Social Learning vs. Social Media

BY Jeff Cobb

I’ve found in the course of much travel and conversation that it is not uncommon for association educators to not engage on the topic of social learning because social media is the responsibility of someone else in the organization. This raises my eyebrow on at least two points.

The first is the apparent confusion between social learning and social media. They are different. Social learning – the idea that we build much of our knowledge through our interactions with other human beings – has been around since people first started communicating with each other In other words, pretty much as long as people have been around. Social media has arrived only in the last decade (okay, earlier if you count discussion boards, but still…)

Associations have always been in the social learning business. Indeed, a significant part of their value has been as orchestrators of resources for effective social learning – primarily in the forms of meetings and events. The problem is that that this value has been disrupted at its core. Communication is no longer expensive; organization is no longer expensive; the production of content no longer has to be expensive. Associations no longer have a corner on the social learning market in adult continuing education and professional development, but associations that hope to thrive must still understand and excel at facilitating social learning.

Social media is a huge factor in that disruption, so it stands to reason that associations hoping to not only survive, but thrive might want to invest heavily in understanding social media as a social learning toolset. Even so, whether or not they embrace social media, association educators simply cannot ignore the concept of social learning and do their jobs well.

The other eyebrow raiser is the idea that social media is the responsibility of someone else in the organization. It often is true (sadly, in my opinion) that social media is controlled by marketing, but that does not relieve education of learning about and experimenting with the tools from the viewpoint of supporting learning. In more progressive organizations, one person or department may have responsibility for coordinating social media usage, but all major functions within the organizations are sitting at the table when it comes to deciding how social media can support key parts of the organization’s mission. Like, for example, learning.


P.S. – See Defining Social Learning for a fuller definition of social learning. Also, check out our Learning 2.0 resource center for a lot of free resources, including the free eBook Learning 2.0 for Associations.

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  1. Lore says:

    You talk about “association educators”, is there a difference to “corporate trainers” ?

  2. Jeff Cobb says:

    Lore – By “association educators” I mean people involved in developing and delivering education through a trade or professional association. While there are similarities between this group and “corporate trainers,” there are also significant differences. In the case of social learning and social media, while corporations may embrace social both for marketing/customer engagement and training, the audiences are completely different: customers in the first instance; employees in the second. For associations, the audience for social – whether it is for education or marketing/member engagement purposes – is essentially the same: members and prospective members. This distinction, and the very nature of associations themselves, creates challenges (and opportunities) for “association educators” that are not as relevant for “corporate trainers.” Hope that helps. – Jeff

  3. Lore says:

    Thanks a lot, Jeff.
    Your findings are absolutly international!

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