Remember passing notes in school? Kids still send notes around the classroom these days – only the notes are text messages. Many of those notes are the classic witticisms about inane lectures, boring teachers, the countdown to the bell. But those silly snippets do something else: they weave social bonds and there is evidence that those bonds are essential in learning. Call it social learning.
Educational psychologists have studied social learning for many years but it’s the explosive growth of social networks that is bringing it into the mainstream. Suddenly the idea of social learning has currency – giving our need to understand it real urgency. The numbers are breathtaking: Facebook did not exist 6 years ago. Now it has 500 million users. In a review of academic conference presentations on learning technology topics, the number of papers on social learning went from a handful to hundreds between 2007-2009. For those of us on the front line of learning development and delivery, the question is: should we implement these tools in our training? Can our trainees learn anything – or learn better – with social tools?