Internal or External Social Media Tools for Learning

During a few online conversations last week, there were discussions on using Social Media for learning within corporate environments. John Fritz presentation on the Learning and Analytics MOOC #LAK made use of data mining Blackboard activity, Jane Bozarth’s webinar: Technology Toys to Tools included her use of Facebook for conducting classes and a side chat about SharePoint. A discussion on the E-Learning 24/7 Group on LinkedIn started by Craig Weiss reviewed tools that add social networking capability to existing LMSs.

It was interesting to me that people were not making clear distinctions about whether they were talking about external social media tools (Twitter, Facebook) or internal social media tools (SharePoint, Blackboard). The implications for each are very important to how the activity is permitted and tracked in a corporate environment. Most importantly, adoption of the tools by the learners determines the success of the program and the ability to obtain meaningful analytics.

10 years ago I set up a discussion board for a learning website that served a department of 400 people in a pharmaceutical company. It should be of no surprise that no one used the service. The discussion board was not part of any process that the students needed to participate in. This is key.

While in the same company, I participated in an online course that was facilitated but asynchronous, the type supported by programs like Blackboard and Moodle and made popular by University of Phoenix (I’m looking for the correct terminology.) There, the discussion boards were part of the process of taking the class. If you didn’t participate you didn’t pass.

Over the years, the company implemented SharePoint to provide social media tools throughout the organization but it was rarely used for learning. The CEO’s call for new ideas on his home page discussion board only inspired a heated discussion of the availability of bottled water in headquarters. SharePoint was a place that people shared documents and got information but not where they had discussions.

Twitter and Facebook have reached a critical mass so that their use has become embedded into everyday life so there is no concern that people will use it. However, corporate security concerns usually bar these tools from the intranet. Especially in regulatory environments, the only other option is to use SharePoint or Yammer. But if these tools are not embedded into daily work, how could they be used for learning?

After security, the next question about social media tools and learning is about tracking. Learning in corporations is often managed by an LMS. The LMS directs people to the learning and tracks their completions. Since an LMS can point to any valid URL, there really is no problem of using it to guide people to social media resources. To determine how to track the activities, we need to look at the reason for tracking. If we are looking for successful completion of learning objectives, why not just track assessments? If we are looking for robust analytics about the relationship of participation in social learning to improved performance, then we will need to find ways to mine the data.

I have just completed week one of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called Learning Analytics 11. I am hoping to learn more about how to mine learning data and make valuable use of it. I hope to begin a dialog about these implications of social media in corporate environments. Interestingly this format of learning makes use of both internal (Moodle) and external social media. It will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out in terms of the analytics.

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