Economic downturn and subsequent cost-cutting initiatives have resulted in lower training budgets for employees. However, in times in which life-long learning and the gathering of skills and qualifications are regarded essential to individual progression, employees have already started to think about learning opportunities themselves. For this purpose, the Social Web offers a myriad of free or inexpensive online resources in various formats. You can watch tutorials on Youtube and find information on any topic on Wikipedia. Universities video-stream their lectures, and free demos can be accessed on software companies’ websites. Slideshare, Twitter, and social networking sites support even more social ways of knowledge sharing.
With these learning opportunities being just one click away and even mobile, knowledge workers can create and pursue their own training curricula. Jane Hart, author of the Social Learning Handbook, points out that a growing number of people use Social Media to build their personal learning networks. Here, the key to learning success lies in social interaction and the exchange of small amounts of information, tips, and tricks. As Martin Raske puts it very nicely in his article on workplace learning: “The new world of learning is based on a new mindset – sharing instead of hiding, collaborating instead of instructing, acting instead of reacting.”
However, this innovation is still a double-edged sword: In some companies, social tools are being regarded as distractive. Employees’ access to the internet remains limited. Particularly for knowledge workers, this has a negative impact on their ability to make informed decisions or to quickly enhance their knowledge for ad-hoc tasks. Then again, information overload and the ubiquitous noise generated by Social Media are perceived as very stressful by many people.
Companies should not proceed on the assumption that their employees will figure out themselves how to successfully use Social Media for self-directed learning (as Tara Callaghan explained in her Getting Social with Education).
Employees need to be trained on how to use Social Media at the workplace. They need to understand how social networking sites and micro-blogging can be used beyond private conversation and ‘pointless babble’. They also have to learn how to cope with information overload and separate useful from otiose information. Most importantly, people have to recognize the importance of a knowledge sharing and social learning culture in the enterprise and they have to live it.