Welcome to the Social Age

Yesterday i gave a guest lecture at Dublin City University for one of the Masters courses on ‘Creating effective learning in the Social Age‘. It was a broad approach, starting in how we communicate using stories, progressing to an exploration of a methodology for learning, journeying through mobile technology and social learning and ending up with some pragmatic steps for creating effective solutions.

The questions from the group were many and varied, reinforcing for me the value in taking time out to just think about how we communicate, how we learn. The thought that carried me through was that here we are, in the Social Age, even though many individuals and organisations haven’t realised it yet.

As i heard stories of sectors trying to control and reject semi formal learning, trying to restrict technology, trying to own the conversation, it made me realise just how far behind the times they are. Whilst, on the one had, we see traditionally conservative sectors such as Finance or Healthcare starting to experiment in pockets with innovative social learning approaches, there are, still, many bastions of resistance, who fail to see that the walls are crumbling around them.

We are not at the dawn of the Social Age: we are here and we’re kicking down the walls that surround us.

Social learning can be viewed as the semi formal layers that surround the formal, the conversations that take place around it. It’s the communities of learners who create meaning, rather than accepting what they are told without question. Social learning is a mindset to rebel, to reach out and seek expertise and be unafraid to ask ‘why‘.

Technology facilitates experience, it facilitates learning, but it doesn’t guarantee it. It’s the quality of stories we tell and the relevance to the individual that counts and today that relevance may be wider than simply their current job. As the fundamental bond of trust between employer and employee breaks down, as the notion of a ‘job for life‘ evaporates and we all become what Harold Jarche calls ‘artisan workers‘ to a greater or lesser extent, individuals who own our skills and are responsible for our own development, the nature of relationship with employers changes. If i can’t get what i want here, i’ll go elsewhere. You can control the technology, but you can’t control the conversation and, when push comes to shove, it’s the conversation that counts. Technology is transient and adaptable. I can just bring my own device.

Stories let us join together in formal and progressively less formal communities, each supporting us in different ways. We have professional networks and social ones, each buoyed up by the same notion of social capital: our ability to survive and thrive online, our ability to form bonds, to be generous with our time and expertise, our ability to function as a valued member of the community.

Some of these communities may be ‘work‘ ones, may indeed be operated and ‘owned‘ by organisations, but the conversations are our own. What many organisations fail to recognise is that if they close the space down or control it, the conversations that they don’t like won’t go away. They will just go elsewhere where you’re not part of them. We are so connected that our challenge isn’t to find communities to join, it’s to find time to service them all adequately.

Anyone who just looks for support within the four walls of their organisation is missing a serious trick. In the Social Age our networks are broad, generalist or specialist. I can turn to experts to help me with semantics, with technology questions, or with moral support. All of them independent, all able to travel with me wherever i go, connected to me through technology, but surprisingly resilient to background noise.

Last night John Curran (@designedlearnin) asked me on Twitter if i would be sharing the presentation i made yesterday: no John, it’s already out of date, but i’m sharing this narrative, which reflects what i think today. The experience of interacting in the community last night made me reflect, made me change, made me learn, so today my thoughts have iterated one step further. In the Social Age we constantly evolve. I can no longer afford to be static, i have to be an agile learner, able to reinvent myself in response to environmental inputs, in response to the feedback from my communities.

Sue Jones (@suevjones), Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn), Roger Francis (@RogerFrancis1), all people i only know through Twitter, but all people i interacted with yesterday in one form or another, all of whom helped me shape my thinking, develop my learning. One of the questions from the community last night was “how do i narrate my learning“. Like this Maria: tell your story, get it wrong the first time but be unafraid to try. Then listen to what people say and decide if you agree or not: this is the reality of the Social Age.

I’m not advocating that we abandon formal learning, just the opposite, we embrace it, but surround it in progressively less formal social layers where we can play with it, where, in the language of our learning methodology, we can explore and reflect upon it. That’s internal reflection, where i decide how new knowledge stacks up against ‘that which i know to be true‘ and adapt accordingly, and external reflection, where i share my thinking with the community. It’s learning squared, learning cubed, highly iterative, with knowledge as a foundation, but where meaning is co-created within the community.

This is the Social Age: technology has matured enough to facilitate our storytelling, to seamlessly enable us to connect and form meaningful communities. Organisations must adapt too: knowledge is no longer enough, command and control is outdated, you can lock the doors, but the conversations aren’t in the room any more, so it doesn’t matter. They’re here, in the coffee shop, and around the world.

Time to adapt, time to welcome the Social Age and adapt how we learn and design learning accordingly.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Adaptability, Agile, Blog, Blogging, Challenge, Collaboration, Community, Control, Conversation, Education, Formal Spaces, Freedom, Group Dynamics, Informal Spaces, Knowledge, Learning, Learning Culture, Learning Design, Meaning, Mobile Learning, Narrative, Social Capital, Social Learning and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to Welcome to the Social Age

  1. I’m an advocate for saying your piece, not from a position of ignorance, but making a stab at something as you said. Indeed, better to speak your mind and give others a way in – which is where academic papers, at this level fail, they rightly aim to be an absolute. A debate, an argument, being rattled about the opinions and views of others all helps to knock down walls and to aggregate ideas. I wonder too, if it is best down on your feet, using your body, and arms as a communications tool. It is certainly the case that our brains construct memories by calling upon many facets of what we are thinking about, seeing, doing and relating this too – and then to throw a spanner in the works I’m sure there’s a ‘wobble button’ in their which has me thinking of Murray Mints all of a sudden as I write this.

  2. julianstodd says:

    haha very true Jonathan 🙂 As you know, i’m quite taken with this idea that movement is just one more language of learning: https://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/the-languages-of-learning-dance/

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