I was recently asked to define social media. At this time I define it as: Content expressed as thoughts, experience, expertise, opinions…created in text, multimedia, pictures…and shared by individuals for different reasons. It is mediated by technology platforms whose functionality determines the distribution, retrievability and useability of the content.
Social learning, on the other hand, is learning that happens through social exchanges and activities, whether the exchange is motivated for personal reasons or for larger collective purposes (adapted from Aaron Silvers, T&D January 2012).
Okay, so the simple difference between the two definitions is social media = content, social learning = learning through exchange.
I spend a lot of time using social media, and I learn a lot by interacting with it. But I must only do about 5% direct exchange with other people. Most of the time I am reading alone and producing alone – they are activities of individual reflection and interpretation. I use strategies to share my social media contribution to the world and my network, but I don’t expect an exchange will ensue – because everyone is busy, and there is a lot of e-learning and social media content out there. If there is an exchange, it’s a bonus and I get rather thrilled about it.
The term I prefer for organisational learning strategy is social media for learning. This term is inclusive of individual and social learning. When we are developing a purpose, a strategy and an action plan for introducing social media, we need to design platform functionality and activities that enable both individual AND social learning.
Social media is a decentralised learning function
Personally I am not convinced at this time that social media for learning is a centralised function of organsiational learning. I believe (and know this belief is not only mine) that online social exchange in organisations happens best where relationships already exist. Social media can support communities to continue exchanges and activities beyond physical locations. These communities, where people care enough about each other to respond online, build upon conversation and even co-create, can be very powerful for organisational learning and knowledge management. But these community ‘conditions’ are generally few and far between. The opportunity for social media for learning is best identified by people who know the existing community well. The community should be supported by decentralised social media initiatives; by people who care about the community on a local level and who deeply understand their needs and behaviours.
Id’ love to read your thoughts on this. Please feel free to comment – I’d be thrilled.