Social Network Technology for Learning – What’s the Hook?

Lots of talk, writing, webinars, head-nodding, perhaps even gnashing of teeth around social networking technologies for learning in an enterprise. There seems to be lots of promise as well as many words of caution … some advocating its adoption and others (although not nay-sayers in particular) voicing real concern. And it’s on many fronts – from cultural issues within an organization, ease of use regarding the technology itself, risk and security, and so on.

Yet there’s a key question plaguing me regarding the adoption and use of social networking technologies: What’s the hook?

Why do people REALLY use social platforms? What’s the big deal – on a personal level? After all, I think we need to find that personal hook in order to translate it into the workplace, otherwise it will suffer from the “we built it but no one came” syndrome.

One aspect, and a key one to my mind, is that folks use these tools/platforms because they are enjoyable to use. They are even fun. There is often an emotional connection that goes beyond whether it is useful.

As a personal illustration … my entire family uses Facebook (who doesn’t, right?). Each of us is sure to be on it each day; and occasionally spends quite a bit of time there. When we were just getting started however, one family member said to me, “I don’t get it. Why would I want to be on it?” My reply was to just do it – use it for awhile and then see if you “get it.” Lo and behold! this family member is probably the biggest user of Facebook.

But is it because we’re interested in what our ‘friends’ are doing from one moment to the next?
Is it because we’re desperate to catch up on the latest news or gossip?

To be honest … there are many many many status updates in my news feed that are completely meaningless to me.

Even so, it’s fun!

I can instantly “like” someone’s post or piece of information. I can see who else has “liked” it.
I can comment immediately on a post or update; and that comment is immediately there for my friends to see (and comment on as well).
I can tag my friends; they can tag me (and it’s super dooper easy to do).
The system recommends other people whom I might now and want to ‘friend.’ It even suggests current friends to reach out to, to write something on their wall or whatever.
And then there are all the casual games … which I can play solo or even challenge my friends.
As well as several different applications that all work to tie me and my friends together somehow.

All of this is fun. And THAT’S the hook.

Sure it may be useful; it can be helpful to communicate with people … yet it is enjoyable to use.

So back to my key question … regarding social network technologies for learning within an organization:
How can we translate and transfer the ‘fun’ factor?
How might we shape the use of the tech at work from ‘I have to use it’ to ‘I enjoy using it’?

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About Rory

I make my home in the central part of the Garden State along with my family. When I'm not working as an Instructional Designer (focusing mostly on Web-Based learning ... and other eLearning technologies) or researching something, I'm found at home playing computer or video games. Among other things, I volunteer as a choir member and catechist for 8th graders at my parish.
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