Learning at Work week is an annual event in May. It aims to to put a spotlight on the importance and benefits of learning and development at work. This year it takes place from 14th-20th May and the theme is 'Networked for Learning'.

ScOPT are running a series of articles on the website to tie in with Learning at Work week.

This post by ScOPT Trustee Jon Bolton talks about his personal learning network and the importance of knowledge sharing in the development of a competent, confident and valued workforce.


Personally Networked for Learning

Jon Bolton

The Changing Lives report (Scottish Government, 2006) and the Continuous Learning Framework (SSSC, 2009) both emphasise the importance of knowledge sharing, management and transfer in the development of competent, confident and valued workforce.

A report from the Local Government Information Unit (Carr-West et al, 2009) recognises that the internet has fundamentally changed the way we work and live and suggests that it should not regarded as something external to 'normal' life or business.

When we think about social media, we usually think about products such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - but the number of social networking tools is many and varied, and many are already being used by professionals in the social services workforce to network, collaborate and learn.

By their very nature, these resources are highly engaging and if used appropriately offer innovative opportunities for service improvement. The positive aspects include new levels of interaction, a transfer of power from the few to the many, a voice for people previously excluded, an easy way to stay constantly connected, and the benefits of instant answers. There are negatives too - including concerns about privacy and who ultimately has access to all of our online content and at whose discretion, as well as our increased inability to focus as we jump from one intrusion to another.

There are a lot of people using these tools with a social care and social work background, or an interest in what we do – students, practitioners, managers, academics, services users, journalists, politicians, – and of course, critics of our profession. There are also people with whom we work – doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, police officers, teachers, and many many more.

But the concept of social networking has been around much longer than the internet or even mass communication. People are naturally social creatures. That's what makes social media such a powerful concept. Social media channels allow human beings to sort themselves into groups and factions seamlessly, and maintain intimate relationships at greater distances than ever before. Our ability to work together in groups, creating value that is greater than the sum of its parts, is one of our greatest assets. (Weaver and Morrison 2008, p.97).

The Society of IT Managers argue that "the term 'social' implies 'not related to work', but this is a fallacy." (Socitm, 2010) and the British Computer Society, the Chartered Institute for IT, also suggests that the term 'social' is a poor descriptor, and inadequate to describe the underlying value of what's really happening. Collaboration is a much more accurate definition for the objective of most organisations: collaborating with customers, prospects, partners, employees, and colleagues. Social media tends to be a type of activity, but collaboration is an activity with a purpose (BCS, 2009).

"...the Internet is ... a means of connecting people to one another, across distances and time, allowing an order of socialization and culture never before seen. Social networking is the logical extension of our human tendencies toward togetherness, whether that socialization is down the hall or across the world." (Weaver and Morrison, 2008, p100).

I think we need to think about social media and networks in a way that removes the actual 'tool' from the mindset and introduces an 'ecology', a system that Suter and colleagues (2005) have described as "enabling a system of people, practices, values and technologies in a particular local environment". By thinking in this way, we can introduce a 'reason' and a 'purpose' to its use - that is not tied to any platform or time, that is able to be flexible and engaging (and easier to understand) so it is more readily available and adopted.

For me, it's a personal learning network – the people I connect with on Twitter and LinkedIn are a group of people who guide my learning, point me to learning opportunities, answer my questions, and give me the benefit of their own knowledge and experience... and that's not a new concept - back in 1998, before Facebook, Twitter and the like, Daniel Tobin was talking and writing about the potential of informal, networked CPD:

"Building a personal learning network is requires that you not only seek to learn from others, but also that you also help others in the network learn. Even when you are a novice in a field of learning, you can still make contributions. Did you read an article that might be of interest to others? Then distribute it to other in your network with a short note that you thought they might find it interesting. Did you hear of a conference on the subject? Let others know about the program and speakers and, if you attend, circulate your notes and papers you collect to other network members."

I'm predominantly self-employed and one of the things I miss is the regular contact of work colleagues. My own Twitter feed includes many colleagues and friends - some with a similar professional background to me, but many with a variety of roles and responsibilities - some from Scotland, many from the rest of the UK... and a lot from other countries, allowing me to connect with people that I would never normally have the opportunity to meet. Having the chance to collaborate with people from different disciplines and different countries is very powerful - it allows a cross-fertilisation of best practice and exchange of thoughts and ideas as well as giving me a general awareness of what's happening, and much more.

Learning from colleagues is hugely beneficial. Just in the last week on my Twitter feed, I have found the following tweets to be particularly useful, informative or encouraging...




BCS (2009) Getting value from social media http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conWebDoc.33664 (Retrieved 12 May 2018)

Carr-West, J., Johnston, A., Cookson, A., Sillett J., & Ali, J., (2009) Local Government 3.0: How councils can respond to the new web agenda, London: LGiU

SSSC (2009). The framework for continuous learning in social services, http://www.continuouslearningframework.com. (Retrieved 15 March 2010).

Scottish Government (2006) Changing Lives: Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2006/02/02094408/0 (Retrieved 12 May 2018)

Socitm (2010). Social media: Why ICT management should lead their organisations to embrace it. Socitm, Northampton

Suter, V., Alexander, B., and Kaplan, P., 2005 Social Software and the Future of Conferences—Right Now. Educause Review Online. Vol 40 (1) pp46-59

Tobin (1998) "Building a Personal Learning Network". Online at http://www.tobincls.com/articles/ (Retrieved 18 May 2018)

Weaver, A.C. & Morrison, B.B. (2008). Social Networking. Computer, 41(2): 97-100


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