Social media has NOT changed how people learn forever… not yet anyway.

Last week’s #lrnchat was about social media and how it has changed the world forever.  That’s very true.  However the first question of the chat keeps coming back to me:
Social media has changed how people learn forever.  What else has it changed forever?
It’s the baseline statement that starts the question that I have issue with: Social media has changed how people learn forever.  The truth is, it hasn’t. 
Don’t get me wrong. I WANT that statement to be true.  On a certain level, I need that statement to be true.  But it’s not, at least not as written.
The statement implies that the change has taken place.  It hasn’t.  Sure, there are organizations that are at the forefront.  They are are doing an amazing job of integrating social media into their learning culture, and are blazing a path that other organizations can follow.  Take a look at this video of Dan Pontefract from TELUS, discussing how they use Social Media in their organization.
Based on that video and what I’ve read of the work being done at TELUS, I’m comfortable with the statement Social media has changed how people learn forever… AT TELUS.  Really though… how many organizations have taken their usage of social media to that level?  I suspect the answer is ‘not nearly enough’.
Lack of Mass Acceptance/Implementation
In the context of how people really learn – socially and as part of their work – social media HAS forever changed the world of learning.  The examples shared in the TELUS video as well as others shared in the book The New Social Learning show this to be true. 
The problem comes when you look at the learning and performance industry as a whole.  Let’s assume every organization has a ‘training’ function. How small is the subset of organizations that are actually aware ‘real learning’ takes place outside of classroom and away from an e-learning course?  The subset gets even smaller when you consider how many of the organizations that realize it are actually implementing a strategy that targets this reality.
The organizations that are effectively utilizing social media in their learning culture are blazing a path.  We still have the challenge of getting the majority of organizations to follow the trail.
Perception is Reality
What is the perception of ‘learning’ to our learners?  I find that many people respond to the way they have been conditioned to respond by their life experiences.  Many expect a classroom; they expect lecture; they expect an ‘event’. 
Since all learning professionals are themselves learners, this perception often extends to how the learning function operates.  Too often, training departments continue to do what they’ve always done, simply because “That’s the way it’s always been done here.”
It takes understanding, commitment, and trust for an organization to break away from what they ‘know’ to try something new.  It’s a cultural change, and it won’t just happen on its own.  More often, it starts with learning professionals who are brave enough to hold up their hand and confidently say “There’s a better way”.
It’s not about ‘Starting a Social Learning Program’
If there’s one message I feel is being shouted from the mountain top of late – because people need to hear it – it’s that Social Learning is NOT new.
I was speaking with a colleague recently who asked “How do I get Social Learning started at my company?”  My response, quite honestly, was “You don’t.”
Social learning is already going on at every organization.  You don’t need to ‘start’ it, and you shouldn’t look to ‘control’ it either.  It’s a matter of fostering it, through environment and tools.  It’s also a matter of getting out of the way.
Consider the TELUS video again.  They didn’t create social learning; they introduced tools that enhanced the sharing and made it easier for more people to get involved. 
Answer the Knock at the Door
In order for that original statement to be true, I think you need to add a word: Social media has changed how people CAN learn forever.
The potential is there, as are examples to the benefits enjoyed by those that have harnessed the potential.  As an industry though, most of the benefits of using social media to enhance social learning is just that: potential.
We need to continue to share examples of how best to use these tools for learning, and continue to move towards mass acceptance and implementation.  Only then will the scales tip.  Only then can we say that Social Media has changed the way people learn forever.
The opportunity has arrived.  Now we just need to help each other open the door.

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