First, kill all the instructors

by Jay Cross on March 30, 2009

Just fooling. I wish we had more instructors. In these explosive times, I’d like to see more of all forms of learning. If we don’t pump more resources into learning, we’re going to be flying blind.

This morning I received an email asking…

How are people using social software to support learning?

I think most of us agree that there is an important social dimension to learning. But in what ways do social software applications such as LinkedIn and FaceBook help people to learn? I am an active FaceBook user (but only with friends and family) and am making more use of LinkedIn, but I don’t find either particularly effective in supporting my learning or the small circles of people that I learn with. Am I missing something? I do find Wikipedia to be a powerful learning tool, one that I access almost everyday and for which I write at least two or three articles a year. But this mostly a solitary activity, except on those few occasions that a useful discussion erupts. Social tagging systems like del.icio.us and CrowdTrust seem to have more potential as social learning tools, but my gut feeling is that they have not yet flowered for this use. So, how are people using social media to enhance their own and their group’s learning?

…to which I replied:

Most of what we learn, we learn from other people.

You say apps like LinkedIn don’t add much to your learning, yet you contacted me through LinkedIn and I hope the connection adds to your learning.

I suspect what you’re not seeing in the social-networked activities is learning that’s packaged like school: discrete topics, an authoritative source, prescribed timing, etc. In fact, most learning doesn’t come from that sort of thing: it comes from conversing with others. And networks promote those conversations.

Look at the current dust-up around a article entitled Long Live Instructor-Led Learning. I had the same response as Tony Karrer, so I will point you to his words rather than repeat them.

I don’t find much value in arguing classroom versus network-based learning or formal versus informal because it’s always a case of a little of this and a little of that. All learning is part formal and part informal; what impacts the results is finding the appropriate balance.

Frankly, I expand the definition of learning because I feel the need to consider outcomes, not just activities. Saying that learning is the acquisition of skills and knowledge doesn’t go far enough. I think of professional learning as that which enables people to do their jobs better. This goes hand in glove with personal learning, which I see as that which enables people to live happier, more productive, and more fulfilling lives. You don’t get there in solidary: most learning is social.

Tagging brings up another aspect, for tags make it easier to figure things out. I’ve off-loaded many things that used to reside in my head onto the web. I can get them when I need them. Learning when and where to find what I need to do my work better, be more productive, etc. serves me better than trying to retain everything in my head.

Nobody has all the answers to the questions you raise. We’re in the process of learning to take advantage of new opportunities with this stuff.

To that end, my next activity this morning is scoping out the next online gathering of Corporate Learning Trends and Innovations. I hope you’ll join us there on April 21, for this will be the primary topic of discussion. Sign up as a member (free) to subscribe to meeting announcements there.

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