If you wanted any more evidence of how social elements can enhance an already robust technology solution, look no further than Google’s latest acquisition. Google Maps has become the standard in mapping, directions and navigation. The tool is so powerful that it has managed to make the once ubiquitous GPS module nearly obsolete. This was no small feat. Just look at how the mighty Apple took a huge leap backwards with its iOS6 version of Apple Maps. The app was so bad that there are Tumblr blogs dedicated to it, and the navigation feature was even considered “deadly” in some countries. Apple had to back up and allow Google maps on its iPhones.
So with something so effective and useful, could anything make it better? Google is betting that social mapping is the next piece, and they are betting with $1.03 billion. The Internet giant bought Waze, a social mapping tool that has around 50 million users worldwide. Users allow their mobile devices to passively send information about their location and speed through the app to create real-time traffic information. Users can also proactively provide information about construction, accidents or even speed traps.
The parallels here with learning are rather simple and obvious to me. Imagine your LMS as Google Maps, the main technology that gets the job done (although, to be honest, many of you probably wish your LMS worked as well as Google Maps). Courses are launched, completions are tracked and learning is delivered. Now imagine adding a layer of user-generated information – information that simply could not be gathered through traditional technologies. Users could alert each other to new resources, comments could be added to courses that would help new learners make the most of the content, and learners could locate subject matter experts quickly and easily.
The learners in your organization are drivers, navigating along their development paths and getting from point A to point B and using the LMS to guide them. Along the way, though, they are constantly acquiring new information and knowledge. Without a way to impart that knowledge, it is often lost forever.
Companies often ask research firms like ours, “What is Google doing?” because they want to know the best practices of a successful company. Here is something Google is doing that exemplifies the power of social technologies.