Yesterday, i presented a webinar on mobile strategy. As i was doing it, people were using the chat forum that’s built in to ask questions. We were also using a private chat channel to ensure we kept on time and to coordinate the event. Alongside this, messages were going out on Twitter, some of them openly, some as private messages of support from friends and colleagues. Some of these messages were, in turn, picked up and retweeted. And, of course, i wrote about the session on the blog yesterday to prepare.
So, all in all, a multi channel event, each channel using a different ‘tone of voice’ at different times. The blog is a reflective space, but still conversational. It’s a place to try messages out and to work out my story in a ‘safe’ environment. It’s a place to gather feedback: more reflective than a book or article would be, less disposable than Twitter or a conversation would be.
The ‘chat’ function on Webex was an information channel, instructions, reminders, key points. It was like the bullets that would come up to accompany a video. More instant and urgent than the blog, but not really conversational, at least, not in this instance.
Twitter was like chatting at the back of the class. Functionally the same as the chat function on Webex, but in this instance, whilst the Webex chat was in a formal space, we were using Twitter as the informal place to chat.
This notion of ‘formal spaces’ and ‘informal spaces’ is one that we’ve visited before, it’s something i see increasingly at conferences and presentations, where you are in the room, in the ‘formal’ environment, but there is a parallel level of conversation going on that is layered underneath. Less formal, often more judgemental, usually short, rapid and not that reflective.
Which all goes to show that communication is ambitious and that we will colonise just about any channel to do it. But it has impacts, things that we can think about when we are designing our learning solutions. As well as looking at formal workshop spaces and formal e-learning programmes, we should be considering the more social, less formal channels too. Forums, communal spaces and channels like Twitter can all take an active part of the learning process and be productive parts of the learning landscape.
Instead of ignoring them, or imagining that the more instant and less reflective channels are lower value, we can instead use them for discussion, for rehearsal of ideas, for generating engagement.
It’s worth creating exercises that require people to engage in these spaces for small activities to help overcome the ‘fear factor’. It’s always hard to do, even this week i spoke to a friend about an element of Twitter protocol that i was unsure about. The rules are unspoken, but there nonetheless, and i didn’t want to be breaching any Twitiquette without realising it.
Creating engagement in informal as well as formal spaces can be a valuable part of the learning process: it’s going to happen anyway, so we may as well be part of the conversation.