There are 2.5 billion people using social media in 2017. By 2020, that number is set to rise to almost 3 billion. Despite the towering size of these figures, they won’t shock anyone. There’s no argument, social media has become an integral part of people’s everyday life, with the average time spent on it hitting almost 2 hours per day. Most learning and development departments can only dream of such a huge level of user uptake and engagement with their courses.
Well, by examining what it is that social media does to drive user engagement so effectively, it’s possible to distil insights that can be applied to learning to do the same. Clearly, social media fulfils (or exploits) universal human social needs for connection, approval, judgement… and endless streams of memes and fake news. While learning courses may want to avoid accusations of fakery, social learning has the power to regenerate user engagement. Here’s how.
Let’s consider the five key points behind social media’s intractable ascent, and how they could apply to learning:
1. Omnipresence on all devices
Everyone has a smartphone in 2017. Well, almost everyone. In fact, the number of smartphone users very closely resembles the amount of social media users, with 2.3 billion worldwide in 2017, rising to 2.9 billion in 2020. This similarity is no coincidence. The availability and convenience of pulling a smartphone out of your pocket to get a quick social media fix is a huge part of its popularity. The younger the generation, too, the more time is spent on smartphones rather than traditional desktop computers.
Consumers of learning are no different. In the limited time available to the modern employee, finding a moment to sit down at a dedicated computer and wade through an hour long piece of training is almost impossible. When that learning is made modular, however, and easily accessible on the device that learners carry around with them all day, they’re much more inclined to devote a chunk of time to it.
Mobile learning apps can provide easy access to courses when the user wants them, in a non-intimidating way, through a platform that can be easily updated. New course uploaded? Simply send a notification to the user’s phone and they can access it with one tap.
One word of warning here though… making learning easily available or in micro chunks doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be effective learning. The principles of good learning design still rule!
2. Entertaining, relevant, curated content
Every day people post and share billions of posts, blogs, photos, and videos. Even if Facebook is much less driven by user-generated content and more a platform for news (and advert) distribution than anything these days, it remains massively compelling, with 1.25 billion users accessing the site daily. What is it that keeps this huge horde coming back?
Credit should go largely to the algorithms that whirr endlessly behind the scenes of your news feed, ranking content against content in the quest for your attention. These complex formulas mean that Facebook provides the ultimate personalised news feed, and this level of personalisation is becoming apparent in every aspect of our day-to-day lives. If applied properly using an LMS that responds and “speaks back” to a learner, it can reap the same rewards for learning, driving user engagement and putting the content where it needs to be.
Of course, this will only work if your content has the necessary quality! The content itself needs to be relevant and appealing – it needs to spark a conversation with the learner that continues for weeks after the learning has been completed. If it doesn’t, no amount of personalised promotion will save it.
3. “Social” – it’s in the name
It’s not just the algorithms that make scrolling through social media so compelling. The clue is in the name, with the social aspect driving engagement even higher. As well as helping out the algorithms in their quest to serve up the most targeted content, the sharing function and social spotlight create a feeling of investment in the content.
Be it a restaurant, an article, or a piece of learning, we enjoy following up on our friends’ recommendations, and we enjoy ours being followed even more. Put simply, would you be more likely to undertake a course due to its description or a recommendation from a friend? This kind of social curation through trusted advisors is an important part of any modern learning platform. Give users the chance to express themselves and promote the content that struck a chord with them through playlists or a bespoke social learning platform like Saffron Share.
The social element gives a sense of consequence. When someone likes your photo or learning completion status, it provides a source of external validation. This is the driving force behind social media platforms such as Instagram, which are as much about who likes what as the content itself. Giving the learners a social space to connect allows them to build a community, sharing their opinions and difficulties with each other. Make the learner feel part of a crowd, and that crowd will only continue to grow.
4. Analytics and data
All those social algorithms are driven by data and analytics. They combine data about the user’s profile with historical data about their preferences and behaviour to make sure that the UX is truly customised. If your LMS is at the cutting edge then tools and standards such xAPI allow user data to be tracked in a similar manner, and the learning to be adaptive based around the user journey.
Qualitative and quantitative data can, and should, also be collected by more traditional, overt means such as user surveys. Conducting polls and surveys about your learning both furthers audience engagement and obtains valuable information. It also helps to build trust, loyalty, and strengthens your L&D department’s internal brand identity by showing your learners that you care about their opinions.
How often do you sit on social media for hours at a time? Very rarely, I would suspect. Yet somehow, on average, users spend 50 minutes per day on Facebook alone. That’s more than they do on socializing, reading, or exercising. The impulse to just quickly check your social media when you feel that familiar vibration or see that notification pop up is almost irresistible, and learning needs to harness that urge. A responsive platform that uses analytics and personalized data to nudge and cajole learners, inviting them back in, recommending learning and giving them their frequently visited pages will increase engagement… and self-directed learning. At the end of the day, that’s the ultimate aim for Learning and HR professionals – building capability and skills through self-motivation.
Like it or loathe it, social media has a gargantuan influence on our day-to-day lives. There’s a correspondingly large amount that learning technologies and design techniques can gain by following some of the trends and insights into our addiction. These characteristics are something we’ve been doing for years here at Saffron, so if you want to see how we put these insights into practice, get in touch!