Social Media And Learning: Interview with Jane Hart

jane_hartIn this article, I’m featuring an interview with successful social media expert, Jane Hart. She provides compelling reasons to implement a social and collaborative environment as part of workplace learning.

Coach: You were an early adopter of using social technologies for learning purposes. What motivated you to jump in?
Jane: Using social technologies has just been an evolution of my experience and interest in learning technologies for a long time now. I was an advocate of computer-based learning in the 80s, then early Internet/web-based learning in the 90s, social learning in the 2000s is just another step along the path

Coach: What are your criteria for defining a technology as social?
Jane: One that allows people to share (experiences or resources) or collaborate (in many different ways).

Coach: From a cognitive perspective, how does learning through social media differ from structured and self-paced eLearning?
Jane: Social learning can still be structured i.e., take place within a formal course environment. The difference with social learning is that it supports conversation and discussion and learning from one another, whilst “traditional” self-paced learning is about learning from a computer without reference to others—it’s just content, content, content. We are all social beings, so social learning is a more natural way of learning.

Coach: Do you think the knowledge and skills acquired through social media and technologies should be measured? And can it be measured?
Jane: “Learning” per se shouldn’t be measured in an organizational context, it is the new “performance” that it brings about. Sometimes that can be measured by a positive change in speed or output or productivity, sometimes not. Sometimes it is important to just recognize the other intangible benefits that occur. I think we have become rather obsessed about measuring everything—course completions, test scores, etc. With social learning comes the need to think about new ways of measuring success. I think that is going to be difficult for many L&D professionals who have become used to measuring learning in a Learning Management System.

Coach: In your consulting work, what social technologies have you found to be the best for promoting learning?
Jane: Many different ones! In fact I don’t think it’s about the separate technologies. It’s about having a toolbox containing a number of different social technologies at your disposal in order to select the most appropriate one(s) that address a particular learning or business problem. It might just be one tool—it might be a number. For instance, I am currently running a formal programme where the group is using many different technologies to share and collaborate—social bookmarking, discussions, wikis, blogging, file sharing, etc.

Coach: Can you describe the advantages of the social media environment, Elgg?
Exactly to do what I have mentioned in the previous answer. Elgg provides a private integrated suite of social media tools—within a seamless environment for individuals to use for their own personal learning and for groups to use for formal or informal learning purposes. Elgg allows organizations to take advantage of the benefits that social technologies have to offer, and yet not worry about some of the issues with using public social media tools, namely privacy and security of data, muddling of personal and organizational identities in public, and the overwhelming number of tools (with their own separate logins and interfaces) that need to be supported by IT departments.

Coach: What typical obstacles do managers and learning professionals face in trying to convince organizations to adopt social learning technologies?
Jane: Senior managers are clearly concerned by the issues mentioned in the previous answer and that use of public social media tools by employees might cause embarrassment for the organization. They also think “social networking” is a trivial activity and compare it with Facebook. I have for a long time stopped talking about social networking in an organizational context as it comes with a lot of unfortunate “baggage.” I do talk about social and collaborative platforms, social learning environments or networks or communities.  Those terms are much more acceptable and accepted by senior managers.

Coach: Do you have suggestions for how they can overcome these obstacles?
Jane: Demonstrate the value of social technologies for learning by installing a private and secure social learning environment so that the benefits can be experienced by the organization.

Thanks, Jane!

Do you incorporate social technologies in your learning strategy? Tell us how below.


Podcast: Social Media For Learning-Interview with Jane Bozarth
10 Social Media Tools for Learning
How To Communicate The Value Of Social Media
Podcasts for Learning
Using Wikis for eLearning

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  1. Christopher Kempton says

    I found this interview interesting on several levels. First, I appreciated the focus on social technologies in the realm of instruction and educating. It is a fresh way of looking at learning in some ways of the past. As a classroom teacher I am reminded of the past focus and popularity of cooperative learning. Cooperative learning activities and strategies did introduce social interaction into what had been a very individualized environment. NCLB has reinforced that individual-test results environment while lip service promotes and speaks of progressive strategies in today’s classroom. It is refreshing to read someone speak of trusting learning enough to not need to measure every aspect of it. I feel there is a respect for accountability by the interviewee as she identifies natural effects of learning such as increase of production and speed.
    The numbers of possibilities of social technologies that are available make the configurations of potential learning situations many and varied. Wikis would be a great tool for a group to compile a research project on a particular topic. Dr. Jeanne Ormrod in the instructional video “Information Processing and the Brain” mentioned that the human brain does not operate or process in a linear fashion, but processes in a dispersed fashion where many mental activities are taking place at once with both loose and tight relationship to the task at hand. Social technologies offer the backdrop for many actions that compliment this kind of cognitive endeavor. The social element provides opportunities for rehearsal, feedback, critique, revision, and collaboration to be included in the learning experience.
    I can visualize some very powerful possibilities of providing interaction via technology for a cohort group over a period of a time that a learning program takes place that would promote interaction between members that could be more informal in nature yet involve subject discussion and project creation with collaboration that might come back to the larger group. This would provide experience and practice with developing professional relations in one’s field as core content is learned. I could imagine the use of highly mobile “e-mail like” communications systems that would be both easy to access, yet isolated on some level with one’s personal e-mail and give the cohort members on-going contact with each other.
    This was a great interaction and has inspired me to learn more on the subject.

  2. Rick Toews says

    The article caught my interest, as I’m currently in what appears to fit the description of a social learning program. It’s entirely online but scheduled and structured, involving reading, research, and discussion with colleagues.

    I particularly noticed the observations on the measurement of learning. I glanced over a couple of other articles on the validity and reliability of tests, which I found elsewhere on this site and was reminded that there’s something essentially contrived about a test, no matter how well designed. My understanding is that a test’s purpose is to assess whether one has learned the information believed necessary to function competently under particular circumstances. Its value is to make this determination without risking the consequences of incompetence in a real situation.

    However, if the acquisition of knowledge and skills will result in improved performance, while the failure of acquisition will merely maintain the status quo, then perhaps the environment itself is the only gauge that’s really needed. That was the point I got from Jane’s response to the question of measuring learning in a social media context.

    I can imagine, for instance, an online language course. Tests could be designed to drill over vocabulary and rules of grammar; however, one’s ability to interact with colleagues in the language would itself be a measure of how well one had learned.

  3. Connie Malamed says

    Christopher, thanks for your intriguing comments. I think the arena of learning through social media technologies is unbelievably exciting and better represents how we naturally learn than structured learning. It’s more like the unschooling approach and I hope it will eventually turn into a powerful influence in education. Can you share a link to Ormrod’s video? I couldn’t find it.

  4. Connie Malamed says

    Thanks for your valuable input, Rick. It’s good to hear your opinions. I’m getting the sense from readers that there is a real undercurrent for doing less testing and more performance-based observation and I think this is a great trend.

    I hope that those of us who are designers of instruction can try to push for alternative ways of measuring learning, though in some cases, such as in the medical arena, lives are at stake and testing knowledge is important. But comments like yours are inspirational.


  1. […] In ‘Social Media and Learning: Interview with Jane Hart,‘ an article posted on the e-Learning Coach’s blog site by columnist Connie Malamed, Jane explains how and why the implementation of social and collaborative learning components enhance educational experiences in the workplace. She also discusses specific social media forms that have been useful in the field of e-learning, and the potential difficulties that might occur in their adoption. The interviewee has always been a fan of technology-based learning forms, and so online learning, particularly the inclusion of social media into the classroom, is something she views as essentially “just another step along the path.” […]

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