[By Jacob Bluhm, FEMBA 2016]
Social Learning occurs when knowledge is acquired through communication. More precisely, it is the act of communicating to seek information. Social media is the communication of text, pictures, videos, and all other forms of information over a network or channel.
Employees of organizations across the world repeat the mistakes of their predecessors and peers because of a lack of social learning. Organizations create wikis and repositories of documents in order to mitigate the loss of institutional knowledge. These types of solutions do not stop the loss of knowledge that occurs each time an employee leaves an organization or when an employee changes roles. Repositories also collect digital dust and wikis are frequently outdated as soon as they are published.
Organizations implement social networks within their digital walls to promote communication between workers, but somehow the amount of learning that occurs as a part of these initiatives often misses the mark. In order for a social learning environment to prompt the creation of viral content in a similar fashion as Facebook, the environment needs to focus on the delivery of value to individuals and not an organization. This is the reason networks such as Facebook and Snapchat continue to thrive and attract new users. The goal of a social learning network must be to increase the value of individuals first. When an employee feels that the purpose is to increase the value of the organization, their motivation to participate deteriorates. They may have initial curiosity, but eventually boredom sets in. Employees will often stop using a tool that simply adds their value to a pool for the organization to benefit from.
So, what is the difference between social media and social learning? There is no difference. They are one in the same. When organizations realize this they create environments where knowledge creation is part of the culture. A workplace culture with this attribute is often linked to an increase in employee retention, efficiency, and an organization's profits. As workplace cultures shift to meet the needs of a new generation of employees, social learning will be a major factor in determining the longevity and success of an organization.