Using social media in learning

A question was asked in the social media community of practice (various levels of authentication required) about using web 2.0 technology to support learning. I couldn’t help myself…

Blogging

Using blogs to record and share learning is a really nice use of technolog. Blogging is great for writing stories and sharing experience, especially when everyone in an organisation can access and search the information on a blog. Fundamentally blogs are just really easy ways of getting content online, but the personal nature of them also helps individuals write about their own knowledge and learning. Get people to blog about a recent learning experience they have had, or about tips and tricks that they have come across in their work that others could make use of.

Forums

One of the things we have come across at Learning Pool when it comes to e-learning is that when people can talk to others about something, it tends to stick in their minds much better than when they just read about it. So our e-learning management system provides forums along with courses so that those studying that lessons can ask questions of the rest of the learning community, discuss the content and work together on problems. Forums can also be used to support face to face training and learning activity too – enabling people to talk to each other about what they learned in the classroom afterwards, helping to make that learning stick in their heads, and to clear up any confusions people might have walked away with!

Wikis

Blogs are good for people to record their personal learning experiences, and forums for having conversations about learning, but what about building collections of resources for people to refer to, and add to, over time? For that you need a more traditionally structured website, but one which lots of people can contribute to. That’s where wikis come in. Any kind of useful web resource, where large groups of people can contribute material, is great for a wiki. Rather than handing out loads of sheets of paper during a training session, why not put them all up on a wiki for people to access online? That way everyone always gets the latest version, and if there’s is something that needs correcting or updating, someone from the community can do it for you. Alternatively, wikis are great for building online dictionaries or jargon busters, for example.

Twitter

It might be considered a distraction to have people sat in a training sessions fiddling away with their phones, but actually having people recording and sharing what they are finding out is a great way to learn! It’s just like taking notes with paper, only everyone can re-use it. If you use a common hashtag with your training, everything that has been tweeted during the sessions can be drawn together in one place and everyone can benefit from it. Even better, by using a public platform like Twitter, you can get people not present in the training giving their input too, adding to the mix of ideas.

Media sharing

A great way for people to consolidate learning is to record training sessions and let them watch, or listen to them again later on. It’s simple enough to record a video of a talky bit of training using a Flip or Kodak video camera and then share it either publicly on the web or on an intranet, say. Alternatively, audio podcasts might be easier to do and share. Other resources can be shared online too, whether presentations using a public site like Slideshareor other documents and learning materials on Scribd. By sharing this stuff publicly, others can take what you have done and add bits and improve it in places and everyone can benefit. To see an example of this, check out this fantastic resource from the Scottish Government Library Services.

Social bookmarking

Sites like Delicious, which let you store links to useful web pages and sites on a public webpage are a great way for a group of learners to share the great stuff they find online. Once you get into the habit of bookmarking interesting articles using a social bookmarking tool, it becomes a quick and easy way to build up huge knowledge bases of related content. Using tagging to build up your own vocabulary of key words to describe content makes bringing together resources on a similar topic really fast too.

Social networks

Using social network type features, as seen on Facebook and others, is a really useful way of combining a lot of the activity above with a great method of further sharing people’s knowledge, talents and interests. Social networks tend to feature Twitter-like status updates, discussion boards and media sharing (but generally not wikis, sadly). What they also have is user profiles which are great ways for people in an organisation to share details of what they know about, what they do, what they are interested in and where there talents lie. So much more useful than the traditional ‘yellow pages’ style staff directories! So if you need some expertise on an issue, someone to lead a training session maybe, if you have an internal social network you could search and find the ideal person.

A digital engagement glossary

DictionaryThis glossary of social media and digital engagement terms comes from a recent piece of my strategy work. It’s skewed towards the government sector, in terms of language and examples. Feel free to use any of this that might be useful for other purposes. Or to challenge my definitions. Or, perhaps, to add glaring things I’ve missed. There are probably no definitive answers to some of these, but I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.

Blog: Derived from “Web log” – originally a regularly-updated journal on which visitors (and the original author) could leave comments. Now generally used for a site (or section of a larger site) where text-based content can be created in the form of short articles, almost always open for comments to be posted. These comments may be subject to some degree of moderation.

Campaign site: Website created in association with a specific promotional campaign; usually for a defined period of time; may include facilities to receive user feedback and present an opportunity for engagement.

Commentable document: A facility for hosting a document under review, usually divided into manageable sections, and permitting comments to be left for the author – and to permit dialogue between commenters. Combines some of the features of a wiki for collaborative working, but retaining an initial document structure throughout. Has been used on a number of government policy documents made available for digital consultation. One tool that delivers this functionality (an implementation of WordPress) is Commentariat. e.g. http://interactive.bis.gov.uk/lowcarbon

Content-based networking sites: e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, TripAdvisor – sites based on content of a certain type (e.g. video, images, reviews) with a strong element of user feedback, user-generated content (UGC) and elements of social networking (e.g. ability to create groups, forums, favourites, peer-to-peer relationships etc.)

Crowdsourcing: The use of digital (or other) media to allow the contribution of information or ideas from a wide range of people, usually around a topic, a question, or a request for innovative suggestions.

Dashboard: a utility that searches and aggregates information from many channels across the internet, and displays it all in one place, in real time, for management, monitoring or consumption purposes. Example: www.netvibes.com/socialcare

Digital engagement: The use of interactive techniques to improve service delivery and information provision via digital media technology.

Email subscription: Although not ‘social’ in terms of community formation and peer-to-peer interaction, allowing users to register email addresses to receive personal(ised) updates represents a form of digital engagement. Digital tools build a two-way relationship: the user receiving content, and also experiencing some sense of being part of a community, even as information recipient.

Forum: Area for registered members to discuss specific topics. Can form part of a wider overall site. Characterised by a core user base making multiple contributions and often sharing relationships or culture. Forum content may or not be moderated.

Group: A type of forum generated by users within a social networking or similar type of site. Shares many of the characteristics of a forum, but can be more volatile. Members (who are a subset of the members of a larger form or social network) will typically interact for a shorter period of time, usually around a specific single issue. Creation of fan pages (or similar designations) also effectively forms a Group.

Metadata: Information about information. Often invisible to the user, metadata allows content to be classified, structured and sorted. Tags represent a use of metadata.

Microblogging: e.g. Twitter, Identi.ca, Yammer (the latter within corporate environments). Member communities sharing short message content, openly and by direct peer-to-peer message. Highly flexible in their use, and prone to rapid escalation of issues: creation of “a Twittermob”.

Moderation: Editorial judgement over or control of user-generated online content. Numerous varieties exist, from moderation by peers or by the site owner/author, to outsourced arrangements where professional moderators assess and process comments on a larger scale.

Post: To publish content to a blog, micro-blog, forum or website, either as a new topic or as a comment on existing content. Also, as a noun, to describe the content posted (synonymous with ‘blog post’, ‘forum post’ etc.).

Private social networking site: A social network intended for a specific community of interest. Offers similar features to an open social networking site, but almost always sets conditions and controls over entry and participation. E.g. sites set up using Ning.

User-generated content: Any content provided by users, rather than the owners of an online environment. May or may not be moderated (see above)

User feedback: A specific type of user-generated content: that created as a response to provided informational content. Can take the form of freeform text comments, ‘votes’, likes/dislikes, or more detailed survey-type information.

Social bookmarking: A method by which people can store, organize, search and share articles, blog posts and other information. There are many different libraries, each with their own bookmark, including Digg, de.lici.ous and Reddit. Increasingly, posting content links as tweets or to Facebook profiles provides a common form of bookmarking.

Social marketing: The use of marketing techniques to achieve desired social outcomes (e.g. behaviour change). May or may not involve the use of social media. Included here to avoid confusion with social media marketing.

Social media: Digital tools that permit people and organisations to interact freely with low (or no) barriers to entering a conversation. The nature of the relationships between social media users is often as important as the content they share – the ‘social’ aspect is very important.

Social media marketing: The use of social media to promote a particular cause or product. May or may not have social marketing implications. Included here to avoid confusion with social marketing.

Social networking site: A website offering general-purpose networking features to all who may want to join. Facebook dominates the adult market; Bebo has a focus on a younger/teenage audience; MySpace is now focused on music/video content and may be regarded as a content-based networking site, albeit one with a high membership.

Tags: Keywords describing online information that allow other users to search for relevant information.

Twitter: The best known of the micro-blogging platforms. Users contribute short messages, either on the twitter.com website, or using a number of third-party ‘client’ applications: whatever the route, interaction happens in a consistent and open way. Terms include:
Tweet: to post content (short messages up to 140 characters long)
Re-tweet: to republish another’s post. Good for spreading messages widely, or adding commentary to them
Hashtags: words or phrases preceded by ‘#’. This allows them to be grouped together and easily searched.

Webchat: A structured discussion using instant messaging to a host, who then responds. Usually moderated.
Example: http://webchat.number10.gov.uk

Wiki: An open collaboration environment in which users may freely (or with some controls) create and modify content as a community. The best known example is Wikipedia, where an open community collaborates to create an encyclopaedia, but wikis can be used for tasks as varied as communal creation of a policy document, or managing the names and interests of attendees to an event.


Dave writes… Paul Clarke is a very nice man who is also very clever and good at lots of things. He blogs at honestlyreal where a version of this post previously appeared. You’ll find him on Twitter – @paul_clarke. He’ll also be coming to the Learning Pool conference on 12th May to take a few photos and join in the conversations.

2009′s top tech

Here’s a quick roundup of some things I’ve really started to get some use out of in 2009. Not necessarily services that were new to the last 12 months, but ones which became a vital part of my toolkit.

You’ll notice Google Wave isn’t on the list – for me, it’s still a great bit of tech in search of a problem to solve. The idea posited here, that it’s real value will be in the enterprise, is interesting.

Key things that come out of this list for me are:

  • For me to really love a service or application, it has to run nicely – preferably using a dedicated app – on the iPhone. It also needs to have a web interface, so I can access it using different computers.
  • I also prefer tools which interface nicely with the other things I use – silos for my information and content don’t really interest me.

1. Basecamp

Despite the fact that there are a lot of things about Huddle that I like more than Basecamp, I’ve found myself using the latter more and more in 2009. I think it is partially the email integration I like so much – the fact that people can take part in online discussions without having to leave their email client.

In 2010, though, I suspect that Huddle will break through into the government space, and that I’ll start using it a lot more. One reason for that will be the integration with Microsoft Office, which could be a real game changer.

Both Basecamp (unofficially) and Huddle now have iPhone apps, making them accessible in a usable format on the move.

2. Evernote

I have mentioned Evernote in a few posts before – it’s a very useful and clever little service. You create notebooks which contain note pages within them. All are synced in the cloud, so whether you access them via the desktop app, the iPhone app or the website, you can read and edit them wherever you are.

Great for storing quick notes, links to look up later, or even photos and audio notes. I use it a lot to jot down and develop ideas for blog posts.

3. Posterous and Tumblr

I’m going to cover these two in a dedicated post on ‘easy blogging’ soon. Both make it stupidly quick and easy to record content online. Both work brilliantly on mobile devices with apps (Tumblr) or excellent email integration (Posterous). Both seamlessly interact with other online services, like Flickr, Twitter and Facebook.

4. Mailchimp

If there is one technology that government really ought to be making better use o, then it’s email. Fine, lots of people moan about having too much of it, but given the option between getting an email or having to check a webpage, they’ll go for the addition to their inbox every time.

Email works on mobiles, is accessible and pretty much everyone knows what to do with it. Services like MailChimp – and there are others, like Campaign Monitor – make it easy to collect lists of email addresses and send messages out, tracking what people click on and how many people open the addresses.

I have a bigger post on email in the pipeline.

5. Yammer

Since joining the Learning Pool team, the problem of keeping communications working in a distributed workforce have become really apparent to me. But since we started using Yammer in a serious way across the company, those problems seem to have disappeared.

Yammer, for those that don’t know, is a Twitter-like service that is private for organisations. Authentication is based on your email address, so everyone on the same email domain can access that organisation’s Yammer stream.

It works really well, and the service is used for a true mixture of ‘what I’m doing today’ type updates, office banter, general messages and discussion. Kent County Council are also using Yammer to great effect – anyone else?

6. Skype

I’ve been using Skype for years, but never more than now. Part of that is for the same reason as for the use of Yammer – chatting to the Learning Pool guys, who are all heavy Skype users – but I’m now using it a lot to talk to family as well.

I’d put quite a bit of this down to hardware – all the computers in our house now have webcams built into them, which makes using services like Skype much easier and more effective.

7. Adium

Adium is a great little multi-protocol instant messaging client – which means that within the one application, I can chat to people using Google Talk, MSN, AIM, Yahoo! and Facebook.

Instant messaging is now something I use much more than before, and Adium makes that easy. IM is often seen as being a bit old hat these days, what with it being a fairly closed and usually one to one medium. But sometimes you need the immediacy, and, yes, the one to one-ness. These days more time seems to be spent communicating, which affects every medium.

8. Dropbox

I came to Dropbox late, but it is an awesome tool and probably the best cloud-based file storage solution. It adds a drive to your desktop computer, or your laptop, to which you can save files, which can then be retrieved on other machines via the web interface, or the iPhone app, or indeed the drive application if you have that installed elsewhere too.

Dropbox makes it a doddle for me to be able to access the files I am working on whether I am using my laptop or my desktop.

9. Delicious

I’ve been using it for years, but I’m starting to find more and more value in Delicious. Part of the reason is the huge number of links I now have in there, which I can access and search easily using the Firefox plugin, also the way it interfaces with other services, like the occasional blog post that pops up automatically here, to cross posting links to Twitter.

I’m also finding myself subscribing more and more to individual users’ accounts in Delicious, to see what they are bookmarking. It may seem rather old hat these days, but if you are interested in using the web as a learning tool, then social bookmarking is a vital part of the toolkit.

10. Wikipedia

There probably hasn’t been an hour that went by, when I was awake, during 2009 in which I didn’t refer to Wikipedia at some point. I’d never used it as a single source, or for any serious research (other than to follow up the links it references, perhaps) but to get the lowdown on a topic fast, it’s an astonishingly good resource.

I often mock it for its focus on tech and pop culture when I mention it in talks, but that is probably where I get most of my use out of it. Oracle want to buy Sun? What do Oracle actually do, anyway? Wikipedia make it dead easy to find out.