Creating Informal Learning Opportunities for Business Professionals, Part 2

December 30, 2009

fingertipslaptop250Wikipedia describes Twitter as “a free social networking and micro-blogging service” that allows users to send “updates” (or “tweets”; text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter website, via short message service (e.g. on a cell phone), instant messaging, or a third-party application such as Twitterrific or Facebook.” Twitter asks the following question: “What are you doing?” People can sign up and “follow” each other to submit and read these short updates in just a few seconds. In a work setting, such as that of a training consulting firm, I may find out that someone is “designing a new curriculum for advanced pharmaceutical representatives.” I may read such an update from a colleague I would not normally reach out to. However, upon reading such an update I may contact this person to learn more because I may be doing something similar. This could open up an opportunity to brainstorm, learn and share. Maybe my colleague has a great research paper or framework they are using as part of their engagement that I could learn and benefit from. Maybe the person who shares a research paper is an industry guru or expert in another organization. Maybe they share knowledge with me indirectly: meaning they update their status message with something interesting like: “5 key qualities of leaders.” Perhaps they run searches to see who is talking about a topic of interest such as “astd” (American Society for Training and Development) and reply to my update because I “tagged” it “ASTD.” Maybe they respond directly to a question I post: “How do people find each other through Twitter?” There are many possibilities but these are some examples of how useful, helpful interactions can happen with Twitter. “Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge.” (Locke, Levine et al. 2000)

How does Twitter as an informal learning tool apply to people in organizations? When knowledge workers are “stuck” in the task at hand, they seek advice and guidance from many places, one of them being colleagues and experts around them. In turn, their access to information and knowledge is only as good as their sources, generally only within their organization. What if knowledge workers could easily build networks of experts across organizations? What if they could access gurus in their field? What if they could create their own community of expert peers and gurus who they can reach out to for brainstorming or answering questions?

“Learning is that which enables you to participate successfully in life, at work, and in the groups that matter to you. Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way people learn to do their jobs.” (Cross 2007) Using a tool like Twitter, we may be able to foster knowledge sharing and ultimately learning. We can possibly use tools like Twitter to create connections with others and potentially form communities of practice. “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (Wenger, McDermott et al. 2002) It always benefits people when they come across another person who has experience and knowledge in a given area—there in lays the value. If knowledge workers are getting support and learning through the use of tools like Twitter, perhaps organizations would embrace the use of such tools.

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