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Ciara Cunningham

Aurion Learning

Marketing Manager

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Less Formal Training; More Informal Social Learning


March 12th 2014 marked the 25th birthday of the World Wide Web. Over these last 25 years, we have seen huge technological growth that affects every individual and organisation in society. The way that we communicate and convey information has totally changed. As a result, the ways in which we learn have also changed.

In this post, we consider how engaging and stimulating learning content must incorporate informal social learning and embrace the technologies which assist it.

What is informal social learning?

In the words of informal learning guru Jay Cross:

Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most people learn to do their jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route.

In the past, individuals were able to learn and develop by tapping into the knowledge of those around them and turning to relevant literature. The learning curriculum in schools and organisations reflected this by placing high emphasis on knowledge retention. Successful individuals were often those who were able to gain access to the best academic institutions and social networks of other like-minded and educated individuals.

How has education culture changed over the last 25 years?

We now live in an information saturated age where there are limitless access points to new information and learning. How often have you asked a friend or colleague a question only to hear the response, “Google it”?

Web-based technologies greatly lessen the obstacles that learners were forced to overcome in the past. As the demographic of the workplace shifts to contain more people who grew up in an age where new technologies and social media are an integrated part of daily life, it is natural that the style of learning and training will adapt to engage with learners and technological advances.

In addition, the skills required from employees in the workforce in recent years have changed and shifted in line with technology’s ability to do things faster and to a higher quality than previously possible.

We’ve created a list of social media tools you can use to enhance learning:

 · Social assignments are great for creating community and maintaining user engagement. Novelist and investigative journalist Amanda Ripley talks here about students engaging in a Physics MOOC by responding to a challenge to apply trigonometry and geometry learning to real life then posting it online for other students to see. This challenge not only allowed students to evaluate how much they had learnt by putting it into practice but also created space for discussion and new ideas.

 · TweetChat has been around for almost as long as Twitter. You can create your own topic or “hashtag” and allow open conversation between learners. Using a content curator, you could even extract the best or most interesting ideas discussed and publish them to a blog. If learners miss live conversations, they can catch up using Storify.

 · Twitter lists are a curated group of Twitter users that have something in common. As a supplement to elearning, you could use a twitter list in order to gather a group of learners together.

 · Youtube channels create an excellent forum for additional learning material and for interaction between learners. If a picture speaks a thousand words, just think of the learning through discussion potential in a video.

 · There are a number of different Wikis that can be used including Wikispaces and PBworks. Essentially, they are a platform where you can share a range of resources including documents, PDFs and media. Most Wikis also feature an opportunity for discussion.

It is important not to overlook the power of LMS integrated social learning. Many LMS systems come with the ability to create a social learning platform for learners. Creating in-built social learning allows you to tailor it to your learners and makes it accessible and more likely to be used. If you would like to discuss the capabilities of an LMS with in-built social learning capabilities for your organisation, please get in touch with us at [email protected]

To sum up, informal social learning is a great tool when used as part of a blended approach to instigate conversation between learners and create access to more relevant learning content. In an increasingly social and collaborative age, it is time for educators to join the conversation.

Please let us know your comments or share with others who you think may benefit from this. We’re interested in hearing what you think about Informal Social Learning. How have you been able to use it to supplement learning in your organisation? Visit or follow us on twitter @aurionlearning for our latest blog articles and updates.

One Response

  1. An opportunity lost

    Its time for a much more grown up discussion about what we mean by 'social learning' in its recent reincarnation.  If it is anything at all (which I am beginning to question) it certainly isn't a function on an LMS.

    Some recent research:

    Rahwan et al studied the ability of students connected to social networks to answer straightforward questions.  Although they were more likely to get the right answer second time round, after they had compared their answers with others, they were not then more likely to answer similar questions correctly. As Rahwan noted: "increased connectivity may eventually make us stupid by making us smarter first". 

    In their report 'Social technology, Social Business? the CIPD noted that although over 75% of those surveyed used social media outside of work, only 26% used it in work with only 18% describing it as important to their work. As the authors, which include social media evangelist Perry Timms, went on to report: "claims made by social media advocates who predicted widespread transformation appear exaggerated." 

    Finally a report by The Open University. They know a thing or two about distance learning.  They looked at the impact of signing up to newsfeeds or following certain themes and individuals on Twitter and the like.  Their comment was interesting:

    "This personalised ‘meshaped world’ is a form of seamless learning by induction: we come to see the world as constructed around our interactions with it. The benefit is that relevant information may always be ready to hand, but the danger is that this prevents us from seeing alternative perspectives. We may come to believe that our experiences, views, preferences and connections are not just the most relevant, but all there is."

    I'm afraid, Aurion, that your approach is too simplistic and lacks the kind of insight which should be displayed by any company who believes they are capable of advising on issues to do with informal and social learning.  I know you are selling a product but that it is no excuse for a gross simplification of the issues inherent when enabling people to take greater control of their own learning.




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Ciara Cunningham

Marketing Manager

Read more from Ciara Cunningham

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