Informal Learning Insight of the Month: (2 of 3) Eleven Useful Social Media for Informal Learning

The first installment of this post explored the informal learning applications of five social media with which you are already likely to be familiar.  This post continues the discussion.

Six Social Media That Have Specific Uses in Informal Learning

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and similar common applications weren’t primarily designed for informal learning—and may not offer the most powerful and targeted uses of the media in this context.

This section identifies six classes of specialized social media that have specific applications with informal learning.

6.  Wikis and Collaborative Applications refers to a document that is jointly created by several users.  When readers view the document, they do not see who contributed to each part, although many wikis provide a service for viewing who contributed to wikis. The best known document created with a wiki is the Wikipedia, named after the authoring tool (and, itself, a terrific informal learning resource—researchers have suggested that its content is usually as credible as that of more traditional encyclopedias).

A variation on wikis are collaborative applications.  These work similarly to wikis in that all users work from a centralized file and can contributeto it, but differ from wikis in that users can create more than documents, but also spreadsheets and presentations. Google Docs, Google Sheets, and the web-based versions of Microsoft applications are examples of such collaborative applications.

Training and development professionals use specialized software to create wikis—usually to perform work associated with a project.

In terms of informal learning, training and development professionals use wikis to create references and similar documents in which the expertise needed to write different parts is distributed throughout an organization, and make it available to all in the organization.

Similarly, the process of creating such a shared document—even for purposes other than training—also provides a valuable learning experience within the context of a specific project and job.

7. Electronic portfolios (e-portfolios) refers to a collection of previous work presented on the web, as well as accompanying reflections that, at the least, describe how the work was created and, at the most, provide both a self-evaluation of the work, as well as space for peers and advisors to comment. As with traditional portfolios, e-portfolios “ let people showcase their work and skills in ways that aren’t possible through the mere listings  of credentials permitted by résumés and curricula vitae” (Carliner 2005, p. 71) Although most workers use showcase portfolios as a tool in the job search process, process portfolios, which contain reflections on the learning process, provide a means for workers to solicit  feedback on their work.

The process portfolios—in which learners receive feedback on their work—provides some of the most powerful informal learning opportunities. Training and development professionals encourage learners to create e-portfolios using a variety of web development software and online templates—including Google Sites and the European Union’s Europass curriculum vitae (which includes options for portfolios) (

Showcase and process portfolios also prove to be valuable resources in evaluating and  recognizing informal learning, as they provide a means of evaluating competence acquired through informal learning efforts.

8. Mentor matching refers to software that links possible mentors and protégés.  Mentor matching software works much like online dating software; possible mentors and protégés complete profiles, and the system matches those who have similar interests.  The software also provides a means for possible matches to interact with one another.  One of the primary benefits of mentor matching software is that it promotes mentoring across geographic boundaries; traditional approaches to mentoring often focus on face-to-face relationships.

Most mentor matching is provided through proprietary software that organizations must purchase.

Training and development professionals use this specialized software to facilitate the matches and use mentor matching to facilitate mentoring relationships throughout their organizations, especially with protégés who might not find a suitable mentor in the location where they work.  Training and development professionals might also use these sites to provide advice on how to manage the mentor-protégé relationship, including related expectations.

9. Ratings or ranking systems refers to software that lets participants provide comments about, and rankings of, material presented on a website. Some popular websites that let participants provide rankings include e-Bay, Amazon, and TripAdvisor. Visitors use these opinions and ratings to learn more about the subject as well as determine whether or not to use an item.

Some enterprise learning software (that is, Learning and Talent Management Systems) lets users provide opinions and rankings of learning resources, including formal courses as well as e-learning and e-courses, so learners can determine for themselves which resources might best meet their needs.

10. Bookmarking and image-linking software refers to applications that let users identify a web-based resource of potential interest to others.  Furthermore, these applications let users categorize links, which aids other users in finding the links.  Pinterest is a popular bookmarking, image-linking tool.  The former software Delicious served a similar purpose, though it only catalogued web addresses, not images.

Training and development professionals can use these tools to create recommended reading lists on topics of interest to workers so that these workers have a well-defined starting point in their learning journey.

11. Personalized learning environments (PLE) are comprehensive examples of social media for informal learning and are portals—or virtual gateways—that provide workers with links to a variety of informal learning resources—many involving social media—that workers may find helpful in their ongoing development.

A typical Personalized Learning Environment starts with a portal or home page, through which the worker links to other resources.  These environments let workers choose the social media and other resources from which they would like access from their portal or home page.  At the time that I am writing this, Personalized Learning Environments are still prototypes or in early phases of testing, and most of the prototypes and test environments are intended for students in primary, secondary, or higher education, rather than adults in the workplace.

For now, training and development professionals should follow these developments to determine whether Personalized Learning Environments could help workers in their organizations.

How to Effectively Use Social Media for Informal Learning?

This article identified the media that you might use for informal learning purposes in your organization.  But how do you choose ones that might be useful in your organization and how might you integrate them?  The second article in this series explores principle for using social media to promote informal learning.

Tip: For descriptions of technology used for informal learning, see Chapter 7 of Informal Learning Basics.  For information on how to integrate technology with particular types of informal learning, see Chapters 5 and 6 of the book.

Next post:  A chart summarizing the relative costs and time needed for using the eleven types of social media for informal learning.



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