As I’ve written in various places, I believe social media technologies can greatly enhance online learning opportunities. To me—and, I suspect, to most Mission to Learn readers—the equation seems pretty straightforward and obvious.
learning opportunity + social media = more effective learning opportunity
But I wonder more and more about a variation on that equation:
social media + learning opportunity = more effective social media
It seems like an equation that demands the attention of anyone concerned with how to realize value from social media initiatives.
Social media for entertainment alone is ephemeral. The funny YouTube video that goes viral today will be forgotten next week or next month.
Social media for distributing news or information is only as valuable and sustainable as the news or information.
Even an emphasis on relationships, collaboration, and user generated content in social media environments only goes so far if the object of these activities lacks substantive value.
When I look at my own social activities online, the common thread across the ones that I visit most frequently is that they are places where I consistently find I can learn something. Not just find information—Google does just fine for that—but truly expand my knowledge in a way that is meaningful to me. And this generally means that I can engage in a learning conversation. Whether I choose to or not, I can respond. I can engage and contribute.
Of course, it’s important to stress that I’m not using the word “learning” in the very limited way that most people tend to use it. Learning happens in myriad ways (here are 50). It is not the same thing as education (or professional development, training, etc.). Social networks offer a valuable source for the type of learning that self-directed learners tend to engage in.
All of this may seem like an obvious point—particularly to readers here—but as I scan what I am able to of the content out there on topics like social media ROI, the business value of social media, social media marketing, and social commerce, I find that meaningful discussions of learning as a value generator within social media environments are few and far between.
Admittedly I am biased, but I suspect many of those seeking success in their social media initiatives could benefit greatly from knowledge of adult learning theory, instructional design, and assessment and evaluation. Even in the seemingly uncontrollable world of social networks, these disciplines offer tools that can help shape a much higher value social media initiative.