Blending social learning and mobile learning

(We have created an 8-part comprehensive report containing a series of two-to-three page “briefs.” This is part 2: Blending social and mobile. If you would like to see the collection in its entirety, click here.)

The term “social learning” – along with “informal learning” – has been bandied about for a couple years. Social learning is focused on the learning that people do by interacting with each other online – the informal exchanges that happen in social networking sites, blogs, online discussion groups, etc. In social learning, there is typically less of an expert to learner focus and more of a “let’s all learn together” focus. Its roots are NOT in mobile learning as social became a hit with the advent of social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook – which emerged before mobile phones gave access to these sites.

The concepts of social learning and informal learning are intertwined with social tools such as Facebook, blogs, microblogs (e.g. Twitter), LinkedIn, etc. as well as tools such as wikis.

Though the term is now in its third year of mainstream usage, there are not a lot of great examples to look at in the corporate arena. At mLearn 2011, the keynoter who spoke on social learning came from advertising/public relations. Ninety-nine percent of her “social learning examples”were social marketing examples. So examples in action are a bit tough.


Proponents of social learning cite these benefits:

Social learning is democratic learning

Anyone can become a teacher. It’s easy to “crowdsource” responses to questions/issues by posting a question. The people who choose to respond dictate what information goes out to the crowd as opposed to an expert teacher dictating what content is made available. (Example: If I am a sales rep and I have a particular objection I’m hearing over and over again in my sales calls, a social network of my sales peers could be useful. I might post, “I’m getting X objection over and over. What responses have worked for you?” The responses my peers share could be better than the ones my boss – or the corporate marketing folks give me.)

Social learning is dynamic

Social sites let people post ideas, and then allow other people to add to or modify those ideas. (Think about recipes people post on sites such as – and the comments and recommendations for modifications that you’ll frequently see.)

Social learning is searchable

Tags make it easy to create searchable terms and phrases. This, in turn, makes it very easy for other people to find information and then augment that information. (Think Wikipedia.)

Social learning appeals to people’s inherently social nature

Mobile devices make it easier to be social in new ways. Mobile + social lets organizations leverage what people instinctively do. People PULL a tremendous amount of content from social sites; they use their phones extensively to gather information and to communicate socially.

Our Bottom-Line advice?

Pay attention to social learning and think about how social and mLearning might combine in your future. How might this look? What about a company YouTube channel (or multiple channels) where people can share “how to” videos that they create and upload via their phone’s camera? The “social” comes in allowing anyone to post – and anyone to comment. If you’re afraid of the “anyone can access our stuff” nature of YouTube or Facebook, consider behind-the firewall solutions. Microsoft has introduced a podcasting capability in its 2010 version of Sharepoint. Bloomfire is a social networking product specifically designed for corporate users.

Web 2.0 – A Tool for Driving Performance

Performance management is a top HR challenge. Driving performance and increasing efficiencies is a top concern of management. Yet there is fear and lack of knowledge in implementing and harnessing the power of one of the newest performance management tools – Web 2.0.  My message to L&D – start educating your HR and operations managers on Web 2.0 technology and how it can be used to drive performance.

The Great Divide
Consider these statistics:

  • 82% of HR leaders at 100 of the largest corporations cite “Implementing Talent Planning Initiatives such as better training and development, talent management and/or performance management” as a top change initiative (1).
  • Despite this goal, 23% of HR decision makers are unfamiliar with Web 2.0 and 42% are familiar with the sites but do not use them. Only 34% actively use Web 2.0 technology (2).

Further challenging the use of Web 2.0 is that 64% of U.S. companies deny employees access to social networking sites and 54% of HR decision makers have encountered or have had to discipline employees for wasting time on the internet(3). These fears are shared by HR and operations – not to mention Legal. I worked in HR for years and I’ve had to discipline employees for inappropriate use of email or spending too much time chatting with their cube mates. There is no greater risk of Web 2.0 impeding performance than any work tool. We aren’t about to see organizations ban email because it is sometimes used inappropriately. What the statistics show us is that Web 2.0 is not viewed as a tool to drive performance – in fact it’s just the opposite. It’s viewed as a time waster or a liability. Mainly because leadership and HR decision makers do not understand how Web 2.0 can be used to drive performance.

Web 2.0 to Drive Performance
Many HR leaders and operations managers haven’t made the connection that just as Web 2.0 can be accessed to interact with friends, family and loads of useless knowledge, it can also be leveraged to connect with peers, subject matter experts, practice leaders and relevant information that can help team members enhance performance.

The performance review is one area that can be improved by Web 2.0 and it’s a source of pain for HR and management alike. Sadly, performance management is too frequently a top down approach narrowed to the annual performance review. What should be a culmination of multifaceted feedback throughout the year becomes a scramble to write what is effectively a limited summary of the last 6 weeks of a person’s performance. Web 2.0 can facilitate the process of obtaining performance feedback in real time from multiple sources.

According to T&D magazine younger workers are already using social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook to ask for and obtain performance feedback long before their managers sit down and have a formal meeting. New software allows this to be duplicated internally. For example, Rypple software allows employees to import relevant contacts from their email and post Twitter-like questions regarding their performance (3). For instance, a sales person may post questions after a client sales call such as “What did you think of my presentation? How well did I address the clients concerns? What can I do better next time?”Their contacts may include their direct manager, a senior sales representative, and a marketing rep: people who have the expertise to provide fast accurate feedback. Perhaps, the best part of these tools is that they’re employee driven (user driven). It’s all about them and they’re actively engaged in managing results and getting feedback from people they trust. Also, you can’t underestimate the importance of real time feedback; quickly receiving positive feedback is important to people and reinforces desired behaviors. Quickly receiving constructive feedback helps employees make corrections faster. HR people will like it because it provides documentation of performance feedback throughout the year.

Web 2.0 tools are also an ideal platform for launching just-in-time training and facilitating collaboration. If you’ve ever posted a question to any online forum or read about a topic on Wikipedia then you have an idea how Web 2.0 can be used to glean information. Wikis, blogs, and discussion forums can be used in the workplace to provide informal learning opportunities as well as more formal interventions such as e-learning courses, toolkits and job aids that are available on demand. Business partners can post questions and find answers in particular areas of expertise and learn through the shared experience of others. Performance is improved through knowledge sharing and greater efficiencies are achieved as information is available when you need it.

I encourage you to read the article Social Networking: A Force for Development from the July issue of T&D magazine. The article describes how IBM has successfully utilized Web 2.0 tools to implement discussion forums, a peer review system, and a cool messaging tool in their learning function. It also shows how IBM not only leveraged these tools to increase collaboration and knowledge sharing, but they addressed quality control by rating contributors based on their skill in a certain area. The ratings are verified by management to ensure people are getting the right information.

The Tip of the Iceberg
These few examples are the tip of the iceberg as to how Web 2.0 can be leveraged to drive performance. Sure, what lies beneath the surface of the water is scary, but, the future is already here. Educate leadership that Web 2.0 is a tool just like any other. Yes, there is risk. However, the tool can be managed to mitigate risk and the benefits of developing quality user generated content to increase performance is worth it. It’s better to start experimenting in unknown territory then to be left behind.


(1) HR Transformation: Driving Business Results, Fidelity Employer Services Company LLC

(2) Keys to a Successful Talent Management Strategy, TrainUp

(3)Dude, How’d I do? by Pat Galagan, T&D Magazine (July 2009)

(4) Social Networking: A force for Development? by Marjorie Derven, T&D Magazine (July 2009)

Do you have time to Twitter?

Last week, as I rushed around the house trying to get three kids and a husband out the door, I accidentally put on my sunglasses instead of my regular glasses. For a moment, I looked around wondering why the house was so dark. Sad but true. The point is we lead hectic real lives, so how much time should we carve out for our online identities?

Not too long ago I read that to effectively maintain your online identity you must dedicate about 20-22 hours per week on such tasks. I’m wondering if that is accurate. I find that number a bit overwhelming. Right now, I’m a pretty casual user of social networking tools. I want to increase my Web 2.0 repertoire, but can I afford the time and energy commitment? Can I afford not to?

Defining the Purpose
First and foremost, I think it is important to identify your purpose for using the tools. If you are using social networking to stay in touch with family and friends then spend as much or as little time as you like. However, if you work in new media, instructional design included; or your goal is more business oriented such as marketing, then you probably can’t afford not to invest the time.

Quantity versus Quality
Andy Kaufman from the Institute for Leadership Excellence & Development Inc, in his blog post “Why Social Networking Matters”, indicated that having a strategy for managing your online endeavors is critical to success. Andy recommends that we start thinking about our personal social networking strategy even at a high level. I completely agree. Certainly, 10 hours of undirected, random browsing and posting is not as effective as 10 hours of directed effort.

This is where I leave you all with more questions than answers. How long are you spending in a week, managing social networking? How are you carving out time in your schedule to do this? What is your strategy?

Social Networking and Informal Learning

“Start slowly but start now” this is the advice of Josh Bersin in his article Social Networking and Corporate Learning (Chief Learning Officer, October 2008)(1) . The future of learning is already here and it is online and mobile. It is critical that organizations begin to embrace social networking as a tool to foster informal learning. We know that much learning in an organization happens outside of formal training. Employees naturally seek out knowledge from their peers in casual interactions as they go about their work. Social Networks are enabling informal learning in a new way. They are also inexpensive and break down barriers caused by geography, or the silo affect that happens when departments lack interaction with each other.

What’s more is that many employees are already active on social networks, and not just among generation Y. In 2007 The Center for Corporate Productivity surveyed business executives aged 36-45, 65% of the respondents indicated that they are using social networking for both business and personal reasons. 55% reported that they use the sites to share best practices, and 49% use them to find answers to issues they are facing.(2)  Now that we are in 2008 I am willing to bet that these percentages have increased over the last year.

I think an important question for learning professionals is how do we help our customers’ structure social networking to best facilitate informal learning?


(1) Josh Bersin, Social Networking and Corporate Learning, (Oct 2008)

(2) Jeanne Meister, Corporate America Meet Social Networking, (Oct 2007)