The Educational Case for Social Media in the Workplace

This article was first published, by me, for IT Business. Check out their website for more of my published articles. 

Countering the movement from many companies to rule out social media like Facebook and LinkedIn on company time comes a school of thought that says “don’t ban it; use it to your own advantage.”

Many companies dealing with employees who do not necessarily have high levels of technical skills are finding that allowing workers to participate in sites like Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn can help their employees learn essential computer and social skills without the firm investing in expensive training.

It is an effective idea, according to researchers Ito Mizuko and Heather Horst and their colleagues at the Digital Youth Project. In a study entitled “Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project,” they discovered that social media in the workplace is a worthy tool to generate informal discussions that promote informal learning.

They suggest it works because the learner makes what they are interested in the focus of the social media posting, not what is being dictated by an instructor teaching a computer course, for example.

The research showed that when people get involved in discussion groups online, as in with LinkedIn groups, they often gain access to a lot of information that they would normally not seek out or that would be beyond their grasp.

Social media is a great way to tear down the barrier between formal and informal learning, suggests another study at the University of Florida. Researchers Baiyun Chen and Thomas Bryer illustrated that social media sites like LinkedIn connected employees with learning opportunities in broader communities, including experts in their field and colleagues in their business throughout the world.

In these communities, people are encouraged to share their work concerns and situations and to learn from the advice of their colleagues.

How can this great big world be handled judiciously by human resources policies?

One way to use social media effectively is for HR professionals to have corporate Facebook pages set up with the use of employees in mind. Fresh content could be offered regularly about policies and special events, videos offered for learning new skills (even basic communication or computer skills), case studies and message boards where workers share questions they have, volunteers are sought for wellness programs, and ideas about efficiencies are collected.

In some cases, a senior advisor could be designated to answer questions or to suggest solutions. This very informal sharing of knowledge often is more effective than insisting on face-to-face meeting between those with the questions and those with the answers.

From a human resources perspective, of course, this open attitude does pose some issues of concern. For example, what happens if an adviser writes something inappropriate  or something not based on fact?

If you decide to embrace social media as an informal learning tool in your workplace, be sure to talk to your technical and legal department about how openness can be promoted without allowing abuse of the system. Overall, some social media tools may be more effective, for your company, than others especially considering what you are trying to achieve with its usage. Many companies allow the use of social media solely for the purpose of their employees being able to take a break from their job duties.

Do you think the use of social media in the workplace is a good idea? Share with us your thoughts and opinions or share some personal experiences you’ve had. 


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