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Mike Morrison

RapidBI - Diagnostic OD tools for change


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Twitter as an learning tool (and its brain friendly too)


Last week I published an article on my blog on the topic Twitter the real brain friendly approach to informal learning, this article is one of my fastest read pieces and I thought I would share it with you and pose the question: How do we manage the delivery of informal and informal blended learning in your organisation effectively? The traditional approach to learning is to identify end to end learning that is required to achieve a new task. While this works for structured learning it is not very effective for informal or personal learning. The human brain does not think in large logical ‘articles’, instead it thinks of information in small chunks, of which they form the whole picture. the process is not logical. indeed research shows that humans think of two or more thoughts simultaneously. which one we focus on will depend on the priority and task at hand. Equally the first thought may be a chunk of information that comes from the end of the journey, rather than the beginning. Think of Einstein and his beam of light. He has the answer long before he knew the journey. Much like a human brain, the time-line for a twitter stream provides an unlimited source of thoughts and ideas. 99% of them will be ignored by us – that is ok. Its the 1% we are interested in. Those ideas that have some synergy with what we are doing at that moment in time, of maybe some ideas/ solutions of problems or opportunities we are facing at some point in time. This is what makes twitter both powerful and an irrelevance to many people. unlike blogs and websites, which in essence follow the process of traditional publications, including planning, structure and conformity, twitter is much more organic. its is about the hear and now. That does not mean to say that the more concrete provision of knowledge is not important, indeed it is, but an adhoc spark of a thought provides a richness or stimulation to identify and find out more – real learning. So how can we as learning facilitators and developers use this technology effectively? For our own individual learning I think that there is little to beat the ‘consciousness’ of the machine brain that is Twitter (or similar communities). However for networks and organisations this may be too diluted. One approach is to create a dedicated hash code for your tweets, or a closed group. This is where organisational or group based tools like yammer come into play. as it is only members of the group that get to see the messages. Learning we know takes time and the advantage of micro-Blogging is that fact that it is here and now. A key learning point may not be relevant for an individual at a given point in time, they need the message ‘resent’ to them at the times that is right for them – the “learning sweet-spot™” in terms of:

  • Time
  • Need
  • Relevance
Where ‘traditional’ training falls down What do I mean by ‘traditional’ training? well this could be classroom, action learning, e-learning, coaching, or whatever. anything that is not “Here and now”. Research from various sources clearly demonstrates that the most effective learning occurs ‘on the job’ and via coaching – be it by a coach, manager or peers. Indeed many people when asked claim that they learn most from their peers. Twitter and other micro-blogging tools are indeed peer learning, it is about an individual ‘getting’ a chunk of knowledge at a time that is relevant to them. The beauty of these tools is that you don’t just send a message once – you send it dozens if not 100s of times. often using different strategies, learning or communication preferences, but also multiple times. This has major advantages over ‘traditional’ methods where often participants or learners in a room seem t dislike repetition, but in this environment it really works. With just 140 characters to use we need to be creative, but equally if not relevant to the reader at the time it is easy to ignore. A concept in the world of learning many of us are uncomfortable with, after all as trainers we are used to being a focal point of the learning delivery (and I don’t just mean an ego in the room). Brave new world of informal learning As organisations look to reduce costs, do more for less, learning and training starts to be scrutinised more and more. There is a current trend away from formal to informal learning. While I agree with this in principle we need to understand the difference between individual and organisational need. If an organisation needs certain skills, then this should be primarily a formal strategy, as there will need to be a certain amount of ‘push’ in the message. Certainly ‘informal’ options can be provided, but while the saying goes; “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink” has some resonance, as an organisation we occasionally NEED the horse to drink (learn) for the survival of the organisation. If the horse wont drink, then it wont get used fully in the long term and will be surplus to requirements. On the other hand we also need to encourage individuals to be responsible for their learning (if they own the output) and informal, ’social media’ styles communications are much more powerful… why, well as I said at the beginning of the article, Tweets and short bursts of information (several at once) are much like how the typical brain functions. All we need to do is engage a little of this with synergy. We would never recommend this strategy as a primary communication/ learning channel, however it is a powerful tool as part of your blended learning approach. As a learning facilitator how are you engaging with your learning to provide true ‘just in time’ learning delivered to meet the “learning sweet spot” needs of the individuals you support?
© RapidBI 2009 and used with permission:

One Response

  1. Would you like a biscuit with your t-learning, dear?

    It’s an interesting article, with a different spin on JIT learning and Masie’s traffic lights colour coding for learning priorities.

    Maybe I was thrown off by the mention in the article of sending the same message 100s of times, but it strikes me as rather inefficient – a tool better used to develop a conversational style informal learning process rather than for broadcasting information.

    However, I can almost feel a fad coming on here – I can even think of a few great buzzwords. How about the ‘learning tweet-spot’!

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Mike Morrison


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