How to create a social learning environment

A social learning environment is an online destination where people can come together to co-create content, share knowledge, and learn from one another. It combines social elements like networking, tagging, file sharing, and microblogging to create a safe space in which to work and learn collaboratively. Social learning consultant Jane Hart has published an excellent three-part series on the art and practice of building these learning places.

Five categories of organizational learning

As identified by Hart:

1. Formal Structured Learning (FSL) – within formal training like classes, courses and workshops

2. Intra-Organisational Learning (IOL) – where employees keep the whole organisation up to date and up to speed on strategic and other internal initiatives and activities

3. Group Directed Learning (GDL) — where groups of individuals working together in teams, on projects support a group approach to learning

4. Personal Directed Learning (PDL) – where individuals organise and manage their own personal or professional learning

5. Accidental and Serendipitous Learning (ASL) — when individuals learn without consciously realising it (aka incidental or random learning)

A Social Learning Environment (SLE) therefore needs to provide an infrastructure that supports all these different kinds of social and collaborative learning; that is it needs to offer a secure personal working/learning space for individuals as well as group spaces for project and formal learning groups, and a community space for the whole organisation. A SLE will also integrate key social media technologies to provide the necessary social tools for collaboration and information sharing across the enterprise … But more importantly it should provide an open, collaborative environment where individuals are not “managed” or “controlled” but rather “supported” in their working and learning.

The series:

Building a social learning environment: Part 1 – Using free, public social media tools
Says Hart, “I think that this approach is best used by individuals to build their own personal or professional social learning environment outside the organisation—which is the way that I use public social media tools—to share and collaborate with colleagues worldwide.”

Building a social learning environment: Part 2 – Using Google Apps
Google, she says, “offers the full range of social media functionality across its suite of tools, which can be used by individuals either to create a personal learning environment or by a team or an organisation to create a social learning environment … the versatility and sophistication of the full range of Google online tools is unbeatable….”

Building a social learning environment: Part 3 – Using Elgg
For some, these off-the-shelf tools may not be secure enough, and some may feel frustrated that the tools are not well integrated, “requiring different logins and interfaces and so causing confusion for users and limiting the ability to share content between the tools.” For those who are really serious about building and supporting an enterprise-wide learning environment, Hart suggests choosing one of the integrated social platforms in the marketplace. Her own Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies uses Elgg – “Elgg has been around since 2004,” she says, “and is currently in version 1.6. Elgg is a fully customisable, configurable and extensible platform both in terms of functionality and look and feel – by making use of core and 3rd party plugins. So with Elgg, you don’t have to rely on cobbling together a mish-mash of stand-alone social media tools but can provide a seamless environment where members can access a range of social media functionality.”

I originally posted this article on I’m New Here Myself, a blog I published between 2009 and 2011.

(Photo by meaduva.)

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