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Ask the Trainer: Social Media Tools

A: Social media tools offer enhanced opportunities for learning outside of training courses, and companies are increasingly using these tools to support informal learning, says Jane Bozarth, author of Social Media for Trainers (www.bozarthzone.com).

Social media can help learners stay connected—and keep the training topic in mind—long after a course is completed. Social media also provide opportunities for employees to learn from one another, whether they are new-hires or veteran employees and even if they work in different time zones or on different shifts, she says. For example, employees who join an online community can ask questions about—and get answers for—everyday tasks or problems who face at work.

However, learning via social media can be stymied if challenges arise and are not properly addressed. For example, many companies discourage open discussion of company information because they “love to believe their information is private, discreet, and special,” Bozarth says. 

While proprietary pharmaceutical research, for example, should be kept confidential, companies need not discourage employees from discussing more general information on developing leadership skills and improving customer service. “I’m not convinced that needs to be secret,” says Bozarth.

Forcing social media on employees is another problem, she says. To successfully use social media as a learning tool, there needs to be a connection between the time invested and actual organizational results. “Forcing people to use social media because it’s there is a problem,” she says. “You need to have a reason. 

It needs to make sense.”

Forcing a topic on employees is not productive, either. Instead, Bozarth recommends encouraging employees to join forums to ask questions about issues that they are interested in. “We need to talk about what they want to talk about,” she says.

She also cautions against trying to overmanage an online community. “If you try to control it, it will turn underground.” Or, employees simply will choose not to use it, because it is a burden.