube to share with colleagues.
  • Wiki: A collaborative website that allows users to contribute and edit information. Wikia and Wetpaint are great examples of this.
    Potential use: You can create a site containing internal policies and procedures that can be updated by select members within the organization.
  • SharePoint: Yes, SharePoint can be used as a social media tool. SharePoint allows the creation of Blogs, Wikis, personalized profiles, and the sharing of bookmarks.
    Potential use: You can develop personal profiles with interests, experience, and education that can be searched on when a specific expertise is needed.

Some Considerations

Social media tools shine in an informal learning environment where the key requirement is to share information across an organization. The following are tips on how to start planning the best way to employ social media within your organization to create a collaborative learning framework:

  • Use the tools as a means of facilitation, discussion, and knowledge capture to be shared within the organization.
  • Learning through social media is a spontaneous process that occurs naturally. Do not be disappointed when you do not see immediate results.
  • Think about how to support and foster learning as opposed to creating and managing the learning process.
  • Think of deploying social media tools that complement your audience profile. For example, using Delicious may be a great idea for the Information Technology (IT) department to share various code sites and tech trends, but building maintenance may not find the tool as useful or necessary.
  • Consider developing a community of practice to build a framework for conversations and discussions within teams/departments of an organization, and then identify social media tools that can leverage the discussions and knowledge sharing within that practice.

It is important to find the social media tool that works best for your situation. Most importantly, social media tools have more uses than simply planning a happy hour. They are invaluable tools to use to share best practices, teach team members, and improve collaboration.

Mark La Fave
Senior Instructional Designer

Mark has worked in the adult learning field for over 14 years developing training and communications outreach for large-scale IT implementations in both the commercial and federal workspaces.