Learning technologies for the social media age

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Julian Stodd
Co-captain
Seasalt Learning
Columnist
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The world is changing and in order to get the most from learning technologies, organisations need to need to relinquish some control in order to truly feel the benefits.

The thing about learning technology is that it isn't really about technology. Sure, it's superficially about devices, systems and licences, but really it's about engagement, community and sociology. To put it another way, it's about our mindset and people and how they learn.

We’ve moved away from infrastructure that is entirely owned and controlled by organisations and towards a more dynamic environment with multiple systems in place – and that’s a good thing.

How our environment has changed

We live in the social age, a time where everything has changed: the nature of work, the social contract between individuals and organisations, the role of social collaborative technology, an evolved relationship with knowledge, the rise of social responsibility and social leadership and a recognition of the power of community - and that's just for starters.

Today, learning is democratised and widely available. The boundaries between the 'formal' and 'social' have eroded, swept away by enhanced communication and decentralised work.

Instead, we exist in a series of communities and spaces, some fully formal, some entirely social, but many that sit somewhere in between.

A diverse ecosystem of learning technology is likely to include three core types of system: core infrastructure, curation spaces and co-creation space.

This shift in spaces has been mirrored by a shift in authority: the degradation of formal, hierarchical, positional authority, replaced by socially awarded and socially moderated authority, based on reputation within communities. It is a reputation founded upon our ability to add value.

So what about the technology of learning? Well, it's primarily facilitating: technology to let us learn. The technology is not the end of the process, it's the start, and we are likely to thrive in a devolved and diverse ecosystem.

Much of the old world learning technology, the learning management systems and performance management systems were about infrastructure and control. They were intended to provide connection, distribution and shared space, as well as to score, mark and control people.

Three new types of system

In the social age, infrastructure is democratised and diverse. We are not short of infrastructure, and much of it is more functional and usable than what organisations can provide.

A diverse ecosystem of learning technology is likely to include three core types of system: core infrastructure, curation spaces and co-creation space.

There's still likely to be core infrastructure - the internal space where the organisation serves up content for a defined syllabus - but it needs to be lightweight and account for the choreography of the experience. It needs to offer simple functionality and be device portable, working on our terms, not the terms of the IT team.

Curation spaces are those in which we can build our reputation, those where we can share content. They may be part of the infrastructure space, but they might not be.

Learning technology is evolving fast, away from the dinosaur systems of old, towards more diversified and agile collections of interconnected technology.

They are almost certainly more 'social' in tone and ownership is by the individual, not the organisation. Spaces like LinkedIn are curation spaces, as are Twitter or Facebook.

Finally, co-creative spaces are those where communities come together to work, to build shared stories and share them (back into curated spaces). The key thing about co-created spaces is not the technology, it's the permission.

The idea of 'ownership'

This notion of 'ownership' is important. In the old world, the organisation owned the message and the space.

In the social age, the message is co-created by both organisation and community and much of the technology has been democratised.

It's no longer about providing one system that does everything, but rather as collection of interoperable systems and spaces with the right permissions to allow us to actually be effective.

Many organisations have implemented 'forum' spaces, but they lie derelict and un-used as there is no clear permission or imperative.

What should you be thinking about?

From the organisational point of view, we need to consider four things:

1. What stance do we take to infrastructure?

Do we own it or allow for diversity, and what is our view of ownership on those spaces. Who exerts control and how?

2. Where are the spaces for curation?

Both internally and externally. How does the organisation recognise emerging social authority from individuals who excel in these spaces and how does it support those who are struggling?

3. Where are the co-creative spaces?

Who has access, who writes the rules, how does the organisation intervene and is it truly ready to listen to what is said?

4. Where are your organisational spaces to test new technology and who has the remit to do that?

Is your IT department the owner or the facilitator? How do you empower the community to choose it's own technology?

Learning technology is evolving fast, away from the dinosaur systems of old, towards more diversified and agile collections of interconnected technology.

Alongside this, our mindset needs to evolve too, away from control, towards facilitation – and it needs to happen fast, because in the social age, everything has changed and only the agile will survive.

Want to learn more? Read Getting the best from social media for learning and development.

About Julian Stodd

Julian Stodd

Julian Stodd is founder of Sea Salt Learning, a global company which helps organisations get fit for the Social Age. You can read more from Julian Stodd on his blog.

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