Social networking sites such as MySpace.com and YouTube.com have become so popular that well-known companies such as Google are taking notice — it recently purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion.
Does this socially motivated Internet activity have any implications for the CLO? Absolutely, some say. Expanding on the basic idea of social networking — building a community — can not only enable cost effective learning, it can bring some fun to the learning process.
“Most people are very hung up on social networking as something that is mainly for teenagers to meet their friends and find dates and so forth,” said Eric Alterman, founder and CEO of KickApps, a company that creates social networking sites. “But the next generation of social networking, along with user-generated content — which, collectively, I describe as community — can be used in specific context, and many of those are related to learning.”
One context relevant to the corporate learning environment might be employees in different locations who work in teams and need to educate one another about what’s going on in their particular projects.
Alterman said different professional-perspective mind share, as well personal sharing, can create an environment more conducive to learning. Instead of friends on MySpace, there can be colleagues in a similar corporate social networking space, or “friends” can have a much broader context related to exploring, explaining and teaching one another.
The increasing number of Gen Yers coming into the workforce has many CLO evaluating ways to provide the type of learning these computer-savvy users expect. Social networking offers a potential solution, one that is applicable to any age, providing the learning tool is easy to use.
“This generation is used to communicating in that fashion,” Alterman said. “MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, the ability to use and share lots of data — the next generation of tools, especially in a corporate environment, is going to be a little simpler to use, so it won’t just be the younger people in the organization who use it. They’ll just be the early adopters. Once these tools are introduced, social networking and user-generated content functionality, the key is having tools that are simple enough to use that older people in the organization can really embrace the stuff quickly.”
Further, to be effective, Alterman said social networking as a learning tool has to be fun. Otherwise, people would communicate by e-mail.
“There has to be cool stuff that you can do: upload videos to a Web site, have a community board and other multimedia,” he said. “And there have to be very simple ways to work with multimedia because social networking is becoming so much multimedia-focused.”
Social networking also might be worth investigating because of its potential as a cost-effective learning delivery method.
“If you look at the principles of why MySpace and YouTube were acquired for so much money, and why this is such a hot space in general, it’s because the acquisition costs of user-generated content are near zero,” Alterman said. “Not only that, you’re getting stuff that’s more ‘real.’ It’s not overly produced content made by people who think it might be interesting — it’s real personal content that there’s absolutely a market for.
“In a corporate environment, you have people with real knowledge at their fingertips who want to share that. Say, ‘Hey, get a little camera, plug this into your laptop, we at the corporation really want to hear what you have to say, your knowledge that you’ve accumulated here for 10, 20 years.’ Let that guy become a rock star on his own, or let that woman really shine and let people know, ‘Wow, she really does know a lot that we need to know.’ That’s a lot different than sending a professional camera crew around and scripting something for the HR department. It’s not nearly as personal or as effective, and it’s not interactive.”
Social networking starts with a conversation, Alterman said. It’s about empowering individuals to contribute, and while the cost to acquire that content is less, there has to be a complex IT platform available to enable a lot of media management that is simple to use and offers monitoring capabilities.
“You have to make sure there’s nothing offensive on the corporate Web site,” Alterman said. “And you have to make sure that users or employees, if five or 10 or however many decide that something shouldn’t be on the site, there has to be an automated way for it to automatically come down once it’s flagged as inappropriate.
“There’s a little bit of letting go that has to happen from the people who are in charge of doing this. On a senior level in the company, across the board, there has to be the idea that this is very good for the culture, as long as we can do it in a controlled way. There’s a learning curve, and a decision has to be made that we want this. Once that decision is made, all of the benefits will come through.”Filed under: Learning Delivery