Most learning leaders probably have heard of the 70-20-10 ratios of learning. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, it refers to the argument that 10 percent of what anyone learns comes from formal educational events, 20 percent is derived from interactions with others and 70 percent springs from direct experience.
Of course, there are deviations from these approximate figures, but they serve well as guidelines for what kinds of impact different experiences can have on learners. Given the amount of education that takes place in dealing with colleagues (and outside of staged events), it shouldn’t be too surprising learning leaders are broadening their offerings to include social networking.
Although social networking is commonly regarded as something of a virtual playground for Generation Y, sites such as LinkedIn have shown this tool can have application to business and that anyone can use it, regardless of age. And because it’s a primarily a communications platform, a social network obviously can facilitate learning if set up the right way.
A couple of examples illustrate this. The Landstede school system in the Netherlands, which maintains a social network for collaboration between its staff of about 2,000, recently gave its students access this solution in an effort to gradually move their education from a classroom environment to a virtual one. This includes profile pages where users can upload pictures, publish information about their interests and share information with teachers, other students and parents.
“We extended the system so that now all students are now getting their own private area, called a portfolio,” said Martin Amm, founder and CEO of adenin TECHNOLOGIES, which supplies the IntelliEnterprise social networking platform. “Every portfolio has some private areas where they can publish information about themselves (sort of like a MySpace profile) and public areas where they can collaborate and share information.”
In another example, the OSI Group, one of the largest privately held custom food manufacturers in the world, implemented a social network to come up with a standardized way to manage documents and processes and share knowledge among its dozens of manufacturing facilities around the globe.
The OSI Group had considered an investment in a learning management system (LMS), but it found that it could get most of that functionality from a social network and save lots of money in the process — the company saved thousands of dollars on delivering and tracking assessments for 200 people in the company’s leadership group alone.
Obviously, social networks aren’t going to completely supplant the LMS and other learning modalities anytime soon. And although cost savings and user satisfaction can be gauged, the measurable impact on workforce performance from social networks can be elusive.
Still, the effect social networks can have on employee development is fairly evident — research has shown that when it comes to finding opportunities, individuals’ own attributes are less important than their relationships and ties with other people within various networks. And going back to the 70-20-10 rule, interaction with others produces about twice as much in the way of education as formal instruction.
The most interesting thing about social networks and their use in employee development is that the line between learning and interaction is starting to blur a little. Is there much of a difference between education and communication? Where does collaboration stop and learning begin?
“From our point of view, learning isn’t an isolated area,” Amm said. “We are providing this as part of an overall collaboration suite. One of the main advantages is the possibility to leave the ‘isolated training materials’ point of view and relate it to other information. Content can be managed and bookmarked, and you can find people who have worked on similar issues and virtually collaborate and discuss those with them. Capabilities like bookmarking, information training and streaming video work together to provide an infrastructure that allow people to see learning and teaching as an integral part of day-to-day work rather than some isolated process working in a dedicated system.”