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Social Learning

The Future of Learning is Social

When we think of social media today, tools like Twitter and Facebook usually come to mind first. These platforms are making a huge impact in the world of online communication, but I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding their impact.

If you look at the following chart, you’ll see that by 2013, internal and external social networking expenditures will be almost equal. For me, this indicates that social media is more than just a marketing tool. Social is the future of work, talent management, and learning.

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Why social learning?

There are three major reasons why I believe social learning is a fundamental concept that all companies will have to embrace in the future:

  1. 80% of what we learn is done informally. We naturally gravitate towards our peers and retain information that’s presented to us in a social context. If companies understand this, they can save hundreds of thousands of dollars by avoiding the cost of ineffective training methods.
  2. Our kids are social learners. As a parent, I’m familiar with the study habits of my two sons who are both in college now. Ever since they were little, they always worked in teams and welcomed opportunities to learn from their friends. With their generation growing up and entering the workforce, they will naturally seek out ways to collaborate, learn, and share as professionals. Think about the ways in which your kids do their homework. Are they on Facebook? Are they IMing with their friends? Are they sharing notes via Google docs? Today’s students are learning socially and these same individuals will be tomorrow’s social employees.
  3. The ROI on social learning is too valuable to dismiss. Everyone wants to understand the ROI of everything, especially businesses looking to make a significant purchase on learning software. While I can’t pull up the specific numbers and data off the top of my head, I can think of a case study in which the ROI is priceless. The U.S. Army uses a learning community, which enables soldiers to post best practices and resources for their peers. In this case, soldier’s first hand experience provides valuable information that training manuals can’t offer. Given the context of what is being learned, these kinds of best practices could very well save actual lives. (source)

While I don’t think social learning should substitute formal learning, I do think it is a significant opportunity for companies who choose to get started. What companies will find is that their employees are often their greatest knowledge assets. By allowing them to share what they know in a social, peer-to-peer environment, we can empower individuals, and increases overall satisfaction, innovation, and results.

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