Excerpt from “Social Media for Trainers” (Pfeiffer), by Jane Bozarth.
By Jane Bozarth
What is social media?
“Social media” refers to online material produced by the public, and is distinct from content produced by professional writers, journalists, or generated by the industrial or mass media. Examples of social technologies used to create social media include those for communication (such as blogs), collaboration (such as wikis), communities (such as Facebook), reviews and opinions (such as Amazon reader reviews), and multimedia (such as YouTube).
The idea of social media is an outgrowth of the concept of “Web 2.0.” This, in turn, is distinct from the early days of online material, which has come to be known as “Web 1.0.” Where Web 1.0 offered static Web pages created by a few individuals, Web 2.0 technologies invite everyone to create and share content.
Think back to your own experience using the Internet. Ten years ago, a person who wanted to create a simple Web page with pictures, links, and video had to have some knowledge of programming and skill at working with graphics and multimedia, needed FTP software for uploading the files, and required access to a server to put them on.
Five years ago, a person who wanted to create a simple Web page with pictures could create a blog, and, upon logging in, had tools for adding things such as pictures and links. That person then had to find ways to draw readers to the blog. Someone wanting to just share pictures needed a login and account for that (FlickR, Snapfish), then needed to notify others that pictures were there; someone wanting to share video needed a YouTube account and login. Typically, each tool employed had its own site, separate login, and often a separate learning curve for the user.
Nowadays (assuming you have at least seen Facebook), consider what is available to even the minimally skilled computer user: a one-login place that aggregates all the features of the other sites. You set up one account, log in once, and can post thoughts, participate in discussions, share pictures, videos, and links. It is truly different, much more democratic, and decidedly more empowering than the “old days” of Web 1.0.
So, if nothing else, try to look at social media tools for their ability to empower individuals. They allow for ease in creating and sharing content, support conversation and collaboration, help to connect people in disparate roles, and reduce barriers of time and geography.
Why Social Media in Training?
The effective use of social media strategies to supplement, or be used in place of, traditional training endeavors can provide a big payoff for both learners and trainers. For one, the technologies dissolve many of the barriers between the learners and the instructor, creating a more informal, collegial, and interactive learning environment.
Trainers and learners frustrated with elements of the traditional approach will find some relief through using social media. It can provide a vehicle for continuing conversations beyond the time constraints of the workshop schedule. It can extend the learning process beyond the confines of the classroom space and support development of communities of learners. It’s important to realize that, even if as a trainer you do not find traditional instruction frustrating, many of your learners have made their interest in and acceptance of online interaction clear. Again, social media tools can help the trainer meet learners where they are.
Training strategies incorporating social media tools can help learners become more aware of their own learning process, more mindful of and deliberate about their own learning, and encourage them to take ownership of learning and then apply it to their job. Perhaps most importantly, effective use of social media in training can provide additional support for sustaining new learning and transferring formal training back to the workplace; this is essentially the focus of the book, and you will see many examples as you go through the individual chapters. And finally, thoughtful use of social media in training can provide additional support for, and room to include, the training department in the informal learning so critical to job success.
The traditional model of workplace training and development tended to look something like this: In the span of a 20-year career with a company, a supervisor might have attended, say, a 2-day new hire orientation program, a 6-module supervisory skills course, a multi-session leadership development program, and finally a daylong retirement planning seminar. Along the way there likely were other training events, such as compliance updates, training in new processes or procedures, and workshops on using new software or equipment. But the vast bulk of this worker’s time was spent on the job, not in a structured training event.
But consider what else was happening with that supervisor. During that 20 years she was spending many, many more hours engaged in informal learning activities (although she may not have always recognized these as “learning”): coaching from the next-level manager, meetings with a chosen or assigned mentor, casual conversations in the hallway or at the water cooler. She was learning via the “Hey, Joe!” phenomenon: “Hey, Joe! How do I reformat these tables again?” “Hey, Joe! What did you say was the trick to getting these contracts through so quickly?” She was reading, viewing online tutorials, and, yes, learning by trial and error. Research (Dobbs, 2000) indicates that as much as 70 percent of workplace learning is informal, occurring outside the classroom and in the spaces between formal training events. Social media is one way for the training department and the training practitioners to get into those spaces and reach that employee between events. In essence, training approaches incorporating social media strategies more closely resemble how we really learn in our day-to-day activities.
Choosing What to Use When
Think of the different technologies as “tools,” for that’s what they really are, and choose the one that suits your instructional goals. Facebook is a hammer, a wikis is a saw, and each is suited to different overarching goals. It is tempting—and I am often asked—to offer one answer for a given situation. (As in, “If you want to have a community, then use Facebook. If you want to do collaborative work, use a wiki.”) It just isn’t that simple. Lots of tools can support a community: It may surprise you to hear that my own “best” community, for my own development, exists among my Twitter contacts. Most tools will allow you to have discussions or do collaborative work. You’ll need to choose things that support your instructional goals, but also those that your organization will allow (such as, perhaps, Facebook instead of MySpace, or an inside-firewall microblogging tool instead of Twitter), what your organization already has in place (such as a company Facebook page or blog) and what your users are already using and/or will accept. You also need to choose tools that you are comfortable using and will work to support: As you can see in Chapter 4, a blog may not be the best choice for the trainer who doesn’t like to write.
This book tries to help you choose the tool or tools you need. They are all the means to an end (better transfer of learning, more engagement in the learning process, growth of a learning community, support for informal learning), but they are not ends in themselves. The point is not to “do” Twitter any more than it is to “do” e-learning. Always consider: “What do my learners need? How can I help them get it?” And stay alert, as tools change, evolve, and come and go, to new possibilities.
Jane Bozarth is also the author of “Better than Bullet Points: Creating Engaging eLearning with PowerPoint,” “eLearning Solutions on a Shoestring,” and “From Analysis to Evaluation.” “Social Media for Trainers” is now available for eReaders and in paperback from www/Pfeiffer.com and booksellers everywhere. You can join the Bozarth in using social media tools via Twitter @JaneBozarth or @SoMe4Trainers, or on Facebook www.facebook.com/SoMe4Trainers.