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Key social learning resources part 1


During social learning month, Jane Hart will be providing some weekly articles curating some key resources about social learning.

1. Social learning has become the latest trending concept in the learning world. Although there have been, and there will be, many articles providing a definition of what social learning is all about, I think this article by Dennis Callahan sums it up, and makes it quite clear - social learning is like gravity – it’s just there all the time.

"Throw a ball in the air and it comes back or jump off a step and you come back, there’s gravity.  Watch two people talking over coffee or several people working on a problem together, there’s social learning."

2. But now with the emergence of social media, the term "social leaning" is also being used to describe the use of social media in learning. However, it is much more than just applying it within the formal learning context, as Harold Jarche points out in Social Learning: the freedom to act and cooperate with others.

"One current theme in the workplace and education circles is to "blend" social with the formal and structured. But social learning is not a bolted-on component of our formal educational and training programs. It is a sea change. It will disrupt institutions built upon the technology of  the printing press – all communication enterprises, including education. Yes, we have always learned and worked socially, but we have never had the power of ridiculously easy group-forming or almost zero-cost duplication of our words and images."

3. Social media is already changing the way that people are now learning. Here for example is Jimmy Hobson’s three-part blog series on how it has changed how he learns. He summarises it here:

"Communicating in this way has allowed me to get the best of both worlds: interaction with many people, and the chance to consider my responses. No, wait, it's actually more than the sum of its parts, because I get an extra synergy from talking to people this way, and that's the ability to change my attitude. This way I can learn from my mistakes without the usual embarrassment that I might feel in a social setting. If anything I've become more willing to dare to express controversial opinions, because the ethos of the medium does seem to encourage experiential learning. No more 'drill and fill' for me thank you very much!"


4. Social media is clearly having an impact on the way that many people are learning in the workplace - in many more powerful ways that the term "social learning” implies, as I explained in my recent article, The changing state of workplace learning, and social media’s part in it. In particular the use of new media tools is allowing individuals and teams to solve their own learning and performance problems, and in the process by-passing both IT and the L&D functions.

"As personal, working and learning tools are merging, more and more are "doing their own thing" in order to address their own learning and performance purposes, so we could also refer to this as  the consumerisation of learning."

5. But, as I point out in my article above, this shouldn’t be seen as a threat to the L&D professional, but rather an opportunity to support organization learning in many new and exciting new ways.  For example, micro-sharing tools like Twitter offer stimulating ways to reinforce and harness the learning that takes place through sharing, as David Kelly, shows in his article, Backchannel learning in an organisational context.

"It's in that sharing that the backchannel becomes a great representation of social media being used as a tool to support social learning, which is a concept more and more organizations are placing focus on. For organizations that are looking to leverage technology to support their employees' social learning, a backchannel is an excellent resource to consider."

Next week, I hope to curate more articles showing how organisations are making good use of social media to support employee learning in the workplace.

Jane Hart is the founder of the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies,, and a learning and performance specialist focusing on smarter approaches to workplace learning.

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