Using Social Networking to Enhance Learning in a Corporate Environment

Gina Minks March 14, 2008 EME 5608-01

Using Social Networking


Abstract Recent advances in social networking capabilities of computers provide new opportunities for training and learning within organizations. Learners no longer need to depend on classroom instructors, online programs, or other mediated instruction to acquire new skills and knowledge. Instead they can get or provide assistance by using a variety of online social networking tools. How are corporate educational groups responding to this shift in how learners get and share information? In this paper we will describe what constitutes social networking sites, how they are used to deliver educational services, and what barriers exist to their adoption.

Using Social Networking



The way the world communicates and learns is fundamentally changing right in front of our eyes. The evolution of computer hardware and software has created new avenues through which people can connect, collaborate, and learn. These technological innovations mean that informational content is no longer produced solely by organizations. Now individuals are also able to create content such as web pages, articles, pictures, and videos. Individuals are creating so much new content that it is estimated by 2010 70% of the information in the entire digital universe will have been created by individual users (Gantz et al., 2007). New content is being distributed virally sp? using social networking sites. These sites use the Internet to provide the technical means to create, share, and edit information. Educators have begun to experiment with ways to harness the power of these sites to provide an immersive learning environment for their students. While it has been relatively easy for K-12 schools and institutions of higher learning to incorporate some of these brave new learning technologies into their curriculum, can the same be said for corporate training organizations? This paper will discuss the components of a social networking site, an example of how such a site could be used for corporate education, and some of the barriers to adoption of these sites for corporations.

Components of a Social Networking Site
Social networking sites are websites that are accessible from the Internet that allow users to construct a public profile, publicly list their social connections with others on the site, and view and examine other users’ lists of connections (boyd & Ellison, 2007). Sites such as Facebook, YouTube, or Second Life are available to anyone on the internet. However, other sites are private and kept

Using Social Networking


behind a firewall and only made available to a defined population (e.g., enrolled students or current employees). Online sites that enable users to meet each other have existed practically since the Internet began (Turoff & Hiltz, 1977), but what makes social networking sites different is this ability to maintain and create connections based on interests. Unlike early online communities such as Usenet which were organized around specific topics, social networking sites center on the user’s definition of their world (boyd & Ellison). In fact, social networking sites in many cases are an extension of existing social networks. However, the public nature of these sites enables individuals to find social connections that may not have been obvious under normal social situations.

Basic Components
Information displayed in profiles differs from site to site. At a minimum, profiles are a username. Profiles also usually offer a means for other users to contact the user, and information about the user such as a list of their interests, their birthday, their educational and professional affiliations, and other personally identifying information. Profiles are usually public, meaning anyone logged into the site can view the information in the profile. In order for a site to be considered a social networking site, there has to be some way for users to construct and maintain social networks. The first way this is done is by displaying social connections in association with a user’s profile. These connections are known as friends, connections, buddies, subscribers, or contacts, depending on the site. Once a user publishes his or her list of connections, other users can investigate the list to determine their connectedness. The social network acts as a “media circuit” or a technical means for connected individuals to interact and remain connected (Lange P.G, 2007).

Using Social Networking


Other Components
These sites are more than just new ways to connect or make new friends. They also provide social media tools that allow users to create content. Examples of these tools are wikis, blogs, and tools to upload videos or audio podcasts. Users create content and edit each other’s content, creating even more new information. Using these sites for education can be a way to put students in charge of their own learning. Constructivist theory holds that reality is constructed by individuals and social groups interacting with and interpreting the world (Jonassen, Cernusca, & Ionas, 2007). If the students are expected to take on a primary role in their learning, the instructor must also take on a different role, that of social network administrator, master artist, concierge, or curator (Siemons, 2008). Instead of delivering top-down instruction, an instructor using social networking sites as an educational tool must act as a facilitator to learning activities. Social networking sites and their associated services are being used for education in the following ways: • A professor teaching an abnormal psychology class requires his students to read a book written by a man who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and write a blog post instead of turning in a position paper. The author sees the blog posts, and interacts with students (Welkowitz, 2008). • A non-profit charity uses a wiki, software available over the Internet that allows multiple users to easily create and edit the same document (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). Their wiki begins as an online database of project procedures, but grows into a source of self-directed training for newcomers, as well as a feedback loop to isolate gaps in performance (Welsh, 2007). • A college professor creates a peer-to-peer learning community by requiring each of his students to blog, edit the class wiki, and subscribe to RSS feeds for each of their classmates’ class blogs (“New Technologies”, 2006).

Using Social Networking


The combination of social networking and these user-generated information tools is being recognized by businesses as the “interconnection [of] fabric and protocols that bind people together in new and interesting ways” (Hollis, 2007). It is only natural that corporations should look to social networking sites to solve the problem of distributing “water-cooler learning”; that is, creating a way for everyone in the company to benefit from the knowledge passed between key players during informal discussions. As companies become more knowledge-driven, training content must be tailored even more to meet the needs of their employees. Harnessing the power of water-cooler learning with social networking sites may be one way to keep pace with these needs.

Quintiles Transnational Corporation, a worldwide leader in pharmaceuticals services, is an example of a company that is leveraging social media to meet the training needs of their workers. The 16,000 person company manages clinical trials for drug companies. Since they are highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, they have a wide array of instructional classes in order to meet U.S. federal regulations. These classes provide basic, base-domain knowledge about process and procedure that all employees must master. The knowledge management software system used by Quintiles has the capability to manage podcasts. The company is using this method of delivery to offer SME-produced “audio tutorials on various topics that employees download into portable devices and learn ‘on the fly’” (Frauenheim, 2007). The goal is to take the topics that would be available via “water cooler learning” and make them available to everyone in the organization. This informal learning is not designed to replace the federally mandated training, but as a complement to the skills learned in the instructor-led classes.

The National School Boards Association (2007) has recommended that teachers use social networking sites for professional development and staff communications. Some pre-service classes

Using Social Networking


have used blogging and RSS feeds to allow student teachers to connect with their peers, share experiences, reflect on their own learning, and prevent feeling of isolation (West, Wright, Gabbitas & Graham, 2006). Sites such as SecondLife take the step of user creation to a new level. SecondLife is a virtual world. To navigate the site, users create a 3-D representation of themselves known as an avatar. Users navigate their avatar through the 3-D world of SecondLife, design and resell 3-D content using an inworld currency known as Linden dollars. Lindens are currently trading at $265L to $1 US (“SecondLife Lindex Exchange”, March 12, 2008). Technology Corporation IBM created a program called Play@IBM inside Second Life for new employees and interns that expedites corporate orientations (Frauenheim, 2006). The program was targeted at employees at remote offices, to help the geographically displaced employees feel more connected to the main organization. Organizations have also used the rich 3-D environment in SecondLife to simulate complicated training scenarios. The I-95 Corridor Coalition, an alliance of transportation agencies, toll authorities, and related organizations, has used the site to create a virtual world training simulation for emergency responders (Lynch, 2008). The virtual world setting allowed individuals to assume the emergency worker role they would play in the event of a real emergency, and interact with emergency workers from other agencies to respond to a disaster on a simulated stretch of I-95.

Barriers to adoption
Whether you call it “collective intelligence” or the “wisdom of crowds”, social networking sites provide the technical platform to pool the individual knowledge of a large group of people in a self-organizing fashion (Tapscott & Williams). There are several barriers to harnessing this power to use in an educational setting. These barriers include:

Using Social Networking


Site availability. If depending on publicly available sites, instructors are bound by the availability of the site. If the social networking site is not online, or the systems are being taxed by a large number of users, instructional plans may need to be delayed or cancelled.

Legal issues. If an organization plans to use a social networking site that is open to anyone on the Internet, what happens if students are faced with sexual or racial harassment while using the site (Bugeja, 2007)? What measures must be taken to protect students from “griefing”, which is ruining another user’s experience in an online world just for the joy of doing so (Dibbell, 2008)?

Return on business investment. Creating course content and materials social networking sites will require technical developers and other investments in technology. There may also need to be a shift in how a training organization works and interacts with their audiences. Organizations should consider the benefits of creating personal learning centers for students, where students can reuse and recreate information according to their needs and interests (Downes, 2005) before dismissing the idea of using social networking sites as an instructional tool based on cost alone.

The digital age is an exiting time in which to be an educator. An infrastructure has been created for students to access information from many different types of sources, even each other. Giving students the ability to learn in a collaborative, flexible environment also builds innovative workers who increase an organization’s intellectual capital and overall competitive advantage (Cross, 2004). After all, if there is any truth to the idea that in an information age, “learning is the ultimate survival skill” (Cross), educators owe it to their students and the organizations they serve to facilitate socially networked learning.

Using Social Networking


References boyd, d. b., & Ellison, N.B. (2007). Social network sites: definition, history, and scholarship, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), Article 11. This article begins by giving a concrete definition of a social networking site. It then traces the history of social networking sites from in 1997 to Facebook in 2006. It discusses the social mechanisms of sites like Friendster and MySpace, and explains this is a global phenomenon. It ends by discussing the research that currently is being done about social networking sites as they relate to impression management, friendship performance, network structure, bridging online and offline networks, and privacy issues. Bugeja, M. J. (2007). Second thoughts about second life, Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(3), pC2-C4, 2p. This article discusses possible legal ramifications for designing instruction in Second Life. It briefly describes the interface, and then discusses if an administrator of professor could be help liable if a student is harassed or assaulted “in world”. The author gives examples of such crimes occurring in Second Life, and explains that Second Life’s terms of service have released them from the liability of these events. The article ends by cautioning instructors to develop a process before requiring students to participate in this virtual world. Cross, J. (2004). An informal history of eLearning, On the Horizon, 12(3), 103-110. I use him as a guest lecturer in my f2f version of the course! This article begins by explaining how people learn. It goes on to cover the earliest technologies that led to eLearning systems. It covers how the industry evolved from CBTs to instruction delivered over the Internet. The article recounts the history of eLearning by covering topics covered at the TechLearn conferences from 1999-2003. Dibbell, J. (2008, January 18). Mutilated furries, flying phalluses: put the blame on griefers, the sociopaths of the virtual world, Wired. Retrieved January 25, 2008, from This article explains the mayhem caused by the griefing activities of some groups on social networking sites. Griefing is defined, as are other terms such as “we do it for the lulz?”. The history of griefing is given, and the effect of social networking sites on griefing is explained. The article also discusses some of the financial effects of being a target of a griefer. Downes, S. E-learning 2.0, eLearn Magazine, 2005(10), 1. This article begins with the types of e-learning being deployed today. The article then discusses trends in the audiences that use the Internet, such as the so-called “digital natives”. Some of these trends include learner-centered design, Connectivism, and the belief that information should be shared, not hoarded. The article describes Web 2.0, and gives examples of how Web 2.0 technologies can be used to create E-Learning 2.0. Frauenheim, E. (2006). IBM learning programs get a 'second life', Workforce Management, 85(23), 6-6. This article explains what is involved in conducting a training session in Second Life. In particular, the article describes how IBM is using Second Life to integrate geographically disparate employees into the company’s culture. Frauenheim, E. (2007). Your co-worker your teacher: collaborative technology speeds peer-peer learning, Workforce Management, 86(2), 19-23.

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This article discusses ways corporations are using Web 2.0 technology to deliver corporate training. The article discusses "water cooler learning", or informal learning. The article discusses a pharmaceutical company that uses audio tutorials that students can consume when they have time and companies that use a virtual world for informal meetings. The article also discusses ways traditional software packages such as Oracle and SAP are using Web 2.0 technology to track training events. Gantz, J. F., Reinsel, D., Chute, C., Schlichting, W., McArthur, J., Minton, S., et al. (2007). The expanding digital universe: a forecast of worldwide information growth through 2010, 1-24. IDC. Retrieved March 8, 2008, from This white paper, which was sponsored by EMC Corporation, attempts to enumerate the amount of digital data that has been created. The paper also estimates the amount of data that will be created in the next several years. The paper describes how they measured the size of the digital universe, and explain what elements make up the digital universe. The paper explains what sort of mechanisms will be required to store the digital data being created. Hollis, C. (2007, October 17). Creating the social computer, Chuck's Blog: An EMC Insider's perspective on information, technology, and customer challenges. Retrieved February 22, 2008, from This blog post makes analogies between the social networking and creating a computer-based service-oriented architecture (SOA) to manage business processes. The post compares building Application programming interfaces (APIs) which would require protocols for communication and validation to building social networks that would require the same types of protocols. He also compares the need to balance cost, risk, and value when opening access to information in a computer network to the need to balance those same factors in an online social network. Jonassen, D., Cernucsa, D., & Ionas, G. (2007). Constructivism and instructional design: the emergence of the learning sciences and design research In , Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (Second) (pp. 45 - 52). Pearson Merril Prentice Hall. What a great choice ☺ This chapter begins by explaining how constructivism is a philosophy that is the backbone of many theories of how learners created and manipulate their worlds. The chapter goes on to relate design research to instructional design, and presents guidelines and examples of design research. Lange, P. G. (2007). Publicly private and privately public: social networking on YouTube, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1). This article begins by defining social networking sites, and explaining how social networks use electronic means of communication as a “media circuit” to remain connected to each other. The article describes an ethnographic investigation into the use of YouTube by young people. The article explains the findings of media circuits used by the YouTube users, and takes a deep look at what the users are willing to disclose about themselves on a public social networking site. Lynch, C. (2008, February 6). Companies explore virtual worlds as collaboration tools - - business technology leadership, CIO. Retrieved March 14, 2008, from This article describes how some companies are using Second Life as a training tool that simulates real-world work environments. The article explains how the I-95 Corridor Coalition is using Second Life to train emergency response personnel to react when a disasters strikes.

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National School Boards Association. (2007). Creating & connecting: research and guidelines on online social and educational networking, 12. National School Boards Association. Retrieved February 9, 2008, from This study reports the results of surveys administered to 9 to 11-year olds, parents, and school district leaders responsible for setting Internet policies on the use social networking sites. The study reports on how children use these sites to connect and create content. The study also points out how schools have policies to keep students away from the social networking sites that could help them connect and create while in class. The paper closes by offering advice on how to balance keeping the children safe while at the same time giving them access to sites that could enhance learning. Second Life. (2008, March 12)., LindeX Exchange: Market Data. Retrieved March 14, 2008, from This webpage gives the current exchange rate for Linden dollars, which is the official currency in Second Life. Learning and knowing in networks: changing roles for educators and designers. (2008, January 27). ITFORUM. Retrieved February 6, 2008, from This paper introduces the premise if the way information is being transmitted is drastically changing, the ways people learn must also be changing drastically. The paper discusses how the Internet is changing the way people are able to network, and suggests that younger people are more readily able to adjust to this type of information sharing. The paper review common learning theories, and suggests a new learning theory to reflect the connected way of obtaining information made possible by the Internet. The paper suggests new roles for educators to support the new ways of learning. Tapscott, D., & Williams, A. D. (2006). Wikinomics (1st), 324. Penguin Group. This book investigates social networking sites such as Wikipedia, Second Life, YouTube, MySpace and Flickr are changing the way the world collaborates to do business, create new information, and learn. The book explains how advances in technology have made social networking sites possible. The book also gives examples of how mass collaboration is a tool that can be used to save time and money while at the same time finding new ways to innovate. Turoff, M., & Hiltz, S. R. (1977). Meeting through your computer: information exchange and engineering decision-making are made easy through computer-assisted conferencing. IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved February 22, 2008, from This article, written well before the Internet Age became a reality, discusses how information could be shared using computer conferencing. The elements and mechanisms of computer conferencing are described. Examples, costs, and barriers to adoption are also discussed in the article. Welkowitz, L. (2008, February 22). Asperger's conversations: stretching classroom boundaries: Web 2.0, Asperger's, primary source, Asperger's Conversations: Weekly audio posts by Larry Welkowitz, Ph.D. Retrieved March 14, 2008, from This blog post describes the result of the author’s assignment to one of his undergrad classes. The class was required to create blog posts after reading a book written by a man who has Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism). The author read the blog posts of the undergrad Abnormal Psychology students, and posted his thoughts on their blogs. This blog post describes the reaction of the class to having their book reviews critiqued by the book’s author. Ah! Covered in your paper. Good!

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Welsh, A. (2007). Internal wikis for procedures and training, Online, 31(6), 26-29. This article reviews a company’s decision to collaborate using a wiki. The article discusses why the software was chosen, how the wiki encouraged flexible working, roadblocks to participation, and how the wiki created value for the organization. The author also shares ten tips for a successful procedure wiki. West, R., Wright, G., Gabbitas, B., & Graham, C. (2006). Reflections from the introduction of blogs and RSS feeds into a preservice instructional technology course., TechTrends: Linking Reseach & Practice to Improve Learning, 50(4), 54-60. This article describes the evolution of incorporating blogs as an instructional tool in a preservice class for teachers. The article talks about the technical barriers encountered by the students, and about the conceptual barriers to using these tools instead of more traditional tools. Suggestions were given to overcome these barriers, including having the instructor model the use of blogs and RSS feeds.

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Criteria for Grading Midterm Paper: A. Extent to which discussion of key ideas and practices provides a clear description of the trend: This paper is outstanding! It provides very clear picture of the ideas and practices involved in social networking, B. Extent to which example of how the trend has been employed serves to demonstrate use of the key ideas and practices associated with the trend: Good example. C. Organization, Clarity and Style: Extremely well-written D. Extent to which annotated reference list conforms to assignment requirements: Provides a wealth of what appears to be great references, with clear and concise annotations. Grade for paper: A Gina: I am VERY impressed with this work! Great job! I would like to encourage you to submit for publication in a practitioner oriented journal such as Training and Development or Training. If you would like to pursue this and have any questions about how to do so, feel free to contact me.

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