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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Social Learning

At first when I saw Grockit and heard they got $8M in funding from some pretty good VCs including Benchmark Capital, I was wondering what was going on. It didn't seem like this was something that could justify that kind of investment level.

Their example at a presentation at TechCrunch was "preparing for your GMAT." It wasn't until they got into Q&A that the light bulb finally went on ...

The spark was the example of a teacher/course/set of students/partner that provided their content into the system so that the students could study through a social learning experience. Two thoughts. Wow, that's a great idea. Man am I stupid not to have figured that out from the description.

(Actually, I've got to say that this was an incredibly bad presentation. Industrial model learning -> social learning. Then a demo that just shows trivial examples. Wow, it was really bad. How the heck did they get $8M from VCs with presentation skills like that - actually it wasn't presentation skills it was bad content.)

The good news is that I think there is opportunity here. When the light bulb finally went on for me, I thought back to when I was teaching. The absolute best learning opportunity was twice a semester right before midterms and finals. I would hand out a study guide filled with questions including past exams. I held an optional study session outside of office hours and class time. It was almost always fully attended. The session was two hours, and I would answer any questions they had. Of course, there's no way for me to go through all of the questions that I had handed out in two hours and show solutions, so what the students did was go through the questions ahead of time to figure out which ones they knew and what they had trouble with or weren't sure. They were extremely motivated and prepared. Almost an ideal class. In two hours, I could go through the content in ways that just wasn't possible at any other time. And, they learned tremendously from each other.

The promise of GrockIt is supporting similar kinds of interactions online. It's a bit like Cramster and CampusBug, but focused more on real-time studying.

Certainly this kind of approach, leveraging the interest of other students, mentors, coaches, experts, etc. into the learning is something that I believe has big time value.

A long time ago I posted about Authoring in eLearning 2.0 / Add-ins & Mash-ups where I suggested that there would be easy ways to add social dimensions to our courses. Examples I suggested were polls or seeing other responses to open-ended questions or discussions, etc. I still think there's value in having these kinds of widgets available to us to include in our authoring. I don't think that Grockit can be the be-all and end-all of learning models. For example, I recently talked about italki - Social Network for Language Learning and Social Learning Objects - Flash Cards that each use different models. Still, it's obvious that lots of people see social learning and new models of content creation as big opportunities.

Part of the difference here between how a GrockIt looks at the world and how the typical learning professional looks at the world is size / scope of audience. When you have a potentially massive audience then you can make assumptions about finding enough people who are interested in real-time interaction. When I think about the relatively smaller audiences that we often have in corporate learning situations, then assuming that you will find five people online at the same time who are willing to interact, that doesn't feel like a safe assumption - unless you suggest when these study sessions will happen. Oh, hey, we could maybe do that. Allow people to schedule themselves into blocks of times when they know that other people will be fighting through the course as well. Naturally, the more social learners who enjoy studying when other people are studying will find this more appealing.

There's also a difference here in terms of who authors the content. Most of the social learning start-ups look for users to author a lot of the content. In the corporate world, that still mostly falls to the training / learning organization. I'm not sure I get where the content will come from, except by capturing things like mentoring notes, best practice answers, etc. Normally when we talk about eLearning 2.0 in a corporate context, it's not this kind of model, it's much more bottom up learning without someone formulating content ahead of time. My guess is that there's something in-between. Some structure provided but much of the content comes from learners using other resources and figuring things out on their own with guidance from experts, mentors, etc. Wow, that sounds a lot like how we learn many different things in our daily lives.

But certainly, I'm left with the question - what will social learning solutions look like in the corporate learning world?


Anonymous said...

Hey Tony -- great post. I've been looking at Grockit too. Cool stuff. I think you've hit the nail on the head in your final paragraph. This is pretty much exactly what we're doing. Basically we've defined two paradigms: the "amazon model" and the "forum model. The Amazon model = social media wrapped around more formal content. So basically allow ratings, comments, blogs, discussions, file sharing, polling, and social networking *around* a learning object. The Forum model is the idea of social media for it's own sake -- like Wikipedia or support forums that provide their own value independent on formal learning. We think a true social learning strategy needs to support both and that depending on the org and the social media maturity of the org, natural patterns and preferences will emerge over time.

Dipak Mawale said...

Hi Dr. Karrer, good post. Well its just similar to TeemingPod, what we are using at my end. It provides a small place on any Web page to get together and to interact on-the-spot, while staying on the page.

Adam said...

Enjoyed the post, Tony. Few thoughts...

While each organization has its own unique strengths to help drive systemic adoption of these kinds of technologies, it's clear that the tried-and-true training frameworks work really well when integrating social tools. Mostly because they're already a strength; a distribution platform; a broad footprint. To that end, I believe crowdsourcing learning in corporate environments works best when the social components can be pulled forward into design. For me, it's the best that the 2.0 world has to offer, when used with the right blend of authoritative expertise/cube next door. Partially because it has more impact value than traditional alone, and also because it creates an visible ecosystem of support which I believe is lacking from many corporate cultures these days.

Suggest using program cohorts on extended timelines to socialize around case-based or other result-oriented learning items. Not unlike your cram case. Easier to source learning from 50 of 500 around a specific goal than 5 from 150,000 general-purpose.

Or evolving a segment on the fly, so that all the application pieces (I would argue the most beneficial part to socialize) are co-created as part of the more structured experience.

Trick is to socialize the interstices vs. the ends -- that's where the social tools are rarest and most beneficial. So if content can be sourced from the system, in the context of an ongoing structured process, these tools have great value.

As for Grockit? Who knows. Cool products are everywhere but good execution is what it's all about.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,
Thanks for your write up! Now that we've shown an initial glimpse of Grockit at TC50, we're excited to start expanding both our network of learners and enriching the collaborative learning experience that we can enable.

As you saw from the demo, we're aiming to bring live collaborative learning online by drawing on and combining study groups, social networks, and casual games. We've built our first network for individuals preparing to take the GMAT exam. For this network, Grockit created the "content" (questions, answers, explanations, etc), but we are certainly aware of the power and value of enabling others to participate in this content creation process. It's worth mentioning that the thoughts and comments that learners share with others while working through the pre-authored content already represent one invaluable source of "user-generated content" incorporated into our system.

We've been primarily focused on building a set of tools to help coordinate, facilitate, and motivate collaboration learning among small groups across the network. As you suggest, the "coordination" piece is particularly important for a synchronous activity. We're providing mechanisms for someone to either join a session that is already in progress or "RSVP" to a session that's scheduled for some point in the future. As you mention, pre-scheduling can be quite useful for coordinating small groups of learners in other contexts, too.

Thanks again for your interest, and please feel free to sign up for the Grockit beta:

We're looking forward to hearing feedback from you and your readers!

Anonymous said...

great post. I've been looking at Grockit too. Cool stuff. I think you've hit the nail on the head in your final paragraph. This is pretty much exactly what we're doing. Basically we've defined two paradigms: the "amazon model" and the "forum model. The Amazon model = social media wrapped around more formal content. So basically allow ratings, comments, blogs, discussions, file sharing, polling, and social networking *around* a learning object.

Faraz Qureshi said...

Hi Tony,

Good post. When I think about what corporate learning will look like in the future I think about the millenials. Basically, this generation has grown up using wikis, facebook, etc. They will want a social learning environment at their job as well.

To your question about content creators, I think you answered it best. There will be a role for formal content from the training group or off-the-shelf courseware - but this will be just the catalyst as the users will generate discussions, questions and interactions that the formal content does not address.

I also think content will have to be more lively (audio/video) and fun (i.e. games). The millenials will expect it.



Yessenia said...

Hi Tony- great read. Your last question really caught by eye: what will social learning solutions look like in the corporate learning world?

The reason for that is, I work for a company called getAbstract( and we were asking ourselves this same question not too long ago. We wanted to answer this very question for our customers.

A little background on getAbstract: we provide rapid access to the vast expert knowledge of top business leaders and authors. We have the world's largest library of over 4,500 business book summaries.

We wanted a social learning solution to further support the breadth and depth of our library. We came up with a Virtual Book Club. This feature is a collaborative tool that allows creativity to develop throughout their organizations. One of our summaries is chosen by the client and then questions are posted concerning the book that relate to the company’s competencies, current issues, etc. Colleagues can then get together from anywhere in the world and post/share new ideas. It fosters innovation, collaborative and continuous learning, and the development of a reading culture while integrating Web 2.0 functions. We have received great feedback from our customers thus far. Interesting to see what new things will emerge in the social learning realm.

Yessenia Parra

Tony Karrer said...

Interesting to see how the Amazon model may have formal learning or objects like books/abstracts at the center of it.

I think that's a good entry point, but it's not clear how that scales from there. Certainly the formal learning, book, etc. cannot stay as the focus of the network.