LearnTrends 2009: Building a social learning environment by Jane Hart

Description from LearnTrends site:
Case studies of how we have helped a number of organizations (from education and workplace learning ā€“ including University of East London and Worldwide Fund for Nature) build social learning environments using the Elgg open social engine, highlighting some of the drivers, issues and successes along the way.

My live notes from the session (all mistakes are mine!):

Organizations are looking for a:

  • low cost solution
  • not a mishmash of systems
  • strategy and solution that will grow
  • private and secure

Learning is not just a formal activity but informal when we work with others.

What would adress these needs?
Elgg – solution that addresses all of that

  • Fully customizable, extendible (functionality, look & feel) by using plugins
  • Access to an integrated of suite of social media tools
  • One log in
  • Functional environment for social learning & collabs
  • Supportive infastructure rather than prescriptive (gives more power to learners)

She installed it onto her servers

Now called SoLearn: Social Learning Space

In Elgg, learning take splace in groups rather than forums/discussions like in Ning. Groups can be closed or open depending on permissions.

Elgg supports tagging across the site making it easy to find content.

Case Study – University of East London

Note: Per Rob’s comment to this post, the correct address is http://connecting.uel.ac.uk/

  • wanted to implement social learning environment for two campuses
  • formal social learning
  • collaborative working at the university

She set up a barebones site for them to try out. Included a similar set of social media tools that she thought was important.

Created groups for projects and courses.

Wasn’t just for students or staff. Almost considered an intranet for the University. Connecting UEL took over the customization and “owned” the site. Came up with a new look and feel.

Now supports a single sign on (was an important aspect of using Elgg)

Discussion about what the term should be to call it: social networking system. This made it easier for buy in with the academics because they did not have to learn a new learning system (Blackboard is their LMS).

Set up a “Getting Started” section as a place to start on how to use the system.

UEL director feels happy with the system and feel they are leading the way with using social engines for learning in the UK.

Case Study: World Wide Funds for Nature (WWF)

Set them up with an Elgg powered site and they worked together to customize it and brand it with WFF color scheme.

Called it Learn2Perform.

Social learning and collaboration platform for WWF employees worldwide.

The company has worked hard to create an active community. Use blogs often.

350 users worldwide; quite a large number of groups have been set up by teams and for projects.

Groups are in the dashboard so they can go right to it.

Use this for their courses rather than an LMS.

Host information and interaction around live events.

“Welcome to WWF” groups for new staff to get integrated quickly into the company. Have access to induction resources before they begin working.

One of the problems is that Elgg or social networking network become to overlap with the internal intranet. This may become a problem that all professionals face. L&D will need to be more involved in intranet set up and use as intranets become more collaborative and learning spaces.

Lessons learned:

  • platform choice is important (facebook, ning, and Elgg; comparison on her site)
  • name of the site and description are important (social network, social environment)
  • social network is not the best use of name
  • naming of key aspects of the site
  • piloting: make sure there is enough people to see if it really works
  • let the site grow naturally and organically and not force it (slow steady growth is better than fast growth)
  • promotion: viral marketing techniques (don’t tell everyone about it; work with discrete groups and then they talk about it; others then want to join up)
  • usability: big issue; when people use a new system and have used other systems will be influenced by the previous system; users who have not had any social media are much quicker at getting up and running with a system like this (in her experience)
  • success measures: how can you measure it?; focusing on the value that it brings to the group; she suggests that the groups determine if their group is successful or not rather than a blanket success measures across the board

Jane’s contact info:
Web: http://www.c4lpt.co.uk
SoLEARN:www.c4lpt.net
Email: jane.hart@c4lpt.co.uk
Twitter: @c4lpt

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3 Responses

  1. Great idea. Thanks for doing this.

  2. Just in case you are interested here is the link to our current ELGG install:

    http://connecting.uel.ac.uk/

    Probably fair to say at this point our main use has been within our particular department to improve our internal communications (early days still).

    Rob

    Learning Technologist
    UELconnect

    • Thanks, Rob, for the updated link. I’ll make sure to put that in the post for others to use.

      Even though your use of Elgg is still in its early days, has communication and collaboration increased? Are you having difficulty with buy-in from other departments?

      Our department uses Wikispaces for documentation and GoogleDocs for collaboration. Then again, we have a small user group too.

      Thanks for visiting!
      April

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