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Don't Get Left Behind by Social Learning

Many organizations are still hesitant to implement social media as a learning tool. But sooner or later, all will be forced to follow.

August 26, 2011
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Related Topics: Engagement, Performance Management, Talent Management, Talent Management, Capability Development, Classroom Training, E-Learning, Learning Delivery, Innovation, Performance Management, Technology

Corporate learning departments should be moving toward wider acceptance of social media as a serious tool. Some already have, but experts say many are still moving too slowly on implementing such platforms.

Out are the days when training videos were administered via VHS in a dark room. Today, training is more likely to occur in the few moments where an employee puts aside that spreadsheet, wipes the mustard from his ham-and-cheese sandwich off his face and logs on to YouTube to learn about a new department policy.

Plenty of CLOs have caught on to this. But for those who haven’t, time may be running short. “It’s not really a choice of if [corporations] want to take advantage of it [social media] or not,” said Anders Gronstedt, president of Gronstedt Group Inc., a firm that has specialized in corporate learning for the last 14 years. “It’s here — and the choice is whether they want to unleash it or whether they want to try and stop the inevitable.”

Throughout the learning and development industry, there was initially some skepticism about using social media as a learning tool. Now, many organizations are embracing it. The bold have even taken the step of building company-specific internal social networks driven as learning tools.

Intel Corp., a Santa Clara, Calif.-based technology company that manufacturers computer chips, is one example. Its internal social network, Planet Blue, gives employees the opportunity to connect with other employees, create groups and streamline ideas on the fly. “You can have status updates; you can connect with people; you can have discussion groups,” said Allison Anderson, a learning innovation program manager at Intel. “Eventually, we will implement a video tool.”

While Planet Blue is still in its infancy, Anderson strongly believes social learning has been and will continue to be embraced by Intel’s employees. One way, she said, is through career development. “People want to know how they can move their career, so we have a fairly robust career development program that includes workshops — but it also includes this community of people who are experts,” Anderson said. “People come in and ask questions and do career chat and learning.”

Community is the key. By organizing employees in something as continuous and efficient as an online community, learning leaders are able to streamline discussion, which makes the content more engaging. “People come in [to Planet Blue] and ask questions and do career chat and learn more about career development at Intel,” Anderson said.

But while Anderson insists that social media is best used only as a supplement to more traditional learning platforms — classroom, e-learning — others think the medium is taking over completely.

“This is replacing all other traditional forms of classroom and e-learning programs,” Gronstedt said. “Traditional e-learning is based on a one-way broadcast medium that just doesn’t have room in today’s learning organization. As far as the need to bring people together and do things like role playing and interacting with each other, there are these wonderful virtual worlds.”

Yet there are still limitations. For instance, measuring the true impact social media has had on learning and development within organizations remains cloudy. “It’s still kind of unclear to me where we want to have success measures,” Anderson said. “It’s a different kind of engagement. If somebody asked me, ‘Can you track the number of people in your [online] community?’ Sure I can. ‘Can you track the percentage that’s been engaged regularly?’” Measuring that is not as easy.

Still, corporations and learning departments are embracing the concept. At its conception, Planet Blue had only about 150 users. Now, according to Anderson, nearly 400 have joined. Once videos are integrated into the platform, Anderson said, more are bound to follow.

But what about those still turned off by social media as a learning tool, worried that the medium would distract and negatively influence productivity?

“There’re in for a rude awakening,” Gronstedt said. “This is not just a cute little supplement for what they’re doing … This is in fact how learning is done in organizations and they need to get with it or they will become completely obsolete.”

Frank Kalman is associate editor at Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at

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