Research indicates that as much as 70 percent of workplace learning is informal, occurring outside the classroom and in the spaces between formal training events. Social media is one way for the training department and the training practitioners to get into those spaces and reach employees between events. In essence, training approaches incorporating social media strategies more closely resembles how we really learn in our day-to-day activities.

Which tool?

At present there are literally dozens of social media tools available. In choosing the technologies to use, remember that every additional site to check, every different user ID and password to remember, every new interface to learn, creates another obstacle for the learner. Try to meet your learners where they are and take them where your organization wants to go.

For instance, Facebook and LinkedIn allow users to create group pages with discussions. Because so many people are on Facebook and tend to check in often, it's the product discussed in this book. But, depending on your learners, you may want to explore adapting the ideas here for the similar structure of LinkedIn. Consultants and sales reps may have the need to accumulate many business contacts and identify future prospects. They may all have LinkedIn accounts and may choose to log in there every day to make new contacts and check in with groups. In that case, you might choose to utilize LinkedIn with your workforce.

Try to identify the tools your organization's employees are already using or those that are likely to meet their real needs. According to Deloitte data in State of the Media Democracy, 47 percent of Baby Boomers maintain a profile on a social site. Of those, 73 percent are Facebook users, while 13 percent use LinkedIn.

Choosing what to use when

Think of the different technologies as "tools," for that's what they really are, and choose the one that suits your instructional goals. Facebook is a hammer, a wikis is a saw, and each is suited to different overarching goals. It is tempting - and I am often asked - to offer one answer for a given situation. (As in, "If you want to have a community, then use Facebook. If you want to do collaborative work, use a wiki.") It just isn't that simple.

Many different tools can support a community: It may surprise you to hear that my own "best" community, for my own development, exists among my Twitter contacts. Most tools will allow you to have discussions or do collaborative work. You'll need to choose things that support your instructional goals, but also those that your organization will allow (perhaps Facebook instead of MySpace, or an inside-firewall microblogging tool instead of Twitter), what your organization already has in place (perhaps a company Facebook page or blog) and what your users are already using and/or will accept. You also need to choose tools that you are comfortable using and will work to support. For example, a blog may not be the best choice for the trainer who doesn't like to write.

It's tempting, too, to become "tool happy": "I'll use a blog, but we'll add on some Twitter activities, and link back to a wiki." Think through what you are trying to accomplish, identify tools that will help you get there, and stick with your instructional plan. Also try not to change horses mid-stream: If the blog isn't working as you'd hoped, don't ask learners to suddenly switch to a wiki. Talk with them about how to make the blog work for the group. Be flexible, but also be mindful of demands on your learners - you want to support learning, not create confusion.

Basically, all tools are the means to an end (better transfer of learning, more engagement in the learning process, growth of a learning community, support for informal learning), but they are not ends in themselves. The point is not to "do" Twitter any more than it is to "do" e-learning. Always consider: "What do my learners need? How can I help them find it? " And stay alert - as tools change, evolve, and come and go - to new possibilities. The issue is not the technological widget but the means by which interaction around the technology is enabled.

Getting started

It's mostly about facilitation, and you already know how to do that

Before you begin, particularly if you find this all somewhat daunting, consider this: You are already, more or less, doing this. As a trainer, you already possess skills critical to facilitating and guiding discussion, drawing out quieter participants and managing louder ones, and recapping conversations. You know how to facilitate a role play or respond to a challenging participant. You have a repertoire to bring to bear on activities, even if you are guiding them in a new environment. You will find that your past experience serves you well in supporting and facilitating interactions with social media tools.

Extending the training experience

It is important in using social media that you move learners toward working together, toward building community, not just posting an answer in response to you. Encourage dialogue, debate, and interaction. It is possible to be collegial and personal without revealing private details. For instance, asking people to post a photo of a pet, a link to the website of their alma mater, or a golf course they'd like to play helps to build connections and identify similar interests without invading privacy.

Supporting the learners

Nothing else you do - lesson planning, careful design, thoughtful choice of technologies - will matter if your learners struggle through the training. Take steps to make the experience painless and positive for them: Make the social media site(s) easy to find. Put your Twitter handle, blog URL, or Facebook name on handouts, your organization's website, and in your email signature. Provide ample instruction in setting up accounts and using the tools.

Encourage collaboration; do not force friendships. You can, for example, set up a Facebook group or fan page and invite your learners to join you there. They do not have to become your Facebook "friends" or set up "friend" relationships with other class members. They can access the group or site and participate without everyone else being privy to what is on their own personal pages.

On the one hand, provide clear guidelines and deadlines. For instance, if you are asking learners to read and respond to one another's blog posts, then the authors will need to have their posts up by a certain date so the others have time to read them. If learners are engaging in a collaborative project, then ask them to be sure to check in regularly (and define "regularly." Do you mean once a day or twice a week?).

On the other hand, don't micromanage. While providing clear guidelines and deadlines is necessary, organizations and their trainers seem overly concerned with learners who may post inappropriate or critical comments. Some instructors feel the need to over - control and direct conversation toward some desired end, and this sometimes can appear manipulative. Worse, too many rules can discourage participation.

Walk the talk

In order to be effective at using social media, you have to start participating in social networking activities and develop fluency with the tools. If nothing else, set up Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts. Use them as you follow along with this book. Find some blogs to read (search "google blog finder for topics like training, e-learning, or adult learning). You won't learn about Twitter by having someone "explain" Twitter. You need to join and participate in order to learn how to use it as an effective training tool. Likewise, take a stab at trying out the many features available in Facebook. Find and link to a video clip. Upload some photos. Start a work-related discussion among like-minded colleagues. Work toward the goal of becoming, in the early 21st century, the "Networked Trainer."


Jane Bozarth is an internationally known trainer, speaker, and author. She is the author of Pfeiffer's E-Learning Solutions on A Shoestring; Better Than Bullet Points: Creating Engaging E-Learning with PowerPoint; From Analysis to Evaluation, and, with Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Challenge Continues.In addition to her work as E-learning Coordinator for the state of North Carolina, Bozarth is the social media strategist of InSync Training, and she is also a moderator of a number of popular Twitter real-time #lrnchat sessions.

This article is reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning. Copyright (c) 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.