Incredible as it may seem (to me anyway) today is the one year anniversary of the Many Ways to Learn blog. I posted my first entry on August 7, 2009. At the time, every training journal, magazine and newsletter was loaded with articles about social media. (It seems they still are!) Up until then, I had been indifferent to social media. My only experience with it was a half completed profile and a dozen connections on Linkedin, and watching my kids connect with their friends on Facebook. But after being bombarded and bludgeoned with articles on how social media was the biggest thing to hit the training industry since the advent of elearning, I thought I’d better investigate it. So I simultaneously started this blog, created a Twitter account, completed my profile on LinkedIn and began reaching out to people to see what would happen. It was going to be my own mini social experiment.
Not knowing what to expect, I approached all of this with a bit of skepticism. My perception of social media was that people were wasting time tweeting things like, “I’m taking a shower now” or “I’m moving from the couch to the loveseat.” At that time, I had no understanding of the value it could bring. I enjoyed writing the blog entries, but I never thought anyone would actually read them.
Here it is one year later. As I reflect on my social media experiences over this last year, I’d have to say they have been both fruitful and satisfying. Here are a few things, I have learned:
- People are interested in what I have to say – incredible as it may seem to me, people do read my blog. Not by the thousands, but a by the hundreds each month. Each time I publish a new post, I get a spike in readers so I know I have a few subscribers out there. It is good to know that I can contribute to other people’s learning and enjoyment in at least some small way.
- There are many thriving virtual communities – whatever you may be interested in, there are people out there who are interested in the same things. I love instructional design. I’ve been lucky enough to find a community of people who are interested in workplace learning. Many of them now are my Twitter and LinkedIn contacts. It is great to have people to talk to who are genuinely interested in what I like to do. My family and friends are bored to death by the things I write about in this blog.
- Hobbyists, not professionals, make up the heart of virtual communities – within each community you will find experts, enthusiastic novices, and everything in between. And while there are many professionals on line, they are not the ones who do the bulk of the information sharing. Since they sell their content and expertise, they can’t really give it all away. On the other side of the coin, the hobbyists have no profit motive so they are free to share whatever they like.
- Social media enables you to connect directly to thought leader and experts – the amazing thing about social media is that you can connect with just about anyone. Thought leaders, authors, and even celebrities (if you so choose) will not only accept you as a follower, but in some cases will follow you back. It is great to be able to discuss a topic with the person who originated the idea or wrote the book. Prior to social media, this ease of access was not possible.
- There are no geographic boundaries on the connection possibilities – this is an obvious one but it is still worth mentioning. I live in Connecticut but I have social media contacts that I regularly engage with all over the country, in Canada, the UK, Germany, India and Australia. How wonderful is that?
- Twitter can lead to real business opportunities – Some social media contacts can be converted into face-to-face business contacts. I recently hired a vendor to deliver Virtual Team Building training for a group of our managers who I met because she was following me on Twitter. I’ve had other contacts deliver proposals for services I might consider using in the future.
- There are a myriad of web 2.0 tools out there, and many of them are free – there is way more to the Web 2.0 world than just blogging and tweeting. Thank goodness for people like Jane Hart, who aggregate lists of tools to save the rest of us the leg work.
- It is possible to effectively collaborate at a distance – I manage a virtual team. I’m in Connecticut. I have two team members in Georgia, one in Ohio and one in Florida. We are able to work together at a distance by sharing our desktops, storing files in shared workspaces, and using online collaboration tools.
- Real learning does take place through social media – I’m living proof of that. A year ago I knew nothing about social media. Now I use several different tools to regularly to connect with people inside and outside my company. I’m doing things inside my company that I learned from my external social media connections and experiences. The informal learning that takes place online is real and powerful.