In December the Thinking Cap team posted a blog regarding social learning which included a survey. There was a great response to the survey and that paired with some additional research is the focus of this presentation.
Augmenting an online or face-to-face course with social learning activities sounds great but with so many options in tools and approaches it’s hard to know where to start. In our recent survey 'Social Learning: Fad or Future?' we posed questions to the eLearning community about what types of social learning are being implemented, and the tools being used to augment this learning. We’ve taken this data and the experiences of the participants and put together a set of tips to help get started or improve your social learning activities.
1. Know Your Audience The methods of communicating with your learners will vary based on age, setting and the type of learning being implemented. What social learning activities your audience is comfortable with may differ based on a number of factors: age, learning setting, type of learning being augmented and so on. The results from the survey clearly indicated that the majority of social learning was being adopted by educational institutes, especially those focused on continuing education. This seems consistent with our experience that adults trying to re-educate or improve their existing skills are the most common audience for these activities.
For each of the following factors, consider how best to serve your audience: For each of the following factors, consider how best to serve your audience:
* [http://socialmediastatistics.wikidot.com/age] Age Research what tools are being used by this age group. For example, according to *WikiDot 'Children are more likely to use Bebo (63% of those who have a social networking site profile), and the most popular site for adults is Facebook (62% of those who have a social networking profile).
Formality of Learning Depending on the nature of the learning being provided, formal face to face, formal online or a mix, you’ll need to review how you wish to augment this with more learner collaboration approaches. If you are taking a formal learning approach (as was almost 95% of survey participants) integrating social learning activities can be tricky. Look at how to bring a more social aspect to this formal approach.
Subject Matter What you are teaching has a huge impact on how you use social learning activities. When teaching accounting practices, you may set up a Twitter account or a blog announcing changes in payroll tax calculations or new regulations. One of our clients is running a program on prenatal and parenting education. Due to the length of the program (from prenatal until their child is 14 months) and the more social aspect of the subject-matter, they used social learning activities to build a bond between the learners and their facilitators. Each group of learners has their own blog with which to expand on the topics discussed in the more formal learning sessions. The blogs quickly filled with photos of new born babies and discussions on specific parenting techniques and approaches. Due to these additions program participation has increased especially from the more passive learners.
Cultural and Language Barriers Don’t forget that not all learners speak the same language or come from the same cultural backgrounds. The language barrier (in ELT) prevented some students from understanding instructions. Many were able to create blogs as a repository for their coursework but any supplementary input was limited and interest in blogging soon waned.' [Survey Respondent] First make sure that the team supporting these activities is well-versed in these languages/cultures, or at least as much as possible. In an ideal world, regardless of the language of a blog comment, the entry author should be able to understand and respond. Try to be as inclusive as possible and when you can’t be, try to notify learners up-front.
2. Start Small Start with something simple and build it from there. KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid)... Yes, keeping your social learning approach simple is a great first step. Don’t jump into the deep end until you’ve had some experience with the basics. Here’s some great ways to start small and grow.
Start with a pilot and.. Choosing a pilot course to augment is a great place to start. Whether it’s a face to face or formal online course, make sure that it’s typical of your organization. Start with just one social media activity Pick a simple social learning activity, for example: creating a blog for a particular course as taught by one teacher, or set up a Twitter account for this teacher and supporting staff to update.
Train staff up-front For every social media activity you employ, there are many things you need to consider: who will be setting up the accounts, who will be posting the updates, will there be any graphical/development work involved (i.e. blog templates or Twitter background images) and so on. Make sure that employees understand all of these tasks in advance and that each person has the proper training to complete these tasks.
Get staff buy in Make sure that everyone involved in the pilot understands the level of commitment required to making this a success. Make sure that your staff agrees up-front to a minimum amount of time/posts in a given week.
3. Plan how to manage your communication levels Consistency and regularity are important! In our recent Social Learning survey the two of the most common pitfalls encountered when implementing social learning strategies were the lack of ownership by the staff and the inexperience with the tools by both learners and staff. With these problems in mind, ensuring the quality and frequency of social learning activities is even harder to accomplish but critical to their success. Setting up a blog for a teacher if the teacher never posts will never succeed. Here are a few key tips for managing your updates.
Spread the tasks If you’re lucky you may find that you don’t always need to have the teacher or expert doing all of the updates. You may even find that you can spread the work across several staff members. For example, a blog on a particular course may have a teacher and moderators/tutors. All could be responsible for posting entries to the blog. Or, if you are working with slide sharing tools, you could have administrative staff member be responsible for collecting the presentations, etc.
Determine subject matter Getting started is sometimes the hardest part. Writing the first few blogs entries or twitter updates can sometimes be difficult. To help your authors, start them going with a list of proposed topics to discuss. These topics could be pulled directly from the course’s learning objectives, or relate to the scheduling of the course, i.e. posting when a teacher is available on a given day in their office to answer questions. Post-date updates Sometimes you know well in advance what should be posted on what days. For example, if you have a lesson plan for an entire semester, or you have been able to pre-write your postings for every learning objective from your course. If possible, see if your social media allows for post-dated entries. Determine who will oversee the activities Yes, someone has to be in responsible for making sure all this happens. Find someone with enough authority to ensure updates are taking place. Overseeing many social media activities can be made simple. There are several great tools to help manage this process such as TweetDeck , Ping.fm or RSS readers.
4. Stay on Topic Associate your social learning activities to your learning outcomes Staying on topic is crucial to a cohesive social learning strategy, but the nature of this more informal approach to learning means that it’s that much harder to achieve. While some may argue that social learning doesn’t require a curriculum framework, it’s hard to sell this within an organization. In fact, unless there is some kind of curriculum, how can you track the impact of your social learning activities? 'Any form of online activity should be supported by the course and included in learning outcomes.' [Survey Respondent] This respondent has hit the nail on the head. The key to developing a social learning curriculum is to track your activities back to tangible learning outcomes. To achieve this follow these steps:
Review the course’s learning outcomes For every course you are supporting, look back at the planning sessions and the list of learning outcomes. Making sure you focus the subject of any social learning activity back to this list will help focus the learners and your goals for social learning. After all, what’s the point of spending the time if it doesn’t help the learner? Assess what activities will best support these learning outcomes Even though the face-to-or online course(s) that you are working to augment with social learning should already cover these learning outcomes, this is your chance to offer different approaches to achieving these outcomes. Assess what activities will assist in teaching this subject matter and start with the ones that will have the most anticipated impact. These new activities can vary widely from the restraints of a more formal approach and you should try to challenge yourself to think out-of-the-box.
Keep to the Script When your team sits down to author a blog entry, post a tweet or upload a presentation, make sure that it remains on topic. Try to avoid tangent subjects that draw learners from the topic at hand. -Make sure that you are always addressing or supporting the learning outcome.
5. Plan how to track your success Tracking ROI is important to every organization. Organizations have different reasons for turning to eLearning, whether cost savings, increased audience reach, or improved quality of learning. All organizations are interested in measuring the ROI. “ ROI is a tough one in formal learning... in ad-hoc social learning it’s impossible. Some simply rely on 'hits of interaction others by the quality... I think the answer is somewhere, undiscovered, in the middle.” [Survey Respondent] Tracking the success of social learning is much more difficult than a more formal approach, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.
Establish a baseline Before you start implementing your social learning strategy, look at where things stand. What sort of course feedback, enrollment and success are you seeing out of the courses now? Assess the learners’ average scores in a given course, where they stop progressing in the courses or where they drop out of face to face sessions, their likelihood to participate in class in a face-to-face session, their feedback of their teachers or courseware… Combine all this information into a summary to help assess what you’d like to improve about these numbers.
Traditional Learner Assessments & Feedback There are many ways to gauge the learner’s knowledge retention so use these for social learning outcomes also. Use course exams or tests to track if scores are improving. Also, staff and learner feedback is another crucial method for assessing how the social learning activities impacted the ROI. Make sure in your feedback surveys you are linking these activities to the learner’s ability to successfully complete a learning outcome.
Monitor Social Learning Adoption & Participation While learner enrollment increases can be tracked easily enough, participation is harder to track. Using a variety of social media monitoring tools, such as TweetDeck , GoogleAnalytics plug-ins such as Social Media Metrics , you can track the number of followers, mentions/comments, traffic. Try to track the quality of the mentions – assess if they are positive or negative.
Track Social Learning Timeline Map the activities and their results in a timeline so you can see if they map to any trends in increases of course registrations, participation and more tangible results. Track Enrollments Track the number of learners that are enrolling in the course being augmented by social learning, the number of return learners that enroll in other courses. Track Staff Costs Don’t forget that with social learning activities comes a cost. Track how much time was spent by the staff involved in managing these activities to see if the cost of this time is less that the value of the perceived improvements that come from them. Image by: Kriss Szkurlatowski
We hope this has been enough to whet your appetite and help get you started on building your own strong social learning plan. www.thinkingcap.com