The Seven Cs of Social Learning

The impact of social learning tools and how they affect business is growing larger. It’s no longer a question of “if” businesses will engage in social learning, but “how” and

The impact of social learning tools and how they affect business is growing larger. It’s no longer a question of “if” businesses will engage in social learning, but “how” and “when.”

Traditionally, organizations wrestled with how to define social learning. Social learning can be classified as “any type of learning where a person learns vicariously through the observations of, or interactions with, others.” Social learning technology should enable this definition of social learning and what is now called the “Seven Cs.”

Josh Bersin of Bersin & Associates has often referred to four of them: conversation, connection, collaboration and content. While acknowledging these, there are three additional and important “Cs” in the business today: consumption, contribution and control.

So, in the updated model, there are Seven Cs of social technologies:

1) Content: in the forms of knowledge-based assets, experiences, and expertise, this is where it all starts

2) Consumption: of content, as in usable, reference-able, searchable, tagable and re-usable

3) Contribution: of content that can and should be user-generated

4) Conversation: about content makes it socially relevant to the business

5) Collaboration: with others over content is goal-oriented and how we get things done socially

6) Connections: made with others regarding content (In competitive business, it’s not just what you know, but who you know. Once connections are made, vicarious reinforcement follows.)

7) Control: social learning technologies should enable customers to govern the continuum of openness and control as it applies to their business.

Social technologies should enable providers and users to navigate the Seven Cs while remaining meaningful to the workflow of the business.

Adoption Still on the Rise

Despite the economy, the International Data Corp. predicts that the U.S. online community software market will grow from $278.4 million in 2008 to $1.6 billion in 2013 at a compounded annual growth rate of nearly 42 percent.

Increases in learning technology spending in combination with a predicted growth potential of about 400 percent for the community software market indicate the proliferation of new social learning technologies.

Additionally, Bersin & Associates reports that, despite the economy and a drop in overall learning technology spending, the use of social learning technologies for business continues to rise with 24 percent of U.S.-based companies adopting them in 2009.

From a consumer-based perspective, Pat Galagan reported in a recent magazine article that the Internet has become the common place to share what we are reading, thinking and listening to:

>> 33 percent of adults post to social sites such as Facebook and Twitter at least once a week

>> 60 percent maintain a social networking profile

>> 70 percent read blogs, tweets and watch videos online

With respect to who is using social, market trends and data indicate that large businesses and the technology and business service segments are making the most use of social learning, while small business is the fastest growing segment. Still, across the board and regardless of size or industry, the use and adoption of social learning technologies continues to grow, and more companies are recognizing value that they can bring to the business.

Bersin also reports the top three learning and development priorities for the past three years remain:

1) Increasing the effectiveness of learning programs

2) Integration with performance and competency management initiatives

3) Reducing costs and improving efficiencies

In order to compete effectively in a global economy, more organizations are recognizing the need to adapt and

innovate as open cultures. More are adopting social technologies that enable conversation, connectivity, collaboration, consumption and contribution of content — within and between their employees, partners, customers and prospects. Organizations need to enable their customers while allowing them to govern openness and control as it applies to their business.

Competitive Challenge

Today’s customers of e-learning and social technologies are demanding more for their users, operations and business.

These demands include the ability to customize the look, feel and functions of their learning management systems to meet the needs of their employees, partners and customers. Social and real-time Web services, what are commonly referred to as Web 2.0 on the Internet and Enterprise 2.0 in business contexts, provide opportunities to meet these needs in the form of widgets and social Web applications. Factor in the needs of the extended enterprise where fast-growing companies are educating their partners and customers and marketing their products and services, and the need to socially spread the word while engaging your users becomes more powerful and more relevant to the business.

At a business level, three challenges continue to bubble to the surface: governance, adoption and culture.

1) Governance: Organizations are concerned with protecting their intellectual property, image and brand. Social learning technologies can resolve this by employing policies that make sense for the business while, at a technology level, providing the enterprise with that last “C”— control.

2) Adoption: Social business technologies need to emulate the best of consumer-based social networking applications. Think about Twitter, Digg and Facebook. These tools solve the problems of rating, review, commenting, real-time updates and all the Seven Cs with simple functionality and simple interface designs. Social learning technologies need to leverage familiar interface designs that emulate these tools so they are easy to administer and easy to use.

3) Corporate Culture: Some organizations are open cultures, conducive to information sharing and collaboration. Others are more

closed cultures and need more time to adapt; but it’s important to acknowledge that most businesses recognize the impact of social learning technologies and the power they bring to the enterprise.

Remember, it’s no longer a question of “if” businesses will engage in social learning, but “how” and “when.”

These mission-critical needs present an opportunity for organizations and their customers. Organizations must recognize that social learning technologies need to add value to the workflow and how it relates to the business context. At the same time, the ability to contribute, consume and collaboratively interact upon content should be easy to access, use and administer for employee development and the extended enterprise.

—To learn more about social learning technologies, visit A social learning podcast is also available at

—Author Ron Ateshian has 23 years of experience in learning and development. As a senior product strategist at GeoLearning, his current career focus includes Extended Enterprise 2.0 approaches to blended learning, knowledge asset integration, social collaboration and mobile learning. He is also president-elect of ASTD-RTA.

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