The value of social media for learning

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The LCB Big Question this month is, “How do I communicate the value of social media as a learning tool to my organization?

Here’s my answer, bringing together several threads I’ve been thinking about.

1. We live in a networked society. More of our work is being done within and between networks. In networks, there are no standard communication routes or protocols. Things get done in a much messier and uncontrolled fashion. You can’t impose a hierarchy and try to control all of the interactions and communications in a network. The network regards hierarchy as a failure, and routes around it.

2. When it comes to the kind of work that we get paid to do, the simple work is being automated and the merely complicated work is being outsourced to where labour is cheapest. This leaves us with the complex work, or the type of problems that require creativity, inductive reasoning and often require help or inspiration from others.

3. Complex work and work in complex environments require faster feedback loops. We need to get data, information and knowledge quickly, and cannot wait for it to be bounced up and down a chain of command. Social networks, which are comprised of people that we trust in some way, can enable us to connect to someone who may be able to help. However, to do this, we have to already have that connection. Social media allow us to initiate and nurture relationships with many people in many different ways. The quality of our networks becomes critical in enabling us to do complex work. Social learning is the enabler.

4. Social media, such as blogs, Twitter, and social networks help people find and connect with each other, based on some shared interests. With complex work, our challenges are now highly contextual and written best practices just don’t cut it anymore. We need someone who understands the nature of our problem who can use human reasoning to help us. We have to be connected to that person though. That’s why we need to engage in social networks, but these are not created overnight. We develop them one conversation and one interaction at a time.

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5. What are the value of social media as learning tools? Simply put, they help create networks of multi-way trust to share ideas, advice and feelings between people who care. Social networks have been shown to be the principal way that learning spreads in organizations:

Individual learning in organizations is irrelevant because work is almost never done by one person. All value is created by teams and networks. Furthermore, learning may be generated in teams but this type of knowledge comes and goes. Learning really spreads through social networks. Therefore, social networks are the conduit for effective organizational performance. Blocking, or circumventing, social networks slows learning, reduces effectiveness and may in the end kill the organization.

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