By Mugdha Narkar
Human beings are social by nature, which means that humans have been living, learning and evolving together, as a group. Back in our school days, we had numerous social activities, where we were required to work with our schoolmates to complete a given task. Sometimes it was about creating an image collage or a poster, a team game like tug of war, a group performance for the annual day, volunteering for planning and executing school activities, marches in remembrance of great personalities, or even the much-hated cleanliness drive.
 

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I always enjoyed these group activities more than the individual ones, probably because they taught me much more than what the task demanded. I learnt more from interacting with people, looking at the brighter side of each individual, sharing responsibilities, and most importantly, sharing success or failure. Above all, these activities gave me an opportunity to observe people around me, share my knowledge with them, and also learn what they were good at. This was indeed social learning, although I wasn’t aware of the concept then.

 
 
 
 

Are the Terms Social Media and Social Learning the Same?

A few days back, I came across these terms again – Social media, social media for learning, social learning – and as I thought more about them, it struck me these are not really so unfamiliar. The common string that runs through these is the social factor, i.e. interaction among people, peers, colleagues, etc.

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Although, the e-learning community is abuzz with these terms now-a-days, and given the fact that they do look quite synonymous, they are fundamentally different from each other.

As stated by Dan Pontefract, Chief Envisioner of TELUS Transformation: “Social media is a tool; social learning is an action. And online social technologies have enabled frictionless social learning opportunities.”

 
 
 
Social media technologies are “web 2.0” tools and platforms that enable “user-generated content” through writing and uploading to a webpage. In short, social media technologies are tools that allow people to interact and collaborate. Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn, Second Life, etc. are some of the most popular social media technologies.
 
As stated earlier, social learning has been the most effective and practical way of learning for us over the years. With the onset of social media technologies, people started interacting more than ever. They discovered that social media provided them with a platform where people with varied personality types could express themselves irrespective of being conscious of others. Slowly and steadily, as people started expressing themselves through their views, each view provided a learning insight, a different perspective! Thus, social media technologies evolved into an effective learning tool with a widespread reach.
 
Acquisition of knowledge by observing and collaborating with people is social learning. In short, social learning is learning from people. Social learning can be achieved through group training sessions, collaborative team-building activities, group discussions, etc.

On similar lines, acquisition of information and skills through social media technologies that allow people to collaborate, converse, provide input, create and share content, is termed as social media learning. In short, social media learning is learning from people with the help of social media. Social media learning occurs through online discussion forums, blogging, wikis, web-based weekly challenges and activities, etc.
 

Why Use Social Media for Learning?

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Before we look at why do we need to leverage social media for learning, let’s first understand what could have prompted this trend.

The first obvious answer is the proliferation of internet and its easy access to masses. Here, the word ‘masses’ encompasses a very wide age group – kids as small as 6 years old, teenagers who are always on a mission to master the newest technologies and gadgets, the middle-aged corporates fishing for the best opportunities for their business/career, and even the retired lot of oldies who long to keep in touch with their young ones. Internet appeals to all for their individual needs, and therefore it is ranked among the necessities these days.
 
Another reason, and the more scientific one probably, is about the shifts in the work environment. As quoted by Marica Corner, former corporate executive & co-author of “The New Social Learning” there have been three major shifts in work:

  • Demographic shift: The minimum age of the new joiners in organizations has dropped, while the retirement age of seniors has been extended, resulting in workers with a wide range of age difference. This phenomenon has been occurring in organizations across the globe.
  • Cultural shift: There are ample opportunities of work available at different locations, people are willing to experiment and move from one place to another. This essentially results in people from diverse backgrounds working together towards a common goal.
  • Shift in learning and practicing: The earlier generation of corporates believed in prolonged discussions, followed by diligent planning and assumptions of success. However, the majority work force today, being younger than ever, believes in doing and performing rather than talking and planning. They want to learn everything possible in the shortest time and want to practice whatever they learnt at every opportunity.

 
Social media cater to all these shifts as they:

  • Appeal to one and all, creating a global reach (addresses demographic shift)
  • Provide a platform to connect strangers with each other through common interests (addresses demographic and cultural shifts)
  • Promote interaction among those who find it difficult to converse face-to-face (addresses cultural shift)
  • Provide a freedom for expression of thoughts and opinions without being judged (addresses shift in learning and practicing)

 
These features have compelled teachers and instructors worldwide to think from the perspective of leveraging social platforms for the purpose of conveying, sharing and building up knowledge – and this shift is certainly transformative!
 

Social Media Learning is Definitely Here to Stay…

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Social media are occupying our everyday life – professional as well as personal – in a big way. Although this shift has probably been caused by the shifts in the work demography, work culture and the way people learn, it is definitely a promising alternative to the traditional learning.
 
So, let’s welcome this trend of social media learning with open minds and hearts, but with cautious and calculated steps.

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