Computer with media icons
ATD Blog

Don't Choose Just Any Social Learning Tool

Monday, July 13, 2015

Social learning is a fundamental shift in how people work leveraging how we have always worked, now with new, more humanizing tools, accelerating individual and collective reach, giving us the resources to create the organization, and the world, we want to live in.

While your effort to implement social learning should not be ALL about the tools, it’s still important to consider the tools that you will use. Too often we try to jump in with a tool first. Resist that temptation. But when it is time to choose a tool, it is a very important decision—one not to be taken lightly.

Although social is not about the tool, the tool is a heavy component and careful scrutiny of its capabilities and workings should not be discounted. For example, some of the features most often overlooked by a novice when choosing a tool are the number of clicks it takes to get information, the flow in which that happens, and the ways users are notified of new or changed content.

Many attributes have a hidden importance and, until you understand the social element, you very well may not uncover those needed features. So what to do?

Make sure the person who evaluates potential tools has experience in this. There are enough people out there, finding someone should not be a prob­lem anymore. Listen to them and weigh their advice. And then know this: No tool or set of tools will give you everything you need and want.

Companies are constantly looking to cut corners. When we choose cheap approaches to social tools, we might look for the cheapest, or even free, soft­ware. Maybe we don’t put the technical resources behind it to make sure it runs well, or we fail to hire someone who knows how to help a company adopt it, hoping the “build it and they will come” strategy might work. If you decide to jump into social learning, do it right. Hire good people. Buy the right soft­ware. Put it on the right hardware. Give the team the time and resources they require. You don’t have to be extravagant, but put in the commitment that will lead to success.

There is a tendency to go with the cheaper solution. Yet often that solution does not have what is needed. Although being social is not about the technology, the wrong technology will cripple any initiative.


There are gives and takes, many of which won’t be discovered until you have purchased and implemented the tool in production. Just go with it and enjoy the journey! The tool should make your job easier. No tool is perfect, and you will never get 100 percent of what you think you need. At the same time, don’t settle for just getting by. Make sure the tool works for you—not you for the tool.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Will the tool we have chosen be able to give us 90 percent of what we need?
  • As we look to contain costs, are we sacrificing needed functionality for cost savings?
  • After this is launched, are we giving enough resources to build this initiative or only maintain?
  • In what ways might we be trying to cut corners and can we justify those? 


Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from The New Social Learning, 2nd Edition (ATD Press, 2015). In this newly revised and updated edition of The New Social Learning, Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner dispel organizational myths and fears about social media. By sharing the success stories of socially engaged companies and people, the much-anticipated second edition persuasively makes the case for using social media to encourage knowledge transfer and real-time learning in a connected and engaging way.



About the Author

Marcia Conner is a former corporate execu­tive who now dedicates her time to reinventing a vibrant and healthy global ecosystem. Described as a “blank page systems architect,” she works closely with risk-taking leaders, impact entrepreneurs, and unreasonable thinkers, ready to use their superpow­ers for good. 

Marcia is a SupporTED Mentor, contributes to Fast Company and Wired, is an activist with Change Agents Worldwide, and a fellow at the Darden School of Business. She is advisor to the Way to Wellville and MMinddLabs. She is also the author of Learn More Now; coauthor of Creating a Learning Culture: Strat­egy, Technology, and Practice; contributor to Changing The World of Work: One Human at a Time, and speaks across the globe on outcompeting current structures through system innovation and ingenuity.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.