Social learning: all talk and no action?

Last week I gave a seminar with my colleague Jennifer at Learning Technologies 2010 on the subject of social learning. We were pleasantly surprised to see a large audience spilling over into the aisles and (bar a few microphone issues) our presentation seemed to go down well. The theme of Saffron’s stand at the event was also social learning and, despite the lack of smoothies this year, attracted a lot of attention. All in all, over the two days I spent a lot of time thinking and talking about the topic. So, social learning: is it just the latest buzzword or is it something that’s worth taking seriously?

A few months ago I was pretty firmly in the ‘all talk, no action’ camp. And I still think that a lot has been said and not nearly so much done. But when I found out that social learning was our theme for 2010 I thought I’d better give it a bit more of a chance! Jennifer and I challenged ourselves with turning a few ‘traditional’ learning blends into social learning strategies. We picked a variety of recipes from the Blended Learning Cookbook (call centre training, language learning and compliance training), put our heads together for an hour over a coffee and surprised ourselves with what we came up with. You can see the results of our brainstorming here.

What I’ve learnt while preparing for the seminar and speaking to visitors to the Saffron exhibition stand is that most people are already persuaded of the benefits of social learning and are now looking for practical tips for implementing it as part of their L&D strategy. My top three recommendations are:

1. Start small.

Our Cookbook examples are designed to show what a well developed social learning strategy might look like, but don’t try to run before you can walk. And don’t think you have to make big investments to see a return – start by using what’s out there (follow Saffron’s lead by setting up a Facebook page, Twitter account or YouTube channel, for example) and maximising any wikis and forums you’ve already got.

2. Shout about it.

Many a well designed forum has ended up languishing in a dusty corner of the company intranet because nobody actually knew about it. Let people know what you’re doing, why they should use it and how they should use it. And then keep telling them – find innovative ways to point them towards it (viral emails might be one way) and nurture it until it becomes so embedded in business as usual that it sustains itself.

3. Remember the blend.

It’s probably unrealistic to ‘go social’ for all your training solutions and it won’t always be appropriate. But social learning can really add value if it’s used in the right way as part of the right blend.

Over the past few months, then, I’ve been convinced of the potential of social media to add value to workplace learning – but what do the rest of you think? Would our new social learning recipes do the job? Have you already started adding social media to your training blend? Is social learning just a fad, or is it here to stay?