Access = Learning

Learning is about access to information. The more information people have available to them, the more likely they are to learn. Sounds pretty obvious, right? After all, Google has turned into the greatest job support/learning tool ever created because it gives us instant access to the information we need, when we need it. Why should we treat learning in our organizations any differently?

Learning resources should be freely available to the people that need them without forcing them to jump through hoops.  The learning landscape is moving beyond the concept of a course. Times are changing, people are growing up with Google, Digg, Facebook, Del.icio.us, RSS feeds, and Twitter. The way we provide information and training must match the way people consume it.

Remember the newspaper? It got delivered to your door every morning and you sat down to read it over breakfast. That’s how you learned what was going on in the world. How many people under the age of 40 still do that? How many ever did that? The idea that courses are the pinnacle of eLearning is as archaic as the idea of getting news only from the morning paper. Newspapers are scrambling to change their business model, and so should course developers.

Why not just let learners view the resources they need? Web server statistics will give us a lot of information about what resources people are using. We can build simple tracking or feedback mechanisms without a lot of overhead.

If we want people to learn we need to be less concerned about how many pages they view or which quizzes they pass, and more concerned about providing the right information in the right way. Access to information does equate to learning. We know that 80% of learning is informal. We should focus at least 80% of our effort in that direction.

Will Social Marketing Kill Social Learning?

Twitter may be the hottest thing online right now, and is probably the fastest growing social networking tool around. Twitter is all over the news, both online and traditional. Everyone from Barack Obama to the Chihuahua next door has a Twitter account. It’s becoming as commonplace as email.

A couple of days ago ZDNet posted an article about a commercial Twitter spamming tool. Not surprisingly, I heard about the article on Twitter. Twitter spam is nothing new. If you’ve had an account for more than a couple of days, you’ve probably gotten followers who are spammers trying to get you to follow them. The article got me thinking about the negative impact social marketing  has on social learning.

Twitter seems to be changing from a fun way to connect and share into a promotional tool. I got hooked on twitter because I enjoyed reading little snippets about what people were up to. I’ve found a lot of great resources through Twitter. From that perspective, Twitter is a great social learning tool. You can find resources and even get help from your Tweeps (people you follow or who follow you).

I think social marketing could negatively impact social learning. With so many companies getting accounts and pushing their products and services, it’s becoming harder and harder to find value in individual tweets. Companies don’t seem to really understand Social Marketing. Social marketing works when Person A tweets about a product and gets Person B interested. Person B then passes it on to others, and so on.

Just because a company has a Twitter account does not mean it uses social marketing. Using a social networking tool to spam us with ads is not social marketing. At that point it is just advertising, and I get plenty of that already. Social marketing is also not viral marketing. They are very different and companies need to learn the difference.

For me the value of the resource or tweet comes from the source. If B.J. Schone or Tony Karrer posts a link about training, I’ll check it out. They are real people who contribute to the online community. Company X posting links to their own white papers do not have the same value for me and I probably won’t follow the link. More precisely, I won’t follow them to begin with.

I’ve noticed a sharp increase in the number of followers I’ve gotten over the past month or so. I usually wait a few days before checking out their profile, and about half the time the account has been suspended by the time I check it out. I don’t typically follow people unless their profile indicates we have something in common, either professionally or personally.

At least with Twitter we have control. I don’t have to follow every entity that follows me and I can block ones that really offend me. I can unfollow people who do nothing but promote themselves or the companies they work for. I can follow cool services like @php that will help me, or people like @DarthVader that make me laugh, or people like JC Hutchins that I’m a fan of. I can still take advantage of social learning, but I first have to separate the signal from the noise.

Twitter is still awesome even though corporations, spammers, and “social marketers” have jumped on the band wagon. We just have to not follow them. You should measure the value of Twitter by the quality of the people, real people, that you connect with, not by the number of followers you have.  Twitter and other social tools have the power to be great learning resources, just don’t let the spam get in the way. Now I have to go reduce my Twitter noise.