I was very pleased to receive a review copy of The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner. Tony is President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). Marcia is a Partner at Altimeter Group, founder of the Twitter chat #lrnchat, and writes the Fast Company column “Learn at All Levels.”
Getting a chance to read this timely work excited me for several reasons. First, I began my consulting career in the learning space in the 80s and have remained convinced of its importance for accelerating business performance. I presented at several ASTD session during this period. Second, Marcia was also a colleague of mine at Pistachio Consulting where we did some projects together. I had a chance to review an earlier version of one of the chapters of this book. But most importantly, it is the first book I have seen to help organizations understand and harness the huge workplace learning potential of social media and enterprise 2.0.
Tony and Marcia began with an acknowledgement that social learning has been around for a long time. While social media tools bring new power to social learning, it is not about particular tools as they will come and go. The book is about news ways that social media can enhance social learning and thus the book title. Much of the talk about social media has focused on marketing and while, there is great potential there, the authors bring forth a powerful additional use case. They also point out that social learning is not a new form of e-learning. I would certainly agree and much of e-learning appeared to me to be disappointing watered down adoptions of technology–based learning from the 80s.
I remember studies in the 80s where people reported that 90% of what they learned that helped with their work came from informal conversations with fellow employees. Now social media can enable those conversations on a global basis across enterprises or in a secure manner within a select group in one enterprise. When I first saw social media in 2004 the possibilities for knowledge management re-energized my interest in KM. I have began to see the same potential for learning and this book helps to put it in perspective and offers some excellent cases examples.
The book draws on some of my academic heroes, John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Peter Berger, and Thomas Luckman to set the stage of how people most effectively learn through active participation and social interaction. They define learning as “the transformative process of taking in information that, when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced, changes what we know and builds on what we can do.’ I certainly agree and it aligns directly with how Piaget would define learning. Jocelyn Davis, head of R&D at the Forum Corporation, recently suggested that learning might be a major motivational driver on the level of David McClelland’s three main drives achievement, affiliation, and power. Social learning can draw on a number of these motivators.
The authors list some of the major concerns about using social media in a business context and then offer excellent ways to address these concerns. The book takes a very practical approach and is clearly written with concrete examples through out.
After setting the stage, the authors provide a chapter each covering online communities, the power of stories, micro-sharing, growing the collective intelligence, and immersive environments. Each chapter begins with a detailed case example. The book concludes with some useful tips of making the most of in-person events. I let you read the book to get the useful details.
I highly recommend this book if you want to make better use of social media and enterprise 2.0, if learning is a passion, or if you want to increase the productivity of your workforce. It is one of the better business books I have seen recently.