Book Review: The New Social Learning

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This book can serve as the other ‘book end’ to another recent book, Open Leadership. In Open Leadership, Charlene Li discusses the process and methods for introducing social media into your organization.

In, “The New Social Learning,” Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner discuss how Social Media is impacting how we learn…is rapidly changing…adding a new justification for why organizations should (if they aren’t already) be seriously thinking about how to leverage social media.

The authors set a very positive, enthusiastic tone throughout. Self-admittedly, they walk a fine line between simply being very excited and being alarmists. Personally, I only felt the excitement component, perhaps because I’m enthusiastic about social technologies as well.

Social Learning, in the book’s context, refers to the many new ways people are learning as a direct result of the new social technologies: learning with and from others. Smartphones, ubiquitously networked computers, social networks, things prior generations could never have even imagined let alone contemplated.

As I read through the book, I reflected (again) on how my teen age daughter does her homework. Her smartphone (she bought her own iPhone) sits on the table in its own place alongside text books and papers. She uses it to play music or listen to the radio, texts friends to ask questions (Hey, forgot my task list, what do we need to do for …?), responds to similar requests herself. Older generations, or those less ‘connected,’ would tend to view this as goofing off, or wasting time. Yet, it is obvious after watching, her connectivity improves her learning and her productivity. It’s my own case study of the ‘new social learning.’

Referencing a landmark study by Harvard, the authors point out, “…people who studied in groups, even once a week, were more engaged…better prepared…learned significantly more than students who worked on their own.” How’s that for indirect support of social learning?

I found myself actively reflecting on my own experiences while reading. Think about all the ways we learn (conferences, classrooms, presentations, water cooler discussions, elearning…) All of these (and more) are extended through social learning. Throughout The New Social Learning Tony and Marcia look at how staid methods have already evolved.

Have you been to a presentation yet, where the speaker had a live Twitter stream on-screen alongside the slides, displaying audience feedback? Letting the audience actively participate using such ‘back channels’ lets the speaker to adjust the message on the spot. The real benefits are increased learning (ask a question, get an answer, is the simplest example); keeping the audience engaged; and, making the presentation more meaningful overall. Plus, it can simply be fun.

Enthusiasts of new social technologies will The New Social Learning’s discussion of items already familiar to them…with some new food for thought. For those just thinking about what social learning may mean to them, the book is written at the 36,000 foot level, enough detail to be useful, but not overbearing.

For those of you looking to propel adoption in your own areas, each key section closes with a discussion of how to Respond to Critics, overcoming objections, as well as Recommendations. These sections help by preparing you to deal with objections effectively…as they occur…keeping you from being caught off-guard.

The New Social Learning is more than a constructive expression of the authors’ opinions. Throughout, there are uncounted real-world examples from major organizations including the CIA, IBM, Deloitte, Chevron, EMC, DOD, US Army, Defense Acquisition University, Jet Blue…you get the point, more than 2 or 3. They reveal significant, encouraging uses of new social technologies within some very respected organizations.

SO, here it is. The New Social Learning takes us beyond social technologies themselves, beyond Facebook and Twitter, to look at their direct impact on our lives, today. Read this book to see how ‘learning’ is evolving around you.

Whether you ‘like’ these new-fangled technologies or not you need to be aware of their impact.

(disclaimer: An advance copy of the book was provided by the publisher, without obligation, in exchange for a possible review.)