ATD Blog

Stoke the Fire for Social Learning Success

Friday, May 17, 2013
  1. There are many different ways to use social media for learning, and its benefits have already been well documented. But not every formal learning initiative that uses social media is successful. If you’ve been trying things out yourself, you may have realized that this is not “Field of Dreams” scenario, you are not Kevin Costner, and simply building it doesn’t mean they will come. You need to stoke the fire to engage your learners.

    Three Reasons Why You Need to Work to Engage Your Learners

  2. According to people like Charlene Li, even if many people are present on social media platforms, it doesn’t mean they are active. There are different levels of engagement. In the learning sector, this means two things:
  • It is normal that not everyone will take part actively; they may need some encouragement.
  • The fact that not everyone does something doesn’t mean they are not looking.
  1. Unless every one of your learners was born after 1980, chances are these new ways of learning represent a change for them. With any change, some people will adopt earlier than others, who need to really see the proof of effectiveness before they engage. (Even having learners who are Millennials or younger is no guarantee that they will be engaged.)
  2. Social media tools may have a bad reputation when it comes to learning.
  • Many learning professionals have just “added-on” social media to their formal learning programs because they want to be cool or try something new. This may disappoint people who (rightly) don’t see the added-value.
  • Many people associate social media with posting comments about how nice Justin Bieber’s hair is. The applications for learning go much further than that.

Strategies to Boost Adoption and Engagement

Cross-pollinate. Knowing that different people use different tools for different reasons, try to cross-pollinate your efforts by linking together different platforms. In this way, you might reach more of your learners and also drive more participation across your different platforms

Give feedback IRL (in real life). If you are running formal learning initiatives and using social media to support and drive it, don’t forget to give people feedback in real life. If someone added a reference to your LinkedIn group after day one of training, thank her at the start of day two. People who are more active on social media are often seeking some kind of status and recognition.


Gamify some offerings. There is a lot of hype around gamification because it can really drive motivation for learning. If you want to encourage more participation, consider using gamified strategies. This could range from basic “leaderboard” approaches (“who was most active sharer?”) to competition-based learning (“who will be first to find a reference on XYZ?”) to a simple quiz like this one (posted via a blog) or an individual treasure hunt for relevant information.

Don’t forget the golden triangle. There are three key behaviors required to keep momentum in a networked environment: asking, giving, and thanking.


This blog post is a small introduction to the how to motivate learners to be active with social media–based learning. During ASTD 2013 ICE session TU306 I will be giving an overview of what to do with social media, how, what works, and what doesn’t.

In preparation for that session, there is a LinkedIn group you can join that is discussing some questions and getting started with learning already. Come and join the group!

And if you want to do the pre-reading, check out my session blog-page.

Thanks for reading. See you in Dallas!

About the Author

Dan Steer is a freelance learning consultant, trainer and speaker living and working in Belgium. He believes the world would be a better place if everyone was competently doing what they loved, and it is his mission to help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating infinite learning opportunities; @dan_steer.

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