Do you really need separate social learning tools? PART TWO – 6 ways to integrate learning into the workflow

In Part One  of this series of blog postings, I asked the question:

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

In this post I am going to be taking a look at 6 ways organisations are already integrating learning into their workflow systems – so that the same social tools are being used for both working and learning.  But first of all, let me explain the diagram below, which visually summarises this post.

We learn every day, in everything we do whether it is in what we read, watch or listen to (CONTENT/information ), in the conversations and discussions we have with others (PEOPLE/interaction), as well as in formal learning settings  e.g. in a school classroom or training session (INSTRUCTION:CONTENT+PEOPLE).  In the Workplace we learn from both external as well as internal sources.

In recent years the technology that has underpinned all this has included websites (external/information),  intranets (internal/information),  Learning Management Systems (internal/instruction), web conferencing systems (internal instruction/interaction) and email (internal/external interaction)

Use of social media (externally) for the (co)-creation and sharing of CONTENT/information and collaborationas well as the building of trusted networks of friends and colleagues for PEOPLE/interaction is now impacting the way we both work and learn within organisations, and means that existing internal systems (intranet, LMS and email) are being surpassed by new social and collaboration tools with more appropriate functionality for today’s world.  As a consequence of this we are also seeing the convergence of working and learning.

In terms of the technology, organisations are taking different approaches to supporting the convergence between working and learning.  Here are just 5 examples:

A – Using public social media tools

Some organisations (mostly small- or medium-sized businesses) are building on the already prolific use of public social media tools in their organisation.  Working with existing users they are identifying the most useful and appropriate social tools that support the collaborative working and learning functionality for their business, eg YouTube, Slideshare, Blogger, Google Sites, Google Docs, Facebook and Google Plus, and encouraging others to use these tools too.  In some cases organisations are opting for premium versions to enable private secure working and learning spaces for the business.  For those organisations who only need light-weight tracking, Google Analytics is proving useful as their LMS. Others are using Facebook for this purpose, perhaps in conjunction with plugins like Udutu Teach and Learn Facebook  to import courses, manage the people that  can take your courses, and track learners’ progress. [For more about how public social media can used for training, read Jane Bozarth’s Social Media for Trainers.]

Using Google Apps for Business as a social intranet 

Many organisations – 4 million to to be exact – are using Google Apps for business to power their social businesses.  This includes the Google applications which most of their workers are extremely familiar,  like Gmail and Google Calendar, and also includes Google Groups for Business and Google Videos for Business, together with collaboration tools like Google Docs, Google Sites.  Google+ is now available for Google Apps users. For those who require some sort of course management functionality, Course Director LMS is a useful application that works with Google Apps.  There are a  huge number of applications in the Google Apps marketplace which work seamlessly with Google Apps, and although these tools are technically stand-alone, they are unified through the user’s dashboard, to give a cohesive feel.  [Google Apps is also  recognised as an effective teaching and learning environment by Educause.]

Using proprietary or open source social media tools

Some organisations prefer to host their own software themselves (either internally or “in the cloud”), and have installed open source software to provide private content creation, sharing and networking  functionality for their workplaces – and hence have created an additional “social layer” in their organisation. This includes tools like for multi-user blogging, MediaWiki for wikis, as well as networking tools like These tools can be used for both working and learning, so for example WordPress also functions well as a course site. Some of the open source tools have considerable developer communities that provide 3rd party plugins, which means that these tools can be built out into more significant platforms. (see D below for more on this).

Other organisations have chosen proprietary tools to build their “social layer”, e.g by using Confluence to help teams create, share, manage and discover content, and Yammer or Socialcast for internal networking. This means it is very easy for users to create groups which can be used for collaborative working, for communities of practice or learning communities.  Jane Bozarth explains the value of enterprise networking tools like Yammer within formal learning, here. Although once again these are stand-alone tools, the important fact is that they are being used for both working and learning. However, many of them do have connectors to other popular systems, like Sharepoint, so that they can be more fully integrated to build a social intranet. (see E below for more on this).

Using open source software with plugin functionality as a social intranet (WPMU) is more than a blogging platform, it can be extended to become a fully functional social intranet, by adding many of the useful plugins that are now available.  The Buddypress plugin, for instance, adds the essential profiling, activity flow and networking functionality as well as internal messaging, group spaces, event calendaring and live chat.  You can read more about how it can be used as a social intranet here, and this is an example of how Kyle Jones uses WPMU and BuddyPress as a LMS. But there are further 3rd party plugins that provide additional support for more formal learning, e.g. ScholarPress and SCORM Cloud [Share&Learn is an example of a social platform/intranet, if you want to take a peek.]

Extending existing intranet into social intranet

Microsoft Sharepoint is a commonplace intranet in organizations, but is often not used to its full potential. However, it is very possible to extend this platform into a fully functioning social and collaboration intranet for both working and learning. A good example of this is the social intranet built at TELUS (the Canadian telecommunicatins company) by Dan Pontefract, Director of Learning & Collaboration, who integrated the existing social technologies (Confluence, MediaWiki, WebLogic, etc) with Sharepoint.  You can see more about this project in this YouTube video.  TELUS is now in the process of integrating its course management functionality within the same platform, so that when you do a search on the site, you will find not just courses, but blog posts, Buzz activity messages and even employees with skills in the topic area.   Dan doesn’t believe there should be separate tools for learning/training; he says “Blow up your LMS. Find a way to integrate it into your collaboration platform.”

Using proprietary social intranet software

Finally, many organisations who are not hamstrung by legacy systems, have chosen to install new enterprise social intranet software like SocialText, ThoughtFarmer or Podio.  Since many of these organisations are thinking very differently about how work and learning happens in their organisations, they are often outsourcing all training, and focusing more on learning support and knowledge sharing, which can easily be powered by these collaboration platforms.

So these are just 6 basic  ways that organisations are integrating learning and working by using the same social tools. But what are some of the success criteria for achieving this successfully? That’ll be the subject of the next post in this series.

6 thoughts on “Do you really need separate social learning tools? PART TWO – 6 ways to integrate learning into the workflow

  1. Naomi

    Wow, there are so many options and approaches out there. I find that my organization is using more than one of these approaches due to different technology owners and business needs throughout the organization. Do you find that this dilutes effectiveness by having different places where associates must go to collaborate?

    RU T&D Grad Student

    1. Anonymous

      Naomi – yes, there are already many social tools – and as more and more dedicated learning tools add social functionality, we are going to end up with even more, which will mean lots of silos of information around the organisation which cannot be shared.

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