Principal and Director of Collaboration
Internet Time Alliance
Bath, United Kingdom
An independent consultant, speaker, and writer, Jane Hart is an internationally known specialist in the use of social media for learning and working. She is a principal of the Internet Time Alliance, a think tank of leading practitioners who help organizations exploit emerging practices to work smarter. Hart is also the founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT), a free resource site on the use of technologies for learning and performance, which has become one of the world's most visited websites about learning with more than 100,000 visits per month.
A prolific blogger, for many years, Hart has posted a daily learning resource on the popular Jane's Pick of the Day, and she posts regularly on her Learning in the Social Workplace blog. She holds a master's degree in information systems and technology from the City University in London, United Kingdom.
Can you tell me a little bit about how your first entered the learning and development field?
It goes back to the 1980s; I was teaching IT in a further education college, which is like a vocational college. I was really not only just interested in IT, but I was also interested in its approaches for teaching and learning, so I initiated lots of what we referred to back then as CBT [computer-based training] projects. Then in about 1990, I went to teach IT at a university in London as a senior lecturer and my interest continued to grow.
In 1994, my husband, who went on the first World Wide Web conference at CERN in Geneva, introduced me to the web. As soon as I saw it, I could see the potential for education, and I eagerly surfed around the web, taught myself how to use HTML, and developed a series of workshops on it. I set up the first web-based course in my university, where I tried to put into practice all my thoughts about how you could use this new media to deliver and provide education online.
I was brimming full of ideas of what can be done, but I was sort of amazed that people couldn't see the huge impact that the web was going to have on our lives. It was a good lesson because it taught me that not everybody gets it straight away.
A few years later, I left the educational sector work and set up as an independent consultant, providing services to both business and education, helping them with this new world of online learning.
You're one of the predominant experts talking about social media and learning. How did you get interested in that area?
It's just been a development of everything I've done with the web as it evolved. I've evolved with it. As new tools came along, blogs and then Facebook and then Twitter, and so forth, I just found out about these tools and started working with them and developed my own interest. While I probably investigated pretty much everything that has come along in a small way, there are some things I've gone deeper into because they've given me much more personal and professional value. But again, it's just been a general developmental approach for me.
You recently wrote that you're moving away from the term "social learning" in favor of the term "workplace collaboration." Why the shift?
The term social learning, first, doesn't have anything to do with the technology. We've always learned socially. People are beginning to get that one now, but they're still applying it to training, classroom-type learning, and still haven't really kind of appreciated how much learning is happening outside in a sort of continuous, collaborative way.
It's the word "learning" that I've struggled with, as people associate it with training so I decided to get rid of the learning word altogether and focus on the collaboration aspects. Because that's the most important: people coming together and working together and learning together—and it's just an integral part of what they do in the workplace.
We have to get over this mindset that we've got to train everybody—it's about supporting their learning and encouraging and helping them to do it within the context of their work. That really is exciting stuff, I think. Social media has really given us the power to be able to do that.
Do you have any advice for learning professionals who are looking to get some organizational buy-in or start leveraging social media within their organization?
We have to recognize that being social is a natural phenomenon. We interact and we learn with one another every day, so it's about building on that idea. It's not trying to force people to be social. People are already using these tools in their daily lives, both personally and professionally. They found platforms that could allow them to do their jobs quicker and faster and more effectively. Build on that interest and the desire to want to improve your team or your personal activities, and then help those people who can't do it themselves.
You show people how to use the tools because you want to build collaborative behavior for the purpose of the organization. You just can't train people to do that. You've got to actually get in there, start demonstrating it, and showing people how to do that. I think that is going to be a new way of approaching things for learning development professionals who are used to telling people how to do things.
People who are really not very convinced about all this stuff need to see a demonstration of how this can help and support employees. You can only do that if you can show the value it has for yourself. For instance, when I go around talking to people, I always try and think about what value it has brought me and the people I work with and how we work together, and then they can begin to see it. It's not just about telling people—it's about showing people. There's going to be a big change in the way learning people help others in the future.
How do you see the learning professional's role changing in the future?
I have to come up with what I call the "workforce development services framework." This framework includes four key services that the learning department will provide. The first is training, which is always going to exist. That's never going away.
Second is a performance support service that is about supporting access to quick and easy resources such as job aids and smaller bits of content. People have moved toward that already, but it's also about helping people to find things themselves on the social web, and encouraging people to access external resources and share them with their colleagues through curation and aggregation and those kinds of skills.
The third one is social collaboration service, which is about how people get to work collaboratively, and encouraging and supporting an approach to team improvement and team learning and the workflow.
The fourth service is a performance consulting service. In another words, if somebody has a problem in their organization, we should be looking at the problem and trying to find better ways to help you solve it.
These services are all going to be quite important. There's going to be a lot of overlap with them, but it means that people can specialize in different areas. The people who really want to study instructional design as trainers can do so. People who want to build out with new skills in these other areas in creating content and aggregation and curation and workforce collaboration, whatever it might be, can do so as well. All these services overlap and support one another.
Is anything on the horizon that you'd like to tell us about?
I recently started the Social Learning Centre. This is a social space where people can exchange ideas and learn from their peers. We offer monthly webinars as well as informal but structured online workshops. I've run a couple of these now on different topics. I've got one running at the moment on online communities, how you set up and sustain them. Soon I'll be running one with Harold Jarche on network literacy, which is about using these tools in your professional practice.
What else do you do when you're away from the field of learning?
I wouldn't like everybody to think I'm a complete workaholic, which I probably am, so I better come up with something. My daughter had a baby last September, so I have a new grandson, which is exciting.
My other passion is good food, and my husband is much of a gourmet. Over the years, he has introduced me to lots of new restaurants and places. We eat out in good places and when we travel, we explore new places to eat.