Social media – big in 2010 for L&D…or not

by Viv on January 13, 2010

At this time of year, there’s loads of commentators talking about emerging trends in L&D in 2010. Chances are that you’ve read a few that say that social media will be the big thing, and in particular the use of on-line communities to share learning. Whilst I’m happy to be proved wrong, it sounds to me like yet another cycle of hype and disappointment waiting to happen. So I’ll be happy to watch this one from the side lines, but before I do so, let me explain my reasoning.

Whilst it’s probably too early for there to be a robust research base, there are a few oft repeated suggestions about how people behave on-line.
There’s the 90:9:1 rule of thumb about inequality of participation, that is widely enough known to have its very own website¬†Whilst there’s debate about what the numbers should be, and how universally this principle can be applied, there is a sense that passive recipients (or “audience”) form the largest group, there is a smallish group of active recipients (“editors”) and that active contributors (“creators”) are rare.

The key question for any organisation/ L&D department planning to use social media as a key part of its learning mix is: “Why do you think the passive recipients will feel motivated to become active recipients?”.

One big misconception is that because people are active recipients or contributors in other spheres, this will translate effortlessly into the sphere of work. Take a moment to think about what motivates people to use social media in their personal lives. I expect your list will include things like:

  • Keeping in touch with friends
  • Having a good night out
  • Having a good night in
  • Maybe finding a new partner

Compared to these, is anyone really going to be that motivated to use social media for sharing learning points? I guess that most people working at corporates and large professional firms like to keep their work and personal lives reasonably separate. For instance, Vaughan Waller’s straw poll at his accountancy firm (Moore Stephens) revealed that 100% of graduate trainees thought it was reasonable for the firm to block access to Facebook.

A lot of the commentators that you may read are self-employed. By virtue of this their work and personal lives are much more intrically linked and there is a commercial incentive for them to be active online. If they are not capable of recognising that the typical worker in UK plc is driven by different things, you will need to apply that pinch of salt yourself.

I look forward to being sent URLs/ screenshots of online communities that are enhancing organisational performance by sharing learning, because I think this would be great. But my head says it’s not going to happen in 2010 because not enough people are motivated to make it happen.

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