The Global, Mobile and Social Learning Network

Zuckerberg Social Network 01

I recently watched "The Social Network", the fictional account of the founding of Facebook, for the second time. Less than a decade after most of the story took place and only three years since the movie’s release, it seemed so old fashioned and old school. The lack of mobile communication struck me the most. These individuals were tethered to their not-very-flat screen computers!  No one tweeted or pulled out an iPad. Their mobile phones were large and definitely not smart. There was no texting, checking e-mail after class or surfing the Internet to resolve a dispute in a bar. (Blackberries were around in 2004 but primarily used in corporate settings.)

According to ITU (International Telecommunications Union), the number of mobile phones worldwide in 2014 (7.3 billion) will exceed the world’s population (7.2 billion). In more than 100 countries, there are more mobile phones than people (e.g., Russia with 1.7 phones per individual).  In the US, approximately 35% of these phones are smart (e-Marketer), a number that will grow to 50% by 2017. Meanwhile mobile tablets have penetrated 34% of the market in the US. Thus, it’s no surprise that 80% of all access to the Internet will be from a mobile device by 2015 (Horizon Report).

The impact on learning in the educational and professional arenas, particularly social, will be significant. According to American Ambient Insight Report, US corporate purchasing of m-Learning (i.e., mobile learning) is growing at a rate of about 29% annually. Five years ago, mobiles were often banned from classrooms and meetings. Now teachers are asking students to bring their iPads and phones to school so that they can tweet from the class # or view YouTube educational videos. A professional conference today often begins with the request to turn a phone onto vibrate (and not ‘off” as in days of yore) so that one can follow the conference # and share with others.

Professional, social m-Learning has expanded beyond hashtags and tweets from conferences. IBM, Google Sap, Kraft, Pepsi and Accenture have internal app stores.  Over the past few years, Fortune 500 corporations have been testing and developing formal and informal m-Learning programs, which both stand-alone and/or support other online or offline training.

A few interesting examples:

  • Merrill Lynch piloted an m-Learning  (GoLearn) program with executives who took mandated courses on their blackberries.  These executives completed the courses in 54 fewer minutes than other users and had a 12% higher completion rate. More than 75% praised the “convenience” and “time management” qualities of the initiative.
  • McDonalds in Japan deployed employee education programs on Nintendo DS consoles to cut training time by half, as workers were familiar and comfortable with the platform.
  • Accenture launched a podcast initiative (uPodcasts), which enabled employees to download podcasts from key practice leads that could be listened to “on-the-go.”
  • IBM studied their workforce mobile habits and found that the majority used their mobile devices for just-in-time information. Their m-Learning program breaks into three key categories: enablement, videos and social. The enablement offering includes rich media assets optimized for mobile devices.  The video initiative shares mastery and other how-to films.  The social learning assets include mobile tool aggregators (e.g., curated list of mobile tools), mobile media libraries and informal learning support (e.g., access to learning portals and sites, filters for mobile appropriate content).

While these programs are impressive, they only hint at the future of m-Learning. In particular, the potential for social learning communities impresses those in the educational and research world. Lee Ranie, the Director of the Pew Internet project, spoke on the topic of m-Learning in 2011 at Educause. In his presentation, he noted that new types of collaborative and mobile learners are emerging in the digital age. To them, knowledge is organized “ecologically” with integrated and interactive disciplines. In this new mobile world “intelligence” is based on learning communities that collaborate around those disciplines.

Our founder and CEO Lucian Tarnowski has correctly observed that we are moving through the age of “digital enlightenment” with nearly all of human knowledge at our fingertips. It’s not only at our fingertips, it’s in our pockets. And we also carry in those same pockets the ability to put that knowledge in context-to turn information into Ranie’s version of intelligence- with access to our professional, personal and learning networks.

In one scene in “The Social Network,” the fictional Mark Zuckerberg asks his Facebook friends for help on an Art exam. It’s a very 2004 scene. He looks at a monitor in his dorm room and not on a phone. His friends are still just college students and not the world at large. At that point, Facebook functioned as both a social network and a social learning network for its users. Today it can’t. Our social networks are too large. However, our learning communities are more curated, particularly when they are organized “ecologically” around topics.  Thus, if that scene were taking place today, the student, now a 30—year-old professional, would be on his smartphone or tablet asking his questions to those in his learning networks. In a perfect world, that network would reside on the BraveNewTalent platform with fellow members offering thoughtful and useful insights to the topic of the moment.

Jean McCormick is the VP of Content at BraveNewTalent and a former Managing Director at CEB. She can be reached at [email protected] and you can follow her on Twitter @JeanMcCormick.