eLearning Guild: Big Answers to “Social Media in Learning” Questions We Should Be Asking

There’s a marriage waiting to be made in heaven for trainer-teacher-learners reading learning technology innovator Ben Betts’ Social Learning: Answers to Eight Crucial Questions, published this week by the eLearning Guild.

In his concluding remarks within the 36-page document (available free of charge to paying members of the Guild), he reminds us that social learning “usually means a learner being more active in the [learning] experience, connecting, creating, and curating ideas.” He also suggests that our “role as learning professionals” may be undergoing a shift from “creating simple and accessible learning resources” to “curating content that already exists.”

It’s a theme that was discussed among colleagues a couple of years ago at an American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) conference—we were acknowledging the fact that we had created so much content that users were having trouble locating and accessing it. The theme is also an essential element in the shifting responsibilities colleagues are assuming in libraries all over the country. Which leads me to think that if members of library staff continue to more fully embrace lifelong learning as part of their natural responsibilities and services—it’s a commitment that already exists in the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Strategic Plan, where the need “to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all”  is part of the organization’s mission statement, and in ASTD, where the mission is to “empower professionals to develop knowledge and skills successfully”—we could be looking at very effective partnerships between library staff and members of ASTD itself since we’re all working toward the same goal: meeting an overwhelming need for effective learning opportunities in an onsite-online world where those who stop learning will be left behind.

Betts, in Social Learning, does a fantastic job of helping us frame the discussion as to how we can better meet a tremendous need. The questions he asks focus on needs and results and set a positive context by beginning with the question “What Is Social Learning?”; continuing with questions about the benefits of social learning and business risks of leveraging social learning; and moving through a review of existing frameworks, ways to generate value from social learning, tools of social learning, measuring success in social learning, and our own roles in the field.

By the time we have completed this wonderfully inspiring and straightforward journey with him, we’re in a position to see that the instructional/learning and information-management skills required of workplace learning and performance (staff training) practitioners and library staff have never been more overlapping. It’s as if this need to combine learning, information sharing/literacy, and content curation is priming us for a merger of ASTD and ALA into an International Society for Training, Learning, Information Literacy, and Content Creation/Curation (although I have to admit that the acronym doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue—ASTLILCCC?—and may need a bit of work even as a Twitter hashtag).

Betts is very effective in helping us understand what already is in place—social learning (learning that is not entirely dependent on formal teacher-trainer-instructors) is hardly a new concept or practice—and what is changing (social learning, he suggests, has been co-opted by members of the e-learning industry to be about “how we learn from one another via digital devices”). But there’s no denying the positive role social learning plays whether we are discussing online, face-to-face, or blended learning. Collaborative/social learning clearly produces positive results for the learners and those they ultimately serve, as he consistently documents throughout his report, and social learning augments formal learning in addition to supporting professional learning and individual’s self-organized learning endeavors.

He reminds his readers that effective social learning, like any form of effective learning, starts with efforts to assure that “your approach makes sense” within the context in which we are designing and implementing it. He suggest that we pay equal attention to the people we are serving, the objectives we are establishing, the strategies we will use, and whatever technology will help us foster the social-learning endeavors we are implementing.

In attempting to generate value, we are encouraged by Betts to engage in instructional scaffolding—“creating a supporting framework for learners to gradually grow in confidence in a new area until they are fully able to support themselves.” And he reminds us that we are building toward success if we use social media tools our learners already use and like rather than trying to develop new tools that learners will only reluctantly embrace, if at all.

“Perhaps it should come as no surprise that workplace uptake of social technologies has been slow when most of us can’t use the tools we’d prefer,” he says near the end of the report, offering a learning nugget that ought to be plastered all over the physical and virtual walls of every trainer-teacher-learners’ workspace to help keep us on track toward fostering effective learning.

He brings us to a strong conclusion by suggesting that we engage in a collaborative learning cycle: design for performance improvement; support existing communities; create, source, and curate resources; leverage appropriate technologies; champion effective social learning; and measure and prove impact.

If those of us who are not already seamlessly moving between libraries and other learning organizations are inspired to reach across the aisle by what Betts writes, we may help bring to fruition the wonderful goal ASTD has so consistently proposed: “creating a world that works better.”

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