How Social Learning Platforms can Improve Performance
October 30, 2009
Current Trends and Issues in
Currently, I am a graduate student in the Information and Learning Technologies
program with an emphasis on instructional design and adult learning at the University
of Colorado at Denver. I am also an instructional designer and developer with a
telecommunications company that provides cable, Internet, and telephone services to
designated areas within the United States.
My company currently trains its new employees through a two to four week instructor-
led program. We are converting our instructor-led curriculum to e-learning using
traditional authoring tools such as Captivate, Presenter, and Sum Total. This automates
the curriculum, helps us save time, and allows us to reach learners in varying locations
(Knight, 2009). As a learning-technology leader, I play a fundamental role in this
transition and am consistently looking for new methods and ideas to improve my
workplace and work culture.
This Futures Reflection assignment allows me to view emerging technology from a
unique and purposeful perspective. It challenges me to analyze the technology and
determine how it can work for me, and how it will impact my life in five years.
Futures Forecast – Life Five Years from Now – 2014
I’m sitting in the back of a
classroom in St. Louis. Another
day, another business trip. I do
miss the comfort of my own
bed, but I have to say, seeing
my ideas come to fruition is so
rewarding. I see small groups
of employees sitting around a
computer, some are sitting
around the equipment we sell.
People are effortlessly moving
from one group to another,
taking notes and participating
in the conversations. The
instructor is circulating the room looking for signs that she is needed and offering
suggestions. The class bonded quickly. On the first day of class, everyone was quiet; this
is always expected. But as we introduced exciting tools and collaboration projects, the
class began to socialize and share ideas. They’re laughing and pointing out cool things to
each other; they’re sharing knowledge without even realizing it! And the best part is,
their jobs are easier and more fun once they leave the safety of the training room.
Because they have control over what they learn, they do not lose interest, retain more
information, and perform better.
It’s hard to believe that at one time, my company was running to catch up with e-
learning technologies; we were always just one step behind. During our mad dash to
catch up with the industry, save time and money by automating training, and improve
the learning experience for our employees, we realized that traditional e-learning wasn’t
necessarily the answer.
Seeing that the industry was moving on to bigger and better things just as we were
catching up to e-learning, I gave my manager a new idea. Instead of converting our
instructor led courses to e-learning courses, why don’t we skip ahead and grab the next
new thing: social learning platforms. She loved it.
I spent nearly a year reorganizing our file management structure and documenting our
content in various ways. I researched the different social learning platforms that were
available such as SocialText and Mzinga. I chose a platform with data privacy and
security, and started moving our content to it. However, instead of uploading manuals
or e-learning courses, I loaded the content in personalized and interactive forums such
as interactive websites with avatar guides. This helped participants chose their own path
to the content. I created a database of employees so they could create custom profiles
and blogs. I also created wiki workspaces, blog depots, podcasts, videos, and interactive
games to guide participants to the relevant content.
This platform supports the exploratory instructional architecture defined by Ruth Clark
(2008) by offering media-rich learning resources, effective navigational interfaces, and a
high level of learner control. We are also able to accommodate learners who prefer a
guided discovery instructional architecture through collaboration, simulation, and the
opportunity to learn from their peers and their mistakes (Clark, 2008).
As I created our social learning platform, my department analyzed the proficiencies an
employee would need to perform their job well. They identified the “nice to know”
information and eliminated it; that was a huge relief! They developed a list of
competencies and timeframes in which the participants would need to achieve these
When we combined the
competency goals with the
social learning platform, we
found the perfect marriage.
Of course it was a rough
transition, but now we’re a
leader in corporate
instructional design, and
other companies want us to
build their social learning
platforms! Our sales are up
over 10%, project
management duration has
improved by 25%, we have
shorter training durations,
and we’ve reduced email by
over 30% (Socialtext,
Statistics are great; they tell us if we’re on the right track. But the most exciting part of
this experience is seeing the learners embrace what they’re learning. That’s what I’m
doing now. I’m conducting research for a presentation that compares the learning
environment and performance success of employees who were trained before the social
learning platform, and those who were trained after its implementation. I used to see
employees sitting through training just to collect a paycheck. Now I see participants
engaged and active! New Hire training is now more participative, social, and
collaborative (Knight, 2009). They can now blog, micro-blog, use RSS feeds, share files,
communicate, and collaborate all through one platform (Knight, 2009). They share their
knowledge with one another and create a collaborative learning environment that spills
over to our culture. We have less attrition, higher quality assurance scores, and
employees report a higher sense of job satisfaction.
Most classes (like the one I am observing) are still classroom-based and instructor led.
We spend the first portion of the class time teaching the students how to use the
platform. We show them the tools that are available to them, expose them to the
competencies they must fulfill, and offer guidance and support. We focus on
empowering individuals to be competent in their own learning (Karrer, 2006). The
instructor facilitates activities and is always available to help. Instructors must observe
participants’ behaviors so they can identify situations where they need to offer guidance.
The only difference between our classroom environments and distance learning is that
the participants all connect to one another through webinars. We use web cams to
increase the social aspect of the training. All participants access the webinar from their
permanent workstation at the same time and use the social learning platform together.
With the use of blogs and micro-blogs, they are able to learn in a large group or small
However, the need for self-contained learning delivered in sequence still exists (Karrer,
2006). We use traditional e-learning to deliver compliance training, safety courses, and
basic skills. To comply with legal regulations, we must deliver compliance and safety
training to each employee in the same way. We also use traditional e-learning or
blended learning to help participants gain background knowledge and relevant content
knowledge. This ensures that the exploratory and guided discovery instructional
architectures are used successfully (Clark, 2008).
I’ve collected enough data and observational context to compile a phenomenal report
about the success of our social learning platform. Now that we’re ahead of the curve, I
can take one brief moment to breath, and then it’s time to look for the next big thing
Although the tools and platforms already exist, we are not currently using them. This
assignment gave me the opportunity to research emerging technology and made me
think critically about what my company is doing, and what we can do. I chose to discuss
social learning platforms because I believe in their usefulness. Social networking has
already captured the world and people use sites like Face Book and Twitter daily. It’s
only natural for us to try to harness the engaging aspects of these networks. With some
thought, time, and planning, we can make learning more interactive, more exploratory,
and more meaningful. I plan to use the information I discovered while writing this paper
to influence my management staff to pay greater attention to technology. My goal is to
fully integrate adult learning theory, instructional design practices, and technological
advancements to improve the training we deliver. I want my company to be the leader
rather than the follower.
Clark, Ruth. (2008). Building Expertise. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Karrer, Tony. (2006, August). Course and Courseware Fading Future of eLearning.
Retrieved October 30, 2009 from eLearning Technology:
Knight, Jane. (2009, April). The future of e-learning is social learning. Retrieved
October 30, 2009 from Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies:
Socialtext. (2009). Retrieved October 30, 2009 from Socialtext: