#Learning – Social Media as the Latest Learning Tool

social learning

Do you use social media to learn?  Odds are you probably do, even if you don’t realise it.  Learnt a fun new fact on Facebook that you revel in telling your colleagues about?  That’s using social media to learn, you might not have intended to, but that’s what happened.  Sorry.

Some people have a very firm view about what social media is i.e. a platform for frivolity and nonsense or something to be used purely for marketing and promotional purposes.  But if used in the right way social media can actually be an extremely dynamic source of information and a wonderful way to facilitate learning, and not just casually in your spare time.  When used appropriately social media can be a useful tool for targeted learning within an organisation, helping to take training outside of the classroom and make it easily accessible for everyone at any time.  It won’t necessarily replace traditional formal learning (just yet anyway), but it can be an excellent accompaniment to classic methods to ensure learners aren’t left feeling stranded once the ‘formal’ session has ended. 

How to use Social Media for Learning

Here are a few tips and tricks to help make the most of social media as a learning tool for your team:

  • Plan how you want to use it – will this simply be an informal space where people can share ideas and ask questions, or will it be a more formal environment where individuals are asked to take part in specific discussions or activities to build upon prior learning?  Either option will ultimately help solidify and enhance learning, but knowing what your staff want and will benefit most from will help maximise the tool’s potential.

  • Get your staff involved – if this is something you’re thinking about, ask your staff for their thoughts, see if any of them already use social media for learning, and how they find it.  At the very least find out if anyone is actually likely to use it; little point setting up a learning forum if no one uses it.

  • Choose your medium – there are literally hundreds of potential social media outlets to choose from to be the platform for your organisation’s learning.  You may decide to use one of the more commonly known services such as Facebook or Twitter, as chances are the majority of your workforce will be familiar with these tools, and there will be plenty of people around to help out for those who aren’t.  Alternatively you may elect to use something less well-known or even invest in a bespoke system to manage your learning needs.  Either way, before a decision is made, it’s vital to consider what you want to use it for, who is going to use it, and how it will be managed, as this will have a big impact on your decision.

  • Put it into action – now’s the time to set up your social media group, but don’t forget to tell people.  Let everyone know that it exists, communicate the intended purpose and set some ground rules to ensure everyone feels comfortable using it. 

  • Evaluate it – is anyone using it, is it being used for its designated purpose, are people getting any value out of it?  These are all things you need to know about any training programme and a social media approach is no different.  If it’s not being used right (or at all) then find out why, and see if you can make some changes to improve it.  Alternatively if it’s really not working, scale it down and focus your efforts on other learning resources for your staff.

A few examples to get you started

If you’re curious about the idea of using social media for learning, but not quite sure how it might play out, here are a few simple ideas using some well-known platforms:

LinkedIn – Set up a private group for your employees where they can post discussions, ask questions and get help from colleagues.  You may choose to set up one group for the whole organisation or several smaller groups depending on department or type of training to be focussed on. 

Facebook – Similar to LinkedIn, you can create a specific group depending on the purpose and only accept relevant employees into the group.  The advantage over LinkedIn is that you can also post attachments such as extra reading materials or activities to follow up from formal learning interventions.  This makes it an ideal forum for more structured social media learning opportunities.

Twitter – This is a little harder to control than Facebook or LinkedIn, but can still work as an excellent tool to facilitate enhanced learning in a business.  It is possible to set up a private messaging group, but it’s not as simple as the other two and if you’ve not set it up right content will also be accessible to other Twitter users and thus may not be as appropriate in supporting organisation-specific learning.  Also the limitation on characters that can be used may not be ideal for larger discussions.  That being said, for more generic topics it’s still a great way for people to communicate quickly and concisely. 

Instagram – If you are a creative organisation and use a lot of visuals, Instagram may be an ideal platform for your staff to share ideas and inspiration.  This is an extensive platform with many more options than simply picture sharing, but it is likely to appeal most to those who find sharing images particularly useful to facilitate learning. 

How (or if) an organisation chooses to use social media to encourage learning will vary greatly between different companies.  It will ultimately depend on the culture of the business, the needs and engagement levels of employees, and the policies and security issues that may affect its use.  However there really is the potential for enhanced learning and greater cohesion to arise from this format; it helps reduce anxiety about asking questions, connects people from different departments and management levels, and at its essence gives people information they want or need, as well as helping to establish a more explicit culture of learning within the business.

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