Do you really need separate social learning tools or platforms in the workplace? Part 1

We are hearing a lot about new social learning tools and  platforms that are becoming available – but do you really need them in the workplace?

As business is becoming more social and we are using new social tools to work collaboratively with one another as we work, do we really need another set of social tools specifically for learning?

First of all I think I need to be very clear what I mean by “learning”. I don’t just mean studying a topic formally on a course but also about acquiring skills and knowledge in other (less formal) ways. The terms “informal learning” and “social learning” have been in widespread use for sometime now, but unfortunately are becoming increasingly misused.

It is clear that most of  how we learn to do our jobs takes place continuously AS WE DO OUR jobs rather than in formal training, so doesn’t it make sense that the tools we use to learn informally and socially should be the same as those we use to work collaboratively? This means that we don’t need to have separate, “learning” tools to share links to “learning” resources, (co-)create and share “learning” content as well as interact with our colleagues – but rather use the very same tools that we use  to do our jobs. Do we really want people to share what they know in separate “learning” systems or in separate “learning” communities?  The whole point is about convergence – ie bringing it all together  – not creating even more silos of knowledge and expertise.   Remember too, even if an LMS (aka Social Learning Platform) provides access to informal/informational/social resources, this is not the same as supporting informal learning – which is something quite different – the LMS is still a formal learning system!  And furthermore, it is more about integrating learning into work, not the other way round. So as the “real” learning (social and/or  informal)  takes place  in the workflow, the tools and systems we use to work and learn should be the very same workflow social and collaboration tools.

It would also make much more sense to integrate formal learning into the workflow too, e.g. by liberating courses from the LMS and hosting them where they are more easily accessible (perhaps with some lite-tracking of usage), building formal learning communities using the same social tools that are available for building communities of practice, and of course using the same social (eg blogging and wiki) tools within the formal learning context.  Of course, some formal training (e.g. for compliance or regulatory purpose) might need to be tracked more comprehensively, but even then you don’t actually need a separate system to do this either.

So how are organisations integrating learning into the workflow? In the next post I’m going to be taking a look at some of the different ways this is being achieved – which will include the following:

  1. Using public social media tools
  2. Using private social media tools – proprietary or open source
  3. Building a social and collaboration platform/intranet with proprietary or open source tools
  4. Extending the existing intranet into a social and collaboration platform/intranet
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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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10 thoughts on “Do you really need separate social learning tools or platforms in the workplace? Part 1

  1. Laura Bechard

    Great post. This is something that I’m wrestling with in my role as faculty developer. We’ve used wikis to support informal learning as well as our LMS. Neither get as good an uptake as the informal learning that occurs over the telephone or via e-mail. Our workplace installation of Yammer hasn’t gotten a lot of uptake yet. I’ve just read Qualman’s book, Socialnomics where it advocates for the convergence of identities. This is scary for many educators who get fired for facebook photos showing them consuming alcohol while on vacation. I can understand why some individuals would choose to keep their private life separate from their public / workplace ones. Qualman argues that we need to “play where they play” so if business / workplaces wish to reach their employees using social networking tools, then we need to go where they are rather than creating our own virtual space and dragging them to it.

    1. Anonymous

      Laura, I am not saying that the same tools have to be public social media tools (that’s just one option), what I am saying is that the tools we use to work and learn should be the same – we shouldn’t have separate social tools for learning.

  2. Bart?omiej Polakowski

    That’s interesting idea. However in many companies, the managers look everywhere for RFI and by older communication tools the engagement and use is hard to monitor (i.e. there is no “Like it” mechanism:)

    1. Anonymous

      Bartlomiej, it’s not just an “idea” – as I will show in my follow up posts, some organisations are already using the same tools for working and learning – and they are not using the older communication tools but the new social and collaboration tools. It is also more than just “liking” something, and the success is measuring by improved performance and engagement in the workplace.

  3. Anonymous

    Jane, I will be the first to admit I have gotten a little distraught with some of the banter going on about the role of the social platforms and vendors. I applaud this article as one of the most clarifying out there despite it being brief. I couldn’t agree with you more. I may ruffle some feathers here but honestly, I think we (Learning Professionals) should stop focusing so much on Social Learning and start focusing more on Social Business. The rest of the organization is already there. There are probably many Learning Pros that would disagree but I have seen no evidence to the contrary. Thanks for bridging the importance of a social platform, it’s workflow integration and the pending learning that comes from use.

  4. Anonymous

    Jane, I will be the first to admit I have gotten a little distraught with some of the banter going on about the role of the social platforms and vendors. I applaud this article as one of the most clarifying out there despite it being brief. I couldn’t agree with you more. I may ruffle some feathers here but honestly, I think we (Learning Professionals) should stop focusing so much on Social Learning and start focusing more on Social Business. The rest of the organization is already there. There are probably many Learning Pros that would disagree but I have seen no evidence to the contrary. Thanks for bridging the importance of a social platform, it’s workflow integration and the pending learning that comes from use.

  5. Peter V

    Jane, your blog on Social Learning is brilliant and liberating. Too many times we training professionals become lemming like in our behavior and approach to learning; following the crowd. I appreciate your independent thinking and insight on the subject; I look forward to more postings.

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