Vendors talk about social learning like its something revolutionary, but I’m here to tell you its not. Informal learning is an everyday thing. Social media tools are just another platform we use to learn from each-other and find information serendipitously.

For every sales pitch you hear about social learning, for every shiny social network logo you see out there on the web, you should be looking for real use cases and stories of social media being used in a real world setting… with tangible benefit to an organization.

How to use social media for learning

We’ve found our own niche in the social media solar system… and it takes our team 30ish minutes a week to fully participate. It’s become part of everyone’s work flow, widely accepted in our company culture, and a launchpad for each individual in our organization to find their own social media and informal learning sweet spot.

We call it #TalkTech. It’s a 30 minute chat we hold once a week on Twitter.

Swaying the Skeptics

Many organizations hit a roadblock when a group of people, or one high-ranking person, resists using new social media tools. They either can’t see the value or simply don’t want to have to learn a new “thing.” Whatever the reason, it’s important to understand why people are resisting social media tools in your organization. The possible reasons are many:

  • It seems like more work: We spend enough time sending emails, meeting, IM’ing and (imagine this) actually working as it is. Who wants to add a new mode of communication to our work day?
  • It’s hard to remember to participate: When companies encourage participation on an internal or external social network, they sometimes forget to provide a regular reminder to participate. Other times, they neglect to post mission critical information in the new location. Without incentive to participate, people will soon forget the new activity.
  • They don’t feel comfortable participating: Some people just don’t like sharing their thoughts unsolicited on social media. Whether in our working lives or personal lives, opening up on social media is not everyone’s idea of a good time.
  • There’s no structure: How do I complete the required training when what’s “required” is to continuously participate in something ongoing? There’s no box to check when learning socially with peers. There’s no course to complete. Without that sense of structure, people will be even less motivated to complete something they may not want to do anyway.

Social Media Chats Jumpstart the Conversation

We decided we wanted to start encouraging our team to use social media tools for personal and social learning late in 2011. We had just given everyone an iPad, and wanted to encourage lots of new learning and exploratory activities people could do on their new devices. We also wanted to learn how to advise our clients on how to best use social media for their own learning initiatives… so we used ourselves as a pilot program.

We started a weekly chat on Twitter focused on emerging learning trends and technologies. It’s called #TalkTech, and it happens once a week.

We take turns finding interesting articles and curating them on the BLP blog. We identify three key topics that relate to the articles and pose them in the form of a question during the chat.

Our team gathers on Twitter whenever they are available and discusses the topics, 10 minutes each, for 30 minutes. We log on, we converse and learn something new, and then we’re done.

#TalkTech exposes people who often work virtually on their own separate teams to new ideas that expand their awareness of the industry as a whole and emerging trends that are often later integrated into client work. The chat gives everyone at BLP an easy channel for informal and social learning that they can tap into on a regular basis.

Why Social media chats work for learning

We’ve found social media chats to be the perfect way to get even the most skeptical participant at least a small amount of exposure to social media as a learning tool. I identified some of the common objections people have to social media for learning above, and now I will show how social media chats meet each one of those challenges:

  • It takes very little work to participate: People are able to take a 30 minute break from whatever task they were completing on a Thursday afternoon and spend time chatting with co-workers about topics of general interest. Since the articles are curated for them, it is easy to participate, learn something new, and be done in 30 minutes. Participation is optional, so no one feels forced to participate if they don’t have time.
  • The weekly chat is a regular reminder to participate: #TalkTech is a recurring weekly event on everyone’s Outlook calendar. Everyone in the company knows it’s happening and the chat serves as a constant reminder to take advantage of social media tools for personal learning, even if that just means logging in for 30 minutes a week.
  • It’s easy to chat, or just read: People start to feel more comfortable participating in the chat when they see co-workers doing it. Since the topics are posted in our blog and we create a transcript of the chat afterwards, even people who prefer to absorb the content at a slower pace can access the information and benefit from the learning.
  • The chat provides structure: It’s easier to know “what to say” on social media when everyone is discussing the same topic for a set period of time. Instead of trying to figure out what to post about, the chat provides direction… and a clear start and stop time.

Results of #TalkTEch

The longer we have kept up #TalkTech, the more positive benefits we’ve found. Ideas discussed in the chat make their way into client projects. Information shared by the Learning Services team gets passed over to Multimedia, and vice versa. Virtual team members get a chance to connect with a group they may only see once a week or less. Best of all, we have all gathered firsthand experience participating in “social learning” activities and can share that knowledge and experience with our clients.

eLearning Guild Online Forum

I’ll be co-presenting a case study on our use of #TalkTech and social learning for the eLearning Guild’s Online Forum in August. We’ll share testimonials from team members, describe how to set up a social media chat, and give you our top lessons learned. Learn more here.