Social Learning: to be or not to be?

The term Social Learning (big S, big L) has been used to describe the use of social media in learning for quite a few years now, so why we have seen the recent spate of blog postings expressing concern about the fact?

To provide a bit of history, the term Social Learning (big S, big L) emerged from the previously (more cumbersome) terms E-Learning 2.0 and Learning 2.0. As Web 2.0 technologies began to impact all aspects of our lives, we first saw the trend for adding 2.0 at the end of every word. This was then replaced by adding the word “social“ in front of every word instead. Consequently, we have seen the appearance of a number of new terms like Social Business and Social Media Marketing. It was unfortunate that in the context of learning, the term “social learning” (small S, small L) already existed.

However, I have to say what worries me MORE about the use of the term Social Learning (big S, big L), is that it is already being corrupted to refer exclusively to the use of social media in top-down, formal learning. This has happened with the term e-learning, which was defined in the early 2000s as “information, instruction, communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing” but which is now used synonymously with “online courses”. Undoubtedly this is due to the fact that the term, Learning, itself is mostly defined in terms of formal education and training – rather than in a very broad way that includes both formal and informal learning.

It may well be that we do need to come up with a better term to replace Social Learning (big S, big L), and one that recognises the fact that social learning (small S, small L) happens continuously – freely and openly – in everything we do – in work, learn and study. And one that demonstrates quite clearly that this (powered by social media tools)  is a much more significant concept than e-learning.

To introduce a new term into the vocabulary will require considerable consensus for it to become common parlance. And it is possibly too late. Language, as we know, evolves with use, and since the term Social Learning (big S, big L) is already in widespread use, it is likely to remain in place.

Having said that in my next post I will make a suggestion for a new term – and one which expresses the very potent nature of using social media for true social learning (little S, little L).

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Jane Hart

Founder at C4LPT
Jane Hart is an independent workplace learning advisor, writer and international speaker. She is the Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. Her recent book Modern Workplace Learning: A Resource Book for L&D is now available, which she supports with a range of online workshops. Find out more about Jane at JaneHart.com.

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