Social media is new but social learning is not. Formerly known in research circles as CSCL (Computer Supported Collaborative Learning), researchers have long acknowledged the importance of community. It has been formalized in such models as Engeström’s Scandinavian Activity Theory (with its description of the interaction of individual, tool and rules of the community) and the social constructivism of Vygostsky and Leont’ev.
The Instructional Designer, when designing training programs should not overlook the power of the community and try to utilize it. This idea is formally enshrined in the work of Jean Lave, Communities of Practice. Such levers include:
- depending on each other to accomplish work and support customers;
- courage to speak up and say “I don’t know this, but who can help?”;
- learners who guide their own needs as you support them, not the other way around; and
- learns from peers through technology.
When an Instructional Designer adds a community through a social platform into the learning toolbox, it helps to extract and make available knowledge held by individuals within the organization highlighting their expertise and best practices. The power and strength of any organization comes from individuals within the organization sharing what they know with the community at large. There truly is power in numbers. However, that reference to a toolbox brings to mind Pandora’s Box, the box that contained all the evils of man. It is understandable that an Instructional Designer should feel some trepidation when such a resource is to be relied on. Everybody knows about ‘common sense’ but why is it they are blind to ‘common nonsense’, right?