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Learning Through Social Networks

Learning Circuits big question this month is on how to figure out value of social learning, and how do we encourage people to see it as an alternative training medium.

But hasn’t learning been always a social activity? From school to the workplace, the avenues of learning have always been through interaction. The closer the interaction, more effective is the learning. While this is established, what is the resistance in using social media as a learning tool?

For the traditionalists, the first fear is of the ‘new’. And if it is a new technology that we are talking about, the fear is greater. This however, in my opinion, is the easier of fears to break. Social media as a learning tool is not a completely new concept. It has been firmly established as a successful means to impart learning of subjects and topics, varied in nature. In fact, there are successful organizations, who swear by it. Giving such examples, would soothe out wrinkles in the ‘workability’ department.

Another way of essaying the fear would be to give a taste of the new. The idea is not to fight them but take them along. The most severe of the critics can be wooed over if the dish is nicely prepared. One of my favorite characters from my childhood books was Lucy, who hated melons. She had never had them, but she decided she hated them, till the day that she did try one. And then, she loved them! A simplistic approach to the problem, you say? Yes, and this too, is a tried and tested one. A short module can be run for a month or two, opening the avenues of learning through social media. At the end of the testing period the effectiveness can be evaluated and comments and suggestions can be invited.

The greater of the fears for the traditionalists is that of losing productivity. The existing systems are working well, and have shown results for the past many years. Why dismantle something that has been working so well? This as a fear is well grounded. Indeed, social mediums like facebook, twitter, blogs and wikis – all have their ‘fun’ part as well, may be too much of it. There are games, movies, music – every other distraction that you can think of. This is truly scary for a manager, to expect that all members would act productively given access to such medium. But again, such forums have the capability to increase many skills, an angle that needs to be shown to the skeptic ones.

While increasing skills like communication, creativity and leadership, social media also helps healthy interaction between people who might not have interacted at all in traditional hierarchy. Not to say that the top bosses do not want to talk to the employees, they just do not have the time. A blog can be a social forum where every member of a team can participate, have their say and at the end of the day, learn from each other.

So, to summarize, to convince a group who hasn’t got any exposure to social medium, give them a taste of it. You might be pleasantly surprised with the outcome! And to convince a group who has some exposure and thus a view, that is none too positive – give the right exposure. This might not be easy, but it is definitely possible, with some dedicated spearheading by the pushers of social media as a learning tool.