Social software & learning

This morning the Emergent Learning Forum met in Menlo Park to ponder the convergence of learning and social software. Since most learning is informal, and most informal learning is person-to-person, how can leveraging one's ability to network with others do anything but make for better learning? The sum is greater than the parts.


Altus Learning Systems captured the entire event on video and will sync it with the slides, so I won't go into detail here, so much as give the 10,000' view.

Watch for the blow-by-blow at the Emergent Learning website.

Spoke's Andy Halliday gave us the lay of the land. In the network at left, the colors dots are nodes. The connections between them are arcs. The entire diagram is a graph. Degrees of separation are the number of hops from one node to another. (The top right green node is three degrees of separation from the bottom left red node.)

Social network analysis can show you the shape of a network. For example, on the battlefield you could map the radio communication among a group of tanks and figure out which is in control; that's the one you take out.

Spoke is based on private information and self-determination. Otherwise, many business people would never participate. Unlike on Friendster, where participants share personal information to attract dates, a sales person is extremely protective of contacts.

Privacy concerns are another issue. In the U.S., if someone hands you a business card, you feel free to share that information with others. In the EU, it's against the law to share that information!


Anita Lo told us about how Intel selected and implemented an expert locator system. Anita joined us from Folsom, hence the photo of "the speaker."

She related how Intel captures and re-uses actionable knowledge. One of our members noted how rare it is to see an engineering group thoroughly plan its in-house marketing as part of implementation.


Traditional Knowledge Management follows a publishing model, said David Gilmour, CEO of Tacit Knowledge Systems, and that's tough to implement. By the time you design a new structure, the business has already changed again. Relying on users to update their own profiles is iffy, and the least likely to comply are the very movers and shakers you'd want to have involved. Then there's the fiction that everyone's ready to share information equally, when in fact it's a loaded political, selective, cultural situation that's anything but equal.

David recommends a brokerage model. Tacit repurposes information that's already available (such as email and presentations) to mine the relationships and expertise held by each user. At first this smacks of spyware; in reality it's the opposite. Tacit provides pointers to people who are in the know. It never reveals the source information. Management can't see who's taking advantage of the system.

This approach works because the system does most of the work. Users don't have to re-enter or code information. Categories are self-organizing. (Preparing and maintaining taxonomies is a pain.) Participants can opt out entirely or category-by-category. The benefit of pinpointing who else is working on the areas that interest you can be enormous. One pharma client found that lengthy experiements they were preparing to do had already been done in their European operation. This alone pays for the system.

Alex Gault, Small World Ventures and a director of Emergent Learning Forum, announced a membership directory and networking initiative he has negotiated for the Forum. Scott McNealy calls this "eating your own dog food;" I prefer to think of it as "drinking your own champagne." Spoke is going to set up a voluntary network for members of Emergent Learning Forum. It will be a free benefit to members. We hope to spark formation of a global community of practice. This will roll out in April. If you want to participate, please join the Emergent Learning Forum. It's still free.

Keep up with Alex's blog, Collaboration Café.

Posted by Jay Cross at February 26, 2004 12:48 AM | TrackBack

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