One of the best things about being an instructional designer right now is that now more than ever we feel that our field is in the zeitgeist of what's happening in the media and technology worlds. What we do (rather, how we do it) is influenced greatly by technologies that support more flexible means of communication and collaboration. Social media and mobile technologies have turned the spotlight on social learning concepts, which in turn have made more of us think about the large, ill-charted dark matter of culture: informal learning.

Of course, our response to this turn of events should be elation - finally, Charles Jennings can stop talking about 70-20-10! We can explain communities of practice without once using the phrase "well, no, that's not really an example of what i'm talking about..."! (bonus: we can avoid awkward tittering by wholly avoiding the name 'Wenger' in a classroom setting). Everyone in the Internet Time Alliance can retire to tropical islands. Their work here is done, because everyone in your care now understands the value of social and informal learning.

Except maybe they don't. Maybe you're having trouble convincing your boss that her task force is not a community of practice. Maybe your top-down Yammer implementation has yielded more tumbleweeds than users. Perhaps it's because, in fact, no one is making the connection between the breakthroughs in networking that they can plainly see and whatever it is that you do. Maybe you should brag about your personal learning network.

In this new world, those in our care probably find it harder - not easier - to square the existence of this wikiHow entry and your job as conductor of whatever they've been led to think formalized training is. Do you exemplify the benefits of social and informal learning in your own work life? Do you document successes of social learning? Are you watching and listening to the concerns of your co-workers, providing the right nudge when needed, and openly sourcing your information? Are you connecting your peers with relatable thought leadership or community resources that you've found valuable? How about using technology to make spaces for serendipitous learning - loosely organized, de-escalated learning, free from expectations but endowed with purpose?


As I've said before, I love our kind of people, and not just for their unfailingly sparkling personalities. Every day, they are useful to me in my work, and every day I make it known that I am bringing fire to those in my care because of my associations. In design meetings, I nip errant learning styles talk in the bud. I stay up-to-date on the development of Project Tin Can and use what I know to rethink learning management systems. I experiment with Google Hangouts. I make it easy for myself to be a node in the network and I make sure that people know that part of my value is being as connected as I am.


While I probably spend more time talking about #lrnchat than I do participating in it these days, I've been known by more than one boss as 'the Twitter guy.' I'm proud that I eventually stopped being 'the Twitter guy' - that is, I stopped being just a tolerated, quirky evangelist for the platform when I stopped telling people how valuable Twitter is and started using it very publicly to inform my discourse in the workplace. (As Jane Bozarth says, "Google gets you links. Twitter gets you answers.) As a result, the questions that I get around social media are less of the "what good is Twitter?" variety and more about how to use social learning tools to their best effect.


As I rely on a large, diverse learning network to help me be competent and prescient, I hope to show (not tell) that I am here to solve problems, not simply build courses or teach classes. I can suggest and employ social and informal learning strategies in part because they're already working: social media tools, content curation, collaboration, and networked learning are making me better at what I do.


Craig Wiggins has been helping people create and manage learning experiences for the last 10 years. He is the eLearning Instructional Design Strategist for the Corporate Executive Board's Corporate Leadership Council, where he manages the creation of meaningful distance learning and performance solutions. Craig holds a B.A. in anthropology and an M.Ed. in curriculum development, and spends a lot of time thinking about how to sneak usability, accessibility, and proper task analysis into the mix. In his natural habitat, he is usually storyboarding on wall-sized whiteboards or pontificating on Google+.