I have a confession to make. I am a proud, card-carrying lazy ne’er-do-well, and I just want a place where I can go and waste time in peace. That place used to be my favorite social-media sites. But suddenly all these fancy-pants researchers have decided that social media is an excellent vehicle for marketing and selling products—and now workplace training! Thanks a lot, researchers. Way to make it all about productivity!
Now you may be thinking, “But wait just a second. I always hear about an inverse relationship between workplace productivity and social media. That it’s all a waste of time. Do you mean to tell me that isn’t the case?” While social media can still be plenty distracting, it’s actually beginning to find acceptance and provide value in the workplace. As it turns out, social media presents us with excellent tools that, if harnessed appropriately, open up an entirely new world of possibilities in the realm of training. To further explore this, let’s answer a couple of key questions.
What is social media?
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s begin with a little background information on social media. According to Merriam-Webster, the term “social media” was first used way back in the dark ages of 2004 and is defined as “forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).” That definition contains a couple of ideas that are critical to our discussion: namely, the concept of “user-created” communities and content. This concept of collaborative learning satisfies a very real and universal need of adult learners. The second important concept illuminated by the definition is that social media supports a variety of content types, such as text and video. And it’s all presented in such a way that even the most technology-averse old timer can figure it out. Social media encompasses more than just Facebook and Twitter. We’re talking about blogs, wikis, podcasts, video, photo-sharing sites, etc.
How does the learner experience benefit from social media?
Social media is not a replacement for more traditional forms of employee training such as instructor-led workshops or even eLearning, rather, it is an ideal companion to many of your training initiatives, be they instructor-led or electronic in nature.
So, what are the benefits of social media in the training world? Let’s begin by taking a look at some work done by Malcolm Knowles, a central figure in U.S. adult education during the 20th century. Knowles developed a set of assumptions about adult learners, one of which is particularly relevant to our discussion. This assumption states that the role of the learner’s own life experience is one of the richest resources for learning. This links directly to the idea of “user-created” communities and content. When we can share our experience with others, we are enriching the learning experience not only for ourselves but also for our peers. Social media enables us to share our experiences; its very existence depends upon it.
What’s more, social media has leveled the playing field when it comes to how we share our experiences. With social media, it is complete web democracy! Users can sound off, post pictures, and audio and video with the click of a button. And it’s a platform that’s familiar to more than just high-school and college students. Of the approximately 845-million active Facebook users, 68% are 35 and older. That same demographic represents 58% of the 127 million active Twitter users in the world. The adult learners in your organization are comfortable with—and are already using—social media.
Considering how social media satisfies at least one of the critical needs of adult learners and the level of familiarity those learners have with the platform, it’s clear that social media has the potential to be an ideal supplement to your training arsenal. The question is how can we use it in a training context?
How can I use social media in my training efforts?
Social media represents a variety of tools and resources. Therefore, instructional designers must be meticulous in their determination of what tools to use, when to use them and how to use them. There are as many different options, combinations and permutations of tools as there are training scenarios. So for the purposes of narrowing it down, let’s focus on a (fictitious) example.
Imagine you’ve been tasked with training an audience of 50 employees on a revised sexual-harassment policy. You have every training tool you could ever desire at your disposal: instructor-led training facilities, eLearning software, as well as social media. You’ve opted to create a 30-minute eLearning course that describes the details of the new policy, but you still feel like something is missing.
Now think about all of those new social-media tools in your training tool belt. How might you use those to fill in the void? Perhaps a video series hosted on one of the popular video hosting sites? What about a simple blog that poses some thought-provoking questions and gives the learners a platform to sound off? The key here is to follow the exact same process you would when matching a particular content type to a specific instructional treatment (i.e. lectures, simulations, guided discovery, etc.) Above all else, don’t lose sight of what will best resonate with your target audience.
Jim Hartigan, chief business development Officer and partner joined OrgWide Services, a learning, communications, surveys and consulting firm in April 2010 after nearly 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, including the last 18 as a senior executive with Hilton Worldwide. Jim brings to OrgWide a reputation for driving change through improved business processes and developing comprehensive strategies that streamline operations, drive brand awareness and preference, and increase customer satisfaction.
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