We’ve been learning from others since time began, however social learning over the last few years has captured the learning and development headlines. Since the rise of collaborative online tools the opportunities for very effective social learning have developed so much that companies are now embracing it, incorporating it into learning and development strategies and reaping the benefits. An excellent case study by Towards Maturity on QA, who won an eLearning award for their social and virtual learning, tells how 150 dispersed sales staff across the UK benefitted from the use of social media and the integration of virtual learning. What we know, and also we gather from this case study, is that getting staff to engage with online collaboration is not an overnight win; it takes careful planning and implementation, and time to build the online communities that become of value to staff.
Jane Hart of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies is the author of the Social Learning Handbook 2014. Jane says that the proliferation of social tools makes social learning a powerful way to improve workplace performance, so with Facebook’s launch of their new Facebook at Work are organisations going to grasp it with both hands? The launch of this new Facebook feature has been to a limited audience, presumably as a beta version to receive feedback and iron out any problems prior to a main launch. Facebook at Work enables companies to create their own private, closed social platform that doesn’t include advertisements. Facebook also say that ‘private’ means ‘private’ and they won’t be tracking data within these closed social spaces. At the moment the beta service is free, but I’m sure in the future Facebook will charge for the service.
Facebook is actually very late to the party as there are lots of other social platforms that offer organisation’s a private social area for employee collaboration, such as Yammer, Socialcast and Convo. Some of them are free for limited user numbers, but most require a subscription. Like Facebook at Work they all offer apps so that mobile workers can keep in touch with colleagues and join in social learning opportunities when out and about. Facebook at Work looks like the usual Facebook so staff that are already actively using Facebook may well engage more readily than with an unknown platform introduced by their employer.
For many years I have been introducing training organisations to private social platforms for staff and learners, realising that many are fearful of using open social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter for learning. Some training companies have very successfully incorporated the social aspect of their provision with formal learning programmes using social media. Others have taken aspects of collaborative online tools and incorporated them into learning management systems such as Moodle, with varying success. It’s not an easy task to get learners collaborating online and often takes some imaginative thinking by staff to get the ball rolling. Learners such as apprentices can get real benefits from social learning and collaboration. This is due to the nature of their training programmes, which can mean they don’t meet other apprentices doing the same qualification. Peer support in these situations can bring tangible benefits to the apprentice and the training provider.
So Facebook at Work, if found to work as it says on the tin, may well be not only a great tool for business, but also for education. Let’s watch this space to see how the beta version fairs and then we can evaluate its use for wider sectors.