Social Media contribution to informal learning

by | Feb 2, 2011 | Articles

New Research from CARA group – whilst SoMe is changing employer behaviour not all L&D professionals are convinced in usefulness to support informal learning.

A recently published piece of research from the US based CARA Group, Inc. ‘How Informal Learning is Transforming the Workplace’   clearly shows that informal learning has a significant role to play in employee development.

CARA undertook a pulse survey and polled 125 learning and training leaders in businesses across the U.S.  resulting in a number of key findings:

• Informal learning is a vital tool in employee training; 90% of respondents encourage or support it in some way
• According to participants, informal learning is most useful when the format is social and in person rather than individual and isolated
• 81% of respondents feel social media offer valuable learning opportunities for employees
• 98% of respondents agree that social media are changing how employees are learning and accessing information

However, even although the respondents recognised the importance of social media and they agreed that social media is changing employee behaviours; only 47% agreed that social/networking communities were one of the most useful tools for supporting informal learning in the workplace.  This was the lowest ranking score for any of the tools/approaches used to support informal learning.  Time-wasting, security and validity of source materials all featured in the reasons given for social media not being used and yet a clear majority of participants (82%) use social media to advance their own professional skills and resources.

The report suggests that currently employees are in the driving seat.  Social media is increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives and in the same way that email and mobile phones gradually became workplace tools, CARA believes the same will happen with social media.  Therefore businesses need to take advantage of the opportunities that social media offers and harness this conduit to informal learning,

The UK perspective

The 2010-11 Towards Maturity Benchmark Survey shows that use of social media to support informal learning has also been very slow to take off in the UK.  So whilst 49% of organisations that took part in the survey allow open access to third party sites, only 16% are harnessing the potential of social media for learning.

However, we did find that organisations who provided access to social media generally also reported more benefits overall than those who did not- echoing the CARA findings. For example:

• Take‐up of e‐learning increases (from 36% for those without access to 46% for those with web access);
• Estimated reduction in the cost of training as a result of e‐learning reduces from 20% to 16%;
• The saving in time to prove job competency increases from 6% to 11%;

Access to social media in work may also encourage learning outside of the workplace:
o Those that learn whilst travelling increase from 19% (for companies that do not allow access) to 45% (for companies who do provide access);
o Those that are accessing e‐learning at home increase from 72% to 84%;
o Those that access learning at a location away from work increase from 46% to 69%;

Whilst it is not necessarily L&D’s job to own or control the learning and collaboration that takes place in the workplace, the Towards Maturity research shows that they have a powerful role in facilitating social learning with those encouraging sharing and collaboration reporting significantly better performance.

NB – it is worth noting that both surveys were conducted with the L&D community – We expect perspectives on the usefulness of social media for informal learning would probably change if we asked staff directly!

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