What is Social Learning? The 21st-Century Definition (Part 2)

May 21, 2012
Written by Bloomfire Admin

Examples of real world 21st-century social learning

If we think of the iPhone as a versatile tool—some have dubbed it a “digital Swiss Army knife” thanks to the App Store—we can also think of social learning as a tool with multiple uses.

In the corporate environment, social learning is being used for sales training. For example, one of Logitech’s new divisions—LifeSize—sells HD video conferencing solutions through a variety of partners. To train partners and give them a space to share knowledge with each other, LifeSize uses over a dozen Bloomfires, which they’ve rebranded as “learning exchanges.” Once partners log in to this password-protected social learning environment, they’re given simple built-in tools to ask each other questions, search for training content, view videos, and more. Every tool is purpose-built to facilitate knowledge sharing, and everything is also accessible from their iPhone and iPad via the custom-branded iOS app. The whole idea is to help partners sell better by letting them ask peers for advice whenever, whereever.

Social learning is also being used for safety training. One of America’s largest engineering and construction companies faced a dilemma: with teams scattered throughout the world, teams were reinventing the wheel and creating safety tools that others had already created. By launching a Bloomfire, teams could come together online to share knowledge and swap training videos, safety inspections forms, and other safety-related tools. Now a training manager in Michigan can ask a question such as, “Anyone have inspection forms I can use?” and get answers (with Word documents attached) from safety specialists in other parts of the world.

And these are just two of the many ways you can apply online social learning. Our customers are showing us new ways every day.

What makes online social learning work?

After observing the successes and failures of thousands of social learning communities, I’ve drafted a theory: successful corporate social learning works when you blend these three main ingredients:

  1. Caring people that do like-kind jobs
  2. Job-related learning objective
  3. User-friendly facilitation mechanism

Take the earlier safety training example. These people do the same kind of job (ingredient 1: safety management). And they’re really caring people (also ingredient 1)—I’ve met them at conferences. Every day, they’re looking to equip themselves with knowledge that would help them get things done better, faster, or cheaper (ingredient 2). They ask themselves questions such as, “Why create a new safety inspection form when another safety manager probably has one already?” For their facilitation mechanism (ingredient 3), they use Bloomfire, and it’s working out so well that they’re launching more Bloomfires.

If you’re the master chef cooking up social learning initiatives at your organization, worry about choosing great ingredients. I’ve published a simple one-step worksheet before which will help you pick ingredients one and two. Here’s what to be mindful of when picking ingredient number three:

User-friendly. User-friendly. User-friendly.

Why am I stressing this so much? Because the value of social learning comes from the network of people involved. Oftentimes, non-tech-savvy people unintentionally get left behind when high-tech tools power the latest initiative. You don’t want that to happen in your social learning initiative—you want to tap into the brain of every team member, not just every tech-savvy team member.

Part 1: What is Social Learning? Part 3: Where Online Social Learning Tools Are Going

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