Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Social Learning : Sacred Cow or Golden Calf?

I saw a question on LinkedIn recently asking people to list sacred cows in the Learning Industry. They rounded up the usual suspects: ADDIE, Instructor Led Training, the LMS.

What leapt to my mind may shock you. At least it seems contrarian: Top sacred cow in the learning industry? How about social learning?

Now I admit social media has great mojo for marketing a business. And there are case studies galore to prove that that works.

But social learning?

Maybe I’m just a luddite.

Oh, I’ve seen the slideshows and YouTube videos. "Social media is transforming the world!" "More people on FaceBook than in all of South America." "More tweets in an hour than there are stars in the galaxy!" Whatever.

Seriously, I know there is untapped potential for using social-media type tools for sharing information. And, yes, there may be some organizations out there using them effectively and measurably for learning.

But not many. From what I’ve seen, for every effective learning portal, there are ten abandoned wikis. For every proven success, dozens of non-starters.

And when 80% of the presentation topics I see listed these days seem to be about social learning, I sense a bit of a lemming mentality. “If we don’t use these platforms NOW to transform our learning organizations, we’ll soon be left behind!”

Color me dubious.

Certainly, none of my customers are clamoring for social learning. They want the same old sacred cows, instructor-led classes, WebEx sessions, e-learning. In other words, they want directed learning with structured content. They’re not expecting their people to train each other on technical skills or compliance standards by tweeting.

Maybe my clients’ are all luddites too?

I was amused the other day to read a consultant’s blog post touting Social Learning for Business.  The man makes what seems a very compelling case in ten bullet points. Then I checked the services page of his web site. What is he selling? Instructor-led workshops.

If social learning isn’t a sacred cow, maybe it’s a golden calf. Look how shiny! Everyone is worshipping with irrational fervor. I think with a little discrimation we might see that 1) We've made this idol ourselves and 2) We’re honestly not really sure of it’s value.

Maybe I’m wrong and all those other consultants are right. What do you think?