What Does Social Mean for Learning

Social media is an incredible opportunity to engage, along with a tremendous potential to misjudge things. If we get it right, creating social learning spaces and supporting individuals and groups in the right way will create challenging, supportive, productive and dynamic spaces. If not, we produce wastelands of derelict hyperlinks and gated communities of stultified guidance and rules.

Looking around, there’s one thing we can be sure of: people love social interactions, but we’re looking for different things from our formal ones in our informal interactions. Although the two worlds collide, we’re still differentiating how we’re acting in different contexts. The conversations we have on Facebook differ from LinkedIn or learning forum interactions. While our worlds have become more transparent, our voice tone has been better adapted to suit different situations. Organizations need to start taking steps on a practical level, but small ones. We need to be brave enough to create experimentation spaces, spaces for making mistakes.

Social media is risky, but to move forward you must take risks. The challenge is not to avoid risks, but to understand them and to have ways to limit or mitigate them. Instead of formulating a social media policy and resorting to typical command and control operational procedures, we should work with groups to develop guidelines for the community. If the community wants to allow anonymous discussion, that surely only tells us they want to get involved. Any approach to social spaces should be iterative; the first time we’re unlikely to get it right, so why try it? Together with the community, it is best to start small, celebrate success and grow on it.

And leadership needs to be considered: what is the organizational imperative for adopting social learning? Does it have support and funding, or you must first work with the executive team to build a support platform? We are increasingly seeing social layers being integrated around more formal learning. In stimulating debate and embedding learning, these can be challenging as well as highly effective. Whether we want to control or allow these discussions and conversations to take place is not a question: the question is whether we want to be involved in the conversation at all.

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