Social And Informal Learning Explained: Why Technology Matters

What do we mean by the terms social and informal learning and how can technology play a part? In this article I will examine the evolution of the terms and how they can be distinguished, and consider how companies can incorporate technology into their eLearning strategies.
Social And Informal Learning Explained: Why Technology Matters

How Technology Matters In Social And Informal Learning 

Informal learning, collaborative learning, and social learning are all terms we often hear and which are used interchangeably. Yet while linked and not mutually exclusive, each is different and should be understood in context. Of the three terms, informal learning and social learning are perhaps nearer to each other; collaborative learning is much more structured than either informal learning or social learning.

The term social learning came to the fore with the rise of social networking and social media. Thought leaders were quick to realize that tools such as Twitter, Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and many more could be leveraged to support learning. There have been interesting experiments in using Facebook to deliver courses, or parts of courses and social learning tools such as Twitter and Yammer were often bolted into learning architectures in organizations.

The term informal learning really emerged from a book by learning industry thought-leader Jay Cross in 2006. The fundamental principle of the book is that over 70% of workers learn most from their colleagues than they do from formal training courses in classrooms or online.

Jay Cross did not really focus on the technologies needed for informal learning, but really put forward a call to action (just do it and trust your people as they want to learn) and a series of interesting models that would play a part… Unconferences and Grokking, as well as a real recognition of the importance of communities, networks, and the role of the web in resourcing this and facilitating this change in how organizations actually learn.

Informal learning is much more than social learning: It’s a mind-set, a recognition factor, and something which if done properly can be hugely popular and effective.

There is however a real reason to realize that if informal learning is going to work, technology will have to be used and used effectively. Why?

  1. The modern employee is now adept at social media usage and spends a large amount of time in online environments: Living; shopping; sharing; communicating, and more.
  2. The modern workforce has changed; remote working and home working is growing and will continue to grow for many more years. Estimates on the numbers of self- employed consultants and professionals make for dramatic reading. It is estimated that 20% of white collar Americans will be self -employed in 2020.
  3. The modern workplace is becoming virtual not just in its location, but in its composition. Teams are assembled and disassembled to deliver projects and programs. These teams come from in-company, from specialist support providers and from individual contractors.

So, is social media the correct platform to address the challenges of informal learning in 2016 and beyond? Evidence gathered indicates that learners want a simple single point of destination for this interaction, so integrating a social learning element with an existing Learning Management System (LMS) is the optimum solution.

A note of caution: Providing an environment for learning is not enough, it is the engagement and interaction provided that will bring the learner into the new informal learning environments to share. Learning and Development (L&D) has a lot to learn from marketing. The buzz around gamification in Learning and Development is as a result of a spillover from the world of marketing. Learning and Development with the challenges it faces (some of which we have noted above) really does have a lot to learn from marketing and in particular digital marketing.

The opportunity to learn from marketing and marketing orientated platforms to engage with learners using digital marketing techniques is probably the most exciting development yet to be fully appreciated.

A Learning Management System with a CMS pedigree (i.e. a platform developed for digital marketing and performance-orientated marketing, but let’s call that learner engagement) is far more likely to succeed than a Learning Management System designed for the management of learners with a selection of replica social media environments crudely bolted on. Learners must be seen increasingly as customers and given a context-aware learning experience that is integrated and personalized for formal and informal learning.

Tugaru is the Learning Management System used by companies and training providers who want more control. Built on the acclaimed Kentico CMS, Tugaru delivers a personalized platform for providers, personalized learning experiences, and a unique adaptive learning engine that evolves learning experiences based on behavior.

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