February 22, 2012
social networking

Social Media is not Social Learning

There, I said it.

Social media is not social learning.

Let’s start our analysis with a few definitions first.

Brian Solis took a crack at defining social media as follows:

<the> democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism, one-to-many, to a many-to-many model, rooted in conversations between authors, people, and peers.

Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as:

<a> group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.

Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham, in The New Social Learning, define social learning as:

<the> result in people becoming more informed, gaining a wider perspective, and being able to make better decisions by engaging with others. It acknowledges that learning happens with and through other people, as a matter of participating in a community, not just by acquiring knowledge.

Previously, I’ve defined social learning as:

<an> exchange of ideas, knowledge or information typically characterized by friendly interaction through online services that provides supplemental understanding often via personal & professional networks.

So why is social media not social learning?

Quite simply, one is a noun whilst the other is a verb. You can’t do ‘social media’, but you can ‘social learn’.

In the context of those who work in the learning space, social media is the modality whereas social learning is the act. We may bring various modalities into the learning arena (books, pens, activities, videos, anecdotes, role plays, etc.) but it’s the act of learning that makes everything come together.

Social media, as it stands today, will continue to add new modalities, new applications, new ways in which to connect. I personally fall in love with every new social media opportunity that I get my hands on.

But social learning, in my opinion, is the act of exchanging ideas, knowledge or information through social media means. Regardless of what fancy social media application or technologies are available, it is important to understand the difference between what is social media and social learning. Educators have an important role to play as it cannot be assumed people understand how social learning actually takes place, or how to socially learn in the first place.

Social learning is a behavior. It is not a separate behavior outside of the overall learning spectrum, but one that is also relatively new. One cannot assume that by enlisting in a Facebook or Twitter account (social media examples) that the user will be able to socially learn.

Organizations not only need to help with the definition of learning, they need to provide the right opportunities to help their employees understand how to socially learn as well.

Jane Hart is correct when she opined, “true social learning is an integral part of working, not separate from it.” But, providing access to social media tools in the workplace does not constitute social learning. Those social media applications and technologies need to be worked into both the learning cycles of an organization as much as it has to be embedded into the workflows of common business tasks.

The noun is important, but the verb provides the action we’re looking for.

<Social Learning graphic courtesy of Dennis Callahan>

Originally posted to CLO Blog. Reprinted with permission.

9 Replies to “Social Media is not Social Learning”

  1. great logo, great article. However: is social learning not the general “Learning through social interaction, e.g. though a dialog”? Social media are an important facilitator and extremy boosting this – however social learning can also happen in mentoring or very informal in a coffecorner or networking lunch.
    BTW: In my optinion – although i work for a software company – we focus the discussion around social learning too strong only on the tools (e.g. social media) – what about the system & processes (with elements like learning culture, values, beliefs, governance) and people (re their skills, roles like facilitators, gardeners …)? Best Thomas

    1. @Thomas – hello old friend. I agree with you on several levels. Firstly, social learning really should always be invoking the work of Bandura. He set the bar; defined the term and looked at it as a behaviour, not a tool. Secondly, although my own personal definition of social learning does incorporate the use of tools … it is the behaviour of collaboration that actually allows it to happen. So, for me, you can’t have social learning without the behaviour of collaboration. (see The Collaboration Cycle: https://www.danpontefract.com/?p=697) And finally, to have true social learning occurring in your organization, you have to embed the behaviours into a leadership framework that is for everyone. If it’s not there, don’t expect social learning to actually happen in your org.

  2. Hey Dan, another good read … I agree 100% that they are two separate things. One is about the mindset, the intentions, the need for good action,  the other is about the toolset, the instrument, the enabler.

    As my first blog entry, I to took a good stab at exposing the feeling of unclarity when attempting to “get” what’s really Social Learining. And ditto, I mentioned social tech being part of the equation, and not the answer… And even if we use social technology, that does not mean we will “do” well…

    Social Technology Is like a musical instrument, If the musician cannot play well, no one will want to listen to that “noise”. I mean he could still play, but alone, wearing headphones… 
    If he can play well, let’s not bother with measuring  the “reach” The sound will have… 

    I am thinking of reposting my comment on my blog to. Tempting … Thanks for sparking this contribution  

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