The last couple of years has seen an exponential growth in the number of articles appearing online that talk about the Social Learning revolution. While this is indeed relevant and pertinent in light of tectonic shifts in the workforce, proliferation of online social networks, and usage of smartphones, we might have to keep in mind the fact that Social Learning has been around ever since life appeared on this planet.
All life forms are inherently social (there are always exceptions). Being “social” refers to the need or tendency to communicate with other beings of your kind. There is an interesting article from Howstuffworks that claims that even bacteria communicate with one another. Now that I have made my point, let’s just roll with the fact that animals, including human beings, have been social from the beginning. Being social is a key trait that aids in the survival of species. Ancient men hunted in packs, learnt from one another, passed on their experiences to their offsprings (so what’s the big deal now that enterprises have embraced social learning?). Social Learning was always a necessary survival mechanism and strategy.
So what’s this brouhaha about Social Learning that has come to dominate the web, especially in the context of learning? I think the real impediment to Social Learning came about as men stopped being creatures rooted to their own “caves”. As we evolved into a mature life form, we started venturing out of our known brood or social circle. We started traveling to new places, evolved formalized approaches to communication, set up a barter system that worked as long as we had the right things to barter with. I can go to any country and live a decent life as long as I have the local currency or US Dollar. There is no compulsion for me to learn the local language or necessarily have local connections for me to survive in a new country. The “rules of engagement” between human beings is pretty much the same in any part of the world. This strangely has resulted in people becoming less dependent on Social Learning as a means for survival. In many ways, some of us do not even think there is a need to interact with the local population when we go to a new country. That’s why you see insular immigrant populations all around. It’s a strange dichotomy – on one hand, technology has shrunk the world and brought us all closer, but on the other hand, technological advances has made learning impersonal and less social. Here is one memorable scene that alludes to what I am trying to say.
The advent of social networking technologies and social media has in fact taken us back in time in terms of our perceived need to connect and learn from one another.
However, Social Learning enabled by viral platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc, continue to encourage impersonal connections. But this is definitely a better situation to be in. Enterprises (big or small) that grasp the history of Social Learning and the fact that it is here to stay will be successful in the future. In fact, the best Social Learning tool will be the one that can also foster “personal” communication on a large-scale (seems like an oxymoron). Such a tool will take us right back to the caveman days!