Six Social Media Tools that Have Specific Uses

This installment of the article series “Social Media for Informal Learning” identifies six classes of specialized social media that have specific applications training and development practitioners can use to support their informal learning efforts. 

For part 1 please click here 

1. Wikis and collaborative applications

Wiki 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 some do provide a service for viewing who contributed. 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 the more traditional encyclopaedias).

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

Training and development (T&D) professionals use specialized software to create wikis—usually to perform work associated with a project. 

In terms of informal learning, T&D practitioners can 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.  

2. Electronic portfolios (e-portfolios)

E-portfolios refer to a collection of previous work presented on the web, as well as space for peers and advisors to comment. They also include reflections from the work’s creator that, at the least, describe how the work was created and, at the most, provide both a self-evaluation of the work.

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—provide some of the most powerful informal learning opportunities. T&D 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.

3. Mentor matching

This category of software links potential mentors to protégés. Mentor matching software works much like online dating software; 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. Also, mentor matching can be a useful tool for facilitating relationships for protégés who might not find a suitable mentor in the location where they work. 

Most mentor matching services are provided through proprietary software that organizations must purchase.  Training and development professionals use this specialized software to determine specific matches, as well as to provide advice on how to manage the mentor-protégé relationship, including related expectations. 

4. Ratings or ranking systems

Simply stated, rating systems allows participants to provide comments about, and rankings of, material presented on a website. Some popular websites that let participants provide rankings include eBay, 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 (learning and talent management systems) lets users provide opinions and rankings of learning resources—not only formal courses, but also e-courseware and other e-learning experiences. Rating systems provide value by enabling learners to determine for themselves which resources might best meet their needs.

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5. Bookmarking and image-linking software

These types of applications allow users to identify a web-based resource of potential interest to others.  Furthermore, these applications have users categorize links, which aids other users in finding them.  Pinterest is a popular bookmarking, image-linking tool.  The former software Delicious served a similar purpose, though it only catalogued web addresses, not images. 

T&D 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.   

6. Personalized learning environments (PLE)

PLEs 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 of which involve social media, that workers may find helpful in their ongoing development. 

A typical PLE starts with a portal or home page, through which the worker links to other resources.  These environments allow workers to choose the social media and other resources from which they would like access from their portal or home page.  Currently, PLEs are still primarily 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 they could help workers in their organizations. 

Table 1 summarizes the different types of social media that you can use for informal learning and suggests some of the impacts of cost and time on using them. 

Stay Tuned...

How do you choose social learning tools that might be useful in your organization? How might you integrate them into existing learning?  The final article in this series explores principles for using social media to promote informal learning. 

And if you missed Part 1 of the series, check it out now to review the five social tools you are probably already using.

Table 1:   Forms of Social Media Used for Informal Learning

Form of Social Media
Costs and Development Time
Software and Examples of use
Social Networking Applications in Common Use
Blogs

$-$$$ (varies depending on whether you use a public service or privately host the blog, and whether you write the blog yourself or hire ghost writers)

@-@@@(varies depending on the extent of research and review involved, and whether you write the blog yourself or hire a ghost writer)
  • Software used to produce the content:
    • Blogger
    • Wordpress
  • Examples of the content:
    • Content-based blog, such as Tony Karrer’s e-learning Technology blog (http://elearningtech.blogspot.com/)
    • Personality-based blog, which reflects the opinions and perspectives of an individual, such as Jay Cross’s Internet Time blog (www.internettime.com) 


Social networking

$-$$$$$ (varies depending on whether public or private software is used, and the extent of planning and consideration given to the social networking strategy)

@-@@@@@(varies depending on whether social networking is a diversion or a long-term strategy

  • Software used to produce the content:
    • Public social networking sites, like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Plaxo
    • Internal software that permits social networking in one form or another, such as Lotus Connections
  • Examples of the content:
    • The LinkedIn group of the Rochester, New York chapter of the Society for Technical Communication, which publishes announcements through the group
    • A Facebook group with alumni of a master’s program in human resource development at a major university


Microblogging

$-$$$ (most people use public services so those costs are low; some people hire  ghost writers to tweet for them, which raises the costs)

@-@@@(varies depending on the extent of time spent on the service)

Examples of the content:

  • #Lrnchat, a weekly meeting of learning professionals on Twitter 
  • Status updates on the Facebook  and LinkedIn  social networks
  • Status updates in proprietary social networks, such as internal social networks.


Virtual worlds

$$$-$$$$$ (even with the use of public software, requires extensive planning and monitoring; can also purchase private islands in Second Life to protect privacy)

@@@-@@@@@(varies depending on the extent of labor involved in setting up and monitoring the virtual world)

  • Software used to share  the content:
    • Flickr (photo sharing service)
    • YouTube (video sharing service)
  • Examples of the content:
    • How-to videos, such as instructions on how to perform basic plumbing tasks
    • Conceptual videos, such as an overview of a new computerized parking meter system in San Francisco


Social Networking Applications that Specifically Designed for Informal Learning Purposes 
Wikis and collaborative applications

$$-$$$$ (varies depending on extent of review, coordination, and production  involved)

@@@-@@@@@(varies depending on the extent of writing, review, coordination, and production, required)

  • Software used to produce the content:
    • Wiki authoring tools: MediaWiki and TikiWiki
    • Collborative applications: Google Docs, GoogleSheets,
  • Examples of the content:
    • EduTech Wiki, a wiki about educational technology
    • An internal wiki with information about the components of complex computer software


Electronic portfolios (e-portfolios)

$-$$$ (varies depending on extent of planning, production and feedback needed, and whether a public or custom portfolio service is used)

@-@@@ (varies depending on the extent of planning, design, writing production, programming, and review required)
Example: the Europass Curriculum Vitae (http://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/en/documents/curriculum-vitae), which provides a format for preparing an e-portfolio and sharing it with others.

Mentor matching 

$$-$$$$ (for a combination of software purchase and support for the mentor-protégé relationship)

@@-@@@(varies depending on the extent of support provided to the mentors and proteges)
  • Software used to produce the content, includes programs like MentorScout
  • Examples of the content: Several mentor matching programs have appeared in the ASTD Awards of Excellence program
Ratings or ranking systems

$$-$$$$ (varies depending on extent of production and programming involved in setting up the system, and in monitoring the ratings  on an ongoing basis)

@@@-@@@@@(varies depending on the extent of production and programming, needed to start the system, and ongoing monitoring of the ratings)
Examples of the content:
  • Ratings of learning objects deposited in MERLOT, the learning objects repository.  
  • Ratings of hotels that appear in TripAdvisor.com.
Bookmarking/ image-tagging sites

$-$$$ (varies depending on extent of monitoring and maintaining the links on an ongoing basis, as well as establishing the classification system for links)

@-@@@@ (The time for setting up an individual link or “pin” is quick; the establishment of a system for cataloguing the content and conducting ongoing maintenance of it, however, takes increasing time as the number of items linked grows)

Examples of content: Links based on topics.

Examples of software: 

  • Pinterst
  • Delicious (no longer available)
Personalized Learning Environments (PLEs)

$-$$$s (varies depending on extent of production and programming involved in setting up the system, and in monitoring the ratings  on an ongoing basis)

@@@-@@@@@(varies depending on the extent of production and programming, needed to start the system, and ongoing monitoring of the ratings)
Still in development.

Key:
$: Estimates of cost are relative in comparison to other items rather than pegged to a financial value

‡@: Estimates of cost are relative in comparison to other items on this list rather than pegged to a specific time range

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.

For Part 3 please click here