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Monday, April 9, 2018

Social Learning Platforms in the Classroom?

Yes, social learning platforms are in my classrooms (face-to-face, blended, and online) and have been part of my teaching methodology since 2011 or so.  I personally got online around 2008 not too long after social media started getting popular among the business community.  My first blog was actually on my original website (although clunky) because I remember writing a blog post about my very first Facebook post featuring my kids.  Of course, it took me a couple years to master all the start ups and I think twitter became a favorite in 2009 or 2010.  I remember, many of my SHRM friends showed me how to use twitter at conferences.  Twitter which is where I have my strongest following currently with just under 20k unique followers (no purchased lists - wouldn't even think of doing that).  In those early days, it seems like the Human Resource community was among the first to adopt the technology even though many of their employers were still strongly forbidding the use of any type of social media in the office mostly because they didn't understand it and though it was a huge waste of time.  Depending on how it is used, it certainly can be a huge waste of time but what I try to do is show students how and why to use it professionally.

I must admit, I do get some glares and sometimes unexpected reactions to my "twitter", "linked in" and "blogging" assignments when introduced at the beginning of the semester. Actually, all the social assignments are rolled up into one "Social Learning" aspect of the course.

Some words used to describe initial reactions to the assignments were: skeptical, resistant, inapplicable, not a social media user, not enthused, uninterested, and not open-minded.

After the grumbling about "so much extra work" in my class in the first few weeks, I begin to see a shift in attitude, writing, and understanding of the practical side of HR.  You see, most classrooms are assigned a text which is typically written by an academic professional who has dedicated their life to research and teaching.  Occasionally, you might find a text where a practicing professional is a co-editor but the text is still highly theoretically focused.  While it is important for students to learn the theory, they really need to understand how to practice and apply what they are learning which is why I incorporate ways they can learn from the professionals who are doing the job day in and day out. So in my class students get a mix of theory and practice.  The social learning assignments give them a chance to hear directly from those practitioners by reading blog posts, listening to podcasts, or taking assessments they can apply to their own lives.

While I'd like to eventually do a more thorough study on this topic, here is just a glimpse at what some of the students are saying in my own words during their summary reflection related to the assignment:

  • They are surprised that so much information is available by so many professionals in other fields besides HR.
  • They realize they can use these platforms for continued knowledge beyond the classroom especially if they want to get a job in or continue working in HR.
  • They have had an opportunity to build connections because of the assignment requirements and in one case a student actually got an internship that she felt never would have happened if she did not get the assignment.
  • Many had never thought of using a podcast to learn something new.  Most had never even listened to a podcast before this class.
  • If I had to guess about 9 out of 10 of my students really enjoyed the option to learn about HR this way.  Some have even decided to go into HR because of what they learned.
  • Some students began looking forward to the assignment each week and found the various assigned platforms interesting.  The assignment changed from week to week and once on a particular platform the student could chose a topic that interested them.
  • Students also liked the convenience of this type of learning such as listening to podcasts on their drive to and from work or flipping through the classroom hashtag while waiting at a doctors office.  
Like I said this is just a short list.  I hope to do more research at a later date but suffice it to say, I think this assignment is worthwhile regardless of what students think at the beginning.  Some words used describing the students reaction to learning on social media platforms: plethora of information, cutting edge ideas, beneficial, enjoyed, helpful, interesting, engaging, well-rounded learning experience, changed opinions about social media, and relevant.