Greetings from Moscow.

We often tell our employees, customers and ourselves, that e-learning is learning without borders. That you can learn wherever you are, at whatever time you want, and that you can gain knowledge without the previous conditions.

I wonder if we have truly achieved this premise, i.e. learning without borders or are we stating something that is not yet accurate?

Social Engagement

Go onto any social media site: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Quora or any of the thousands of sites, and you will see people engaging with total strangers. Sure they say they are followers or friends, but the vast majority are people they just met – via online.

In their day to day conversations or posts, how often are they telling each other about your company’s secrets? Your day to day operations or products coming down the line?

How many tell their fellow posters, that next week a layoff is coming or that the university is out of money and everyone is doomed?

Answer: Virtually nil. If that is the case, then why has the e-learning market failed to grasp the concept of real social exchange based upon job role or new employees by connecting them with fellow folks tied to those areas, but at different companies or businesses?

The common reason of course, is fear of company secrets or information, but again, if you use the various social media, you will see this rarely happens on these sites.

From the academia/education standpoint, this form of social exchange is already in play. Vendors such as Edmodo, enables teachers at various schools across the world to communicate with each other.

They can discuss best ways to teach a certain topic, seek insight, identify new instructional methods, etc, and no surprise here: they love it.

While it is true there are corporate solutions who follow this same premise: but from the business standpoint, what they are both (inc. educational) lacking: is an interface for a LMS or learning platform.

LMS

I have a sales department and have made some recent hires. These new employees have no sales experience, but they have potential. I place them into my LMS and have them take courses tied to sales: “how to pitch”, “prospecting”, “closing”.

I might have a social learning component in my system, with the standard FB like page or something similar and with “groups”.

They can share and discuss among themselves and with fellow employees.

What though, have they really learned? How can they understand the challenges and issues they may or already have faced, without the fear of going to the department head or higher, and worrying they might can terminated or be perceived in some negative light?

What if though, instead of having these employees communicate only with themselves, they can within your LMS, communicate with other “new employees” to “sales” from other companies?

Now, they are connected with their peers, specifically tied to their job role or their predicament. If I am new to management, why only enable them to communicate and learn from within, when they can (and most likely do so via social media) communicate and learn from others, outside your company?

Now before you argue about “security” or “privacy”, you can create (even now using mashups or some APIs) the ability to lock down or block certain areas.

A vendor who sees real value in this approach, can create an interface so that if a company or business, choose to do so, they could “connect” with another LMS client, who has the same interface.

Hub

I always saw my LMS (when I purchased them) as a hub, but not as merely a LMS. It was the brain, if you will, the central component of my “learning community”. Pods which were off the hub included a bookstore, library, event center, courses (to sign up and take), chat rooms and other items.

They were skinned appropriately, but when designed, implemented and used, they were seen in my eyes as pods. I had pods dedicated only to my employees, and ones for my customers, and yes, some that they could cross over with one another.

Yes, it was a LMS, and yes these pods, where really just areas within the LMS, but when I decided to add a new component to my LMS, using a mashup, it in a sense was an “addition” (if you think of it as a house) to the system.

So, why do we see a LMS only as a LMS, but not as a hub for learning?

The reason I mention this angle, is with it, one pod can be your social exchange pod. It can be locked down from the rest of your system, and thus, you can connect it with another pod from another system.

Sure, the vendor can create a social exchange within their main site, with access to those who are interested in such an area and are clients of the same system, but why stop there?

Maybe, the have a group for leadership or new employees to sales, but what if they don’t?

Worse, how many areas or groups is too many? With my own hub (LMS) and pod(s), I can identify the areas of interest, specifically targeted to my employees and their needs.

Another client (company) can do the same thing.

They identify via a social exchange site contained within the LMS vendor’s site (access required) what areas or groups they would like to connect with: 1st year management, new employees, etc. Then other companies can explore and choose whom to they wish to connect with and use.

As a result, you now have another channel for learning. You can still have your security and privacy, and again, if your employees are using social media (and most are), then the argument of business secrets, doesn’t hold water.

Best of all, as technology evolves, this form of learning evolves too. Augmented Reality – check. Gaming sims with social exchange: check.

Mobile learning with tablets – in of itself border free- and now with social exchange: wow, lots of possibilities.

You may ask, but what if I have a learning platform, can I do this as well? Absolutely, especially because you can have even more options and possibilities.

Social Learning: Social Exchanges

Let me make this clear: a social exchange can be everything social learning wants to be and desires to be, but has failed to live up to.

We are dying here with social learning, not because its premise is flawed, but because it does not maximize what it can do – which is enable people to collaborate, engage and learn without borders.

We are collaborating and engaging among ourselves. Stuck in a bubble, if you will. Our bubble? Your own company. Business. Location – even if you are a multi-conglomerate and global – it is still your “own” company.

Where is the exchange of learning and ideas in that?

Bottom Line

We cannot tell ourselves any longer, nor pitch it to others, that e-learning is truly learning without borders. It isn’t.

What it is however, is learning within our own border: our own company, school, institution, association, firm and business. We may cross out of it, when we have customers, but they themselves are limited within the bubble as well.

We can change that. It may take awhile, after all, it is not a quick fix, but it can be done, because without, we need to face reality:

- Social Learning is struggling

- Our employees/students/customers really are being provided with limited knowledge – the knowledge we provide to them, offer to them or “allow” them to choose

- The true exchange of knowledge is being held back, not because of lack of desire, but rather restraints that while they were fine, five years ago, are no longer acceptable

This isn’t about smashing e-learning. It is about adding additional value.

We can gripe all we want, about how our employees are not using the system, but let’s be real here – if you use social media frequently, do you use its “approach” within your LMS as frequently? I would surmise the answer to be no.

Let’s change it. Let’s truly open the borders for learning.

Let’s show our learners, they can learn without the barriers or the confines of our own company or institution.

When we do that, then will we achieve our real premise: to learn without any limitations: regardless of your location, your time zone and now, your bubble.

Note: Please excuse the lack of “bolding” or “colors”, as this piece is written via my WordPress app on my iPad.

I will be posting in real time via my Twitter account (diegoinstudio) and my Linkedin Group (E-Learning 24/7) happenings at EduTech Russia 2011 on Sept. 20th/21st in Moscow.

E-Learning 24/7