Social Learning.. Fad? I think not… 

Six months ago I may have said yes, but know I know more….

Can you direct learning on Twitter?  No you can’t

Can you formalise learning through Facebook? No you can’t

Can you track what the user has learned in a social environment? No you can’t

Do you need to track all the learning gleaned socially?  If you answered yes to this then you have been to too many conferences and spoken to too many LMS salesmen. No you should not!

There is a pattern to Social Environment Learning.  Yes maybe a new term (SEL), passes all the tests, has three letters and not an acronym already in use.  Social Environment Learning? What is he on about I hear you think!

Social Learning is nothing new, been around since the year dot. It’s what you do when you get together with other people all day long.  Hear something and act on it. You learned.  Heard yourself say “mmm never knew that” while in conversation with either a single person or in a group? You socially learned.  I am a social learner, it’s my best method to learn, far better than the classroom.

Social Environment Learning (SEL) is NEW!  Only been around since the invention of Facebook, Twitter, Ning and the dreaded, dare I mention it, Web 2.0   It is an environment that has many facets. The knowledge pool of Wikipedia, the madness of short message broadcast – 140 characters in Twitter, the User Discussion Forums – which have always been under utilised,  sites like Ning and of course the message chat rooms of Facebook.  These environments that have been built are different from a chat over a cup of coffee in Starbucks.

Why different.  Take a good look.. We use different language. Shorten much of what we say. Talk often in single sentences (unless you are me of course).

But a pattern has emerged and is continuing to emerge. A pattern that from the first 100 conversations I have had on this subject seems to be common to very many users of these sites.  The interesting outcome of the pattern is how we use the information we see, what makes it interesting? and how do WE, yes I said WE, turn what WE see into learning for ourselves?

Explore the pattern with me.

This morning I looked at Twitter on my iPhone as I do each morning. Between 6:30 am and 9 am as I write this there were six posts (Tweets) from people I am following. (Not on Twitter? Don’t understand the terminology? On Twitter people post a broadcast of 140 characters, you can choose which of these you see by ‘following’ a person. All the rest are filtered out. How many tweets are there.  When Michael Jackson died there were 1.3 million an hour or 25000 a minute, think you can see it all?  To follow me join Twitter and follow @neillasher)  So to the six tweets this morning. Three were pure nothing, Personnel Today advertising something, two were from Fiona Leteney saying she was in Leeds meeting with a supplier (random?) and the sixth from Barry Sampson informing the world he was updating his Drupal sites to version 6.14.

All a bit random really, not exactly what you would want your new staff to be using to learn induction? However stay with me here…..

I followed the common pattern, to start without realising I was doing it. Barry’s post although you may think random told me two things.  One he was not going to be pitching against me this morning at potential client, he is going to be busy upgrading software, but much more interesting to me was that I know Barry is a Drupal expert, and if he is upgrading to 6.14, I may consider upgrading my site too.  The pattern here is that my next move was to open a new tab in the browser and Google Drupal 6.14. I got 287000 results of which the first two would tell me what I needed to know.

Sparked by a tweet from Barry, I learned that Drupal 6.14 is an easy upgrade from 6.13 (some have not been so easy) and that the new facilities it offers me are quite good. I found a link to a great information site in one of the sites I visited and spent the next 30m minutes understanding something I had been meaning to understand for months.

Social Environment Learning had pointed me without any plan to what I wanted to know. I followed a path that very many others do every day. This is the Social Learning pattern that is emerging from the electronic environments that so many are using.

How do we tap into this? How do we use this to our advantage? How can we maybe redirect the user during the search to our own learning snippets and provide information that we have approved, rather than this random trail of information they find on the web?

These questions were the key to the last 3 months development of the latest release of CSL – Context Sensitive Learning, is about to release this week at the IITT conference with Social Environment Learning connectors.

Imagine during the pattern the user follows, that you can identify they have searched for something on Google, Bing, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter or any other social environment, and, can match that to an approved learning snippet, or information post, or internal approved blog or Wiki. More, imagine you can inform the user accordingly that there is some approved material available, before they go off and click the links they found in the search engine.

What I have just described is the new Social Learning Connector designed specifically to join Social Networking Sites to Formal and Informal Learning that your company already has in repository. Let the user follow his thoughts and redirect them to approved information delivered in the same way they are expecting to learn.

Want to know more?  follow this link and you too will be following the pattern of Social Environment Learning…

See you at IITT?    No?  Follow me @neillasher