OEB’s pre-Conference workshops are the place to get hands-on experience with the practical side of e-learning. They’re also the place to share and learn new specialist knowledge and to stay at the forefront of developments in learning technology. Jane Bozarth is a veteran classroom trainer specialising in low-cost solutions. Her workshop, a Social Media for Learning Clinic, touches a subject that is an abiding interest for her and was the impetus for her bestseller, Social Media for Trainers. We got in touch with her to find out all about the many different shapes and sizes of social learning in the workplace.
How does the concept of “social learning” go beyond the tools it uses?
Social learning is not new: it’s how we learn most everything, all the time, and always have. It’s how you learn to speak your native language: your parents don’t sit you down and drill you on verb forms. It’s how you learn to get along with schoolmates, or in a new workplace. We learn by living in the world. Social tools help that happen on a larger scale.
There’s a whole range of social tools out there – in what different ways can they be applied to assist learning?
Oh goodness! I’ve written so much about that. Let’s see… organizations can offer information that ties formal learning to other opportunities. For instance, UCLA’s Powell Library has an Instagram account that features items in the library that connect to programmes offered at the school. I know of a professor who has students stage chemistry experiments, uses a phone camera to capture them with commentary about process and findings, and uploads them to a course video account. Via a tool like Periscope or Skype, you can bring in a guest like a subject-matter expert, author, or witness to a noteworthy event. Students can upload and share work like art, or book reports, or images that capture an idea from a course — with each other or with the world. Students in different locations can work collaboratively on a project via a wiki, Google Doc, or a similar tool.
How do social tools improve learning in the workplace?
The ability to find and connect with experts and peers across your organization or industry is amazing. Where so much of that used to be a matter of happenstance, often supported by face- to-face or email communication, there is now a great capacity for free-flowing conversation and help whenever you need it. And there is a lot to be said about the social nature of that communication for learning: In a firm where an email is visible only to the people copied in, and then when the sender leaves the company, it’s deleted. Having conversations in a more public place means others can watch and take information away, or maybe even join in. You can see what others are reading, what new ideas are catching on. You can see where others share your struggles and connect with them to work on that together. Google is great when you know what you’re looking for, but that’s not always the case at work. I often say that Google gives me links, but Twitter gives me answers.
In what other ways than formally do people learn in the workplace?
Well, as I’ve said, social learning applies there, too. A great deal of what we learn is via necessity: we have to solve a problem; we have to find an answer; we have to locate a resource. This rarely happens by just sitting in a class. We learn by watching each other, by talking with others. We learn by trial and error. We learn by having good mentors, and we sometimes learn the wrong things from the wrong people. We learn via Internet searches and self-directed research. Often I know I learn via the “Hey, Joe!” method, as in, “Hey, Joe, can you show me how to run that spreadsheet?”
What benefits do social tools offer in the workplace that they do not offer in an academic environment?
I am careful not to try and make too much distinction here, but I wonder whether the average college student — especially an undergraduate — needs a virtual network of the same range and size as most knowledge workers. The student usually doesn’t try to cross silos, as do those of us in an organization, for example, when communicate with HR, marketing, and research all at once – across four locations.
And workplaces often don’t have the same technology structure as a school or university, which nowadays is likely to have a fairly sophisticated content-management system with things like discussion-board capabilities.
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