Social Learning for the Education Department

BY Guest Writer

Social Learning Weaves Knowledge

We’re happy to announce the first guest post on the Tagoras blog and thrilled that it comes from Maddie Grant of SocialFish. Enjoy! – Jeff

Why do busy professionals turn to social media? For professional development, of course. Social tools make it possible for you to increase participation in your learning programs, actively engage learners, and make your learning programs more effective. Your job will be more rewarding when you transition your learners from passively listening to actively engaging through social channels you intentionally design as part of the learning experience.

But having social tools is just the start: you have to know how to apply them to instructional design. That’s where your expertise in learning and education is invaluable. You now have the tools to apply the principles of adult learning to your programs–whether face-to-face or online. Here are some tips for weaving social into your learning design – and vice-versa:

1. Make social a part of the instructional design of your programs. For adult learners, passive listening is not the most effective teaching method. Luckily, social tools give you the chance to design more engaging, effective programs.

  • Get creative. You can use public social networks or the built-in chat feature of your online learning platform. And you can plan interaction before, during, and/or immediately following the formal presentation of content. For example:
    • Plan collaborative activities using tools your learners are comfortable using. Ask your learners how they prefer to interact, whether through the built-in chat feature or using a Twitter hashtag, for example.
    • Schedule 5-minute chat-back periods into your programs. Ask thought provoking questions that compel participants to share.
    • Invite registrants to comment on what they hope to learn. This is one of many simple ideas to get registrants engaged with one another days before the program. You might choose to use your private online community to host the pre-program interaction.
    • Continue the Q&A after the program. You can schedule an extra 15 minutes of discussion-based Q&A with your expert in your private online community immediately following the program as a way to carry the learning forward.
  • Pair your presenters with experienced facilitators. If you work with subject matter experts who are long on content, but short on engagement, pair them with a partner who can help them segment their content and engage the audience between segments. Since some presenters might mistake participant engagement with distracting side conversation, be sure to brief first-time presenters on what to expect from audience members as they’re presenting.
  • Try alternative formats, and give credit for participation. Try a series of programs that are entirely chat- or discussion-based. Invite a group of expert practitioners to get the conversation rolling and engage the entire group. You might host the discussion on Twitter, a Facebook Group, or your private online community–whatever works best for your learners. If continuing education credit is important for your learners, find a way to offer it for these alternative formats as well.

2. Nurture informal learning channels. You spend most of your time delivering formal education programs, as you should. But for your learners, informal learning channels are just as important. By nurturing those channels and contributing resources there, you can connect with folks who value learning. When they’re ready to spend their training dollars, they’ll turn to you.

  • Promote a Twitter hashtag for your learners to use. Work with your social media team to determine the best hashtag. If you’re worried there won’t be much activity at first, use one hashtag for all of your learning programs, or any hashtag your community already uses. Make sure someone monitors the Twitter chatter just before, during, and after formal programs.
  • Connect the dots between formal and informal channels. This is especially important if you have a private online community or listserv, but also if you have active groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.
    • Preview upcoming formal programs in related informal channels. Don’t think of this as promotion–think of it as sharing what you’re working on. For example, you might ask the speaker to reach out to the group with a pertinent question, or you might pull a particularly interesting slide from the presentation and ask for comments on it.
    • Point participants in formal programs back to related informal channels. Suggest specific, recent discussions that participants can review and even join in. Don’t worry if the discussion is members-only–just be clear about who can access what.
    • Reimagine content from your formal learning channels to feed informal channels. During every formal program, look for a nugget (or a pearl!) that lends itself to posting in social spaces. It could be a brief audio clip, a short video snippet, a slide or group of slides, and even great questions or dialogue between participants.
    • Surface archived programs related to recent discussions. No one knows your catalog of archived programs better than you. When a discussion heats up, chime in to recommend related content from your archives–or better yet, have your presenters chime in.

It’s never too late to start applying social media to education and learning. You may already be doing some of this. And with a little planning and collaboration with your colleagues, you can use social to drive better results for your participants, and greater member engagement for your entire organization.

This post is by Maddie Grant, CAE, web strategist, association practice – ICF Ironworks and lead editor of SocialFish social media blog for associations and nonprofits.

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  1. These are great ideas for implementing social media into your formal learning program. Adult learners are often hesitant about contributing their ideas in a formal classroom setting. Posting them on social media channels gives them a level of anonymity. Comments they may not have made out loud are easier to type. They don’t have to fear negative reactions from other classmates. As a trainer, I value input from my learners about their expectations of the class, reactions to the content, and their self-reflection. I can use social media tools to free my less assertive students to contribute in these areas. I especially like the 5-minute Chat-Back idea. Sometimes it is like pulling teeth to get adults of respond to thought-provoking questions related to the content.

  2. Jeff Cobb says:

    Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts, Robin. I, too, have found that it is often hard to get adults to participate (and I hear this complaint often). One point I would add to Maddie’s great points above is “Be consistent and persistent.” As with so many things in life, people (in this case, educators trying to ignite social learning) often give up right when they are on the verge of success. Most of the approaches above take some effort over time – i.e., they are not just one shot “Post it and they will come” type tactics. Social learning is an investment on the part of everyone involved, but one that can pay off in spades. – Jeff

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