aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Social Media, Advanced Learners, and Timing for aLearning

Posted by Ellen on July 14, 2009

Ready for a convergence? I don’t know about you, but I love it when, suddenly, several things that have seemed disconnected (though related) align like rows of corn in an Iowa field, so the symmetry and design and relationships are as clear as a blue sky.

Here are the building blocks:

  • social media
  • advanced learners
  • timing of alearning

If we believe that:

  • the more advanced the learner, the less that learner needs fundamental training and more best practices (especially from colleagues who have been there and done that) (see the diagram on page 28 of aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning and the explanation within the text of it)
  • the more advanced the learner, the less time they have (and will want to spend) in formal, classroom settings
  • the benefits of social media are the linkages the media make between and among people, informally, and in ways they are self-selecting and self-identifying (think of the ways you identify yourself in your various profiles — executive association leader? educator? meeting planner?)

Then here’s the convergence:

Social media as a learning platform is especially beneficial to advanced learners (i.e., those who have deep experience in their area of expertise) because they can connect with others who walk in their shoes, have likely faced similar challenges, and can provide best practices, lessons learned, and other informal counseling and guidance.

Social media can be immediate and because it’s accessible on the advanced learner’s terms, rather that at a time/place designated by someone else, it fits the scheduling demands and restrictions for those learners in particular.

Here’s an example:

Ted is a foodservice professional who has many years of experience at the small college that employes him. His operation has just been asked to cater a special event by the college president. This isn’t unusual, but the president has specifically asked that they include an ice carving or chocolate fountain or other special centerpiece “attraction.” Ted has his own ideas — he’s thinking of edible arrangements — fruits carved to resemble flower arrangements, among other things. But he’s not sure which would be the most affordable, and what issues might be inherent in them (What’s the best chocolate mixture for a fountain to avoid the oily residue? Is there a way to keep the fruit fresh looking through the full event? Are their ice carvers in his area and if so, where would he find them?).

He seeks out his colleagues via a social networking site — either through his professional organization or independently through sites like LinkedIn and posts his questions. In a matter of minutes, responses start coming in.

Ted has leveraged the collective knowledge of his peers to help him with something that would be unwieldy to learn from a course (if, indeed, such a course covering all of these topics exists), and he’s able to do that in quick order because of the speed of the Web and the availability of existing networks.

Voila! Just-in-time (JIT) training for an advanced learner using social media.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, I knew that, Ellen. Why a full post on it?”

Here’s why:

We should not assume that social networking is the answer to all association learning. It has its place, like any modality. Understanding who is most likely to use it and for what purpose can help us best leverage it to those ends.

Learners early in their profession would need more than this. They might need to know what chocolate fountains are, why they are sometimes used for such events, and what’s involved in using one, and have similar questions about ice carving as well.

Could they learn this from social media? Sure. But if you can provide quick, five-minute “tutorials” or learning episodes that will answer those questions, and make them easy for your members to access when they need them, they’ll turn to you for the fundamentals.

And that’s what you want, right? 

(With thanks to Jon for his recent comment, which led to this post — and probably a few more.)

5 Responses to “Social Media, Advanced Learners, and Timing for aLearning”

  1. Great example, Ellen. I think some people would be more inclined to utilize social media if they were shown, specifically, how they could use it to accomplish something that was important to them.

  2. Ellen said

    Thank you, David! The flipside to the example also explains why — I think, anyway — it’s a mistake to think of social media options as limited to exposing the association to younger potential members. Yes, it’s good for that, but the irony is that — as a learning modality — social media could be most effective for our more experienced members (note that these might also be young members). Are you seeing associations use social media as a learning modality in this way? Or is the focus still on social media as a membership recruitment tactic?

  3. While workshop sessions seem to stress the importance of using social media to communicate with members or prospective members, I think many association members are more interested in how to use it to secure useful information.

    Using it as a membership recruitment stragegy depends upon the manner in which prospective members are already using it. Like in any other medium, the message has to be crafted to capture the prospect’s attention and offer something of value.

    Eventually, the novelty of social media will wear off and prospects will be more attracted to the message than to the medium.

  4. Ellen said

    We used to call jumping on a new technology without thinking or working through its various possibilities as “technolust.” I agree there’s a certain amount of that currently going on with social media.

    As I mentioned in my podcast interview with Jeff Cobb, I didn’t even include SM in the early outlines of my book, but added it as I thought through the various ways pieces of SM can be leveraged for learning.

    Why, do you think, have we not yet repaired the disconnect between what the workshops are stressing (us -> them directed communication) versus what our members are actually doing (them -> them + us)?

    • I think many workshop presenters are social media mavens or consultants who sell social media services. And, many attendees want specific instruction about how to use all this stuff.

      We need to hear more from association execs who are not technolusters but have found practical, professional uses for various social media.

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