I hadn’t planned on blogging about informal learning today, but an article in Irish e-zine Silicon Republic interested me, and I thought I’d bring it to you. According to the article Number crunchers find social media a ‘tweet’ surprise, members of the Institute of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants (CPA) have begun using social media such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to co-ordinate continuous professional education. The CPA is the educational, representative and regulatory body for over 5000 members and students. The Institute’s role is to:
- Regulate CPAs in accordance with the law and the Institute’s Code of Ethics in the public interest.
- Ensure that CPAs are constantly up to date in all matters relating to their professional work.
- Maintain the highest levels of educational standards for new entrants to the profession.
- Represent the interests of members where appropriate.
The CPA’s Suzanne Shaw outlined the reason for the emergence of non-formal and informal e-learning technologies in the Institute:
As one of [the bodies] in Ireland that train accountants and regulate them throughout their professional life, our members are predominantly split three ways: practitioners; entrepreneurs; and employees of businesses.
All of them are at the coalface of the current economic climate and many of them use tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to give one another practical advice about sustaining businesses and planning for a long-term environment. It’s a great way to get information out to people really quickly.
It seems that the CPA members are using Facebook and Twitter to share articles and information to keep each apprised of developments in their domain. Ms. Shaw again:
The beauty of social networking is it enables two-way communication or, if you want, one-to-many communication. The CPA uses it to gauge feedback on courses and products and adjust them accordingly.
One of the benefits of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter is that they are “ready-made.” The CPA’s experience is that they can concentrate on the business use of the technology without contributors having to worry about the technology per se. Despite being (by it’s very nature) a very traditional organization, the obvious business advantages of using these platforms for information-sharing seems to have eased the transition to using social media. There are a number of core uses of social media for learning in the CPA:
- The CPA recently set up a space on Facebook for new students to get and share information.
- In terms of professional use, with closed LinkedIn forums are used, so information can be kept confidential between members.
- CPA accountants are using Twitter as a way of relaying information or lobbying issues.
- Professional members make use of LinkedIn to keep in touch with each other, as well as business associates.
Interestingly, one of the main drivers of the growth in utilization of social media tools is that accountants’ clients are “pushing them to be more involved in online communication” according to Ms. Shaw.
It seems that once members are exposed to Web 2.0 technologies, they adapt their own information-sharing practices to include Twitter and Facebook. Ms. Shaw stated that:
Many share war stories and know-how in the forums. With CPE seminars taking place across the country, people not only meet up but can also keep in touch. Because people have hectic working lives and a home life to balance, they can’t get to every course or seminar, so they …use these tools to share notes and find out where the next course is taking place. Not every one can make it to the centre of Dublin after a day’s work, so we’ve started uploading video lectures. Students …are recording podcasts of lectures and sharing on places like Facebook. We estimate about 10% of our 5,500 members and students are using social media for continuous professional education. With Facebook, for example, they are truly engaging with one another. Many use it because they are that generation, others have begun dabbling. It can only grow from here.
Brutus, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar tells Cassius that
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune
Act IV, Scene 3.
In a similar vein, I would suggest that there are trends in the uses and the adoption of technology. The current global economic environment as well as the emergence and broad adoption of easy-to-use Read/Write Web tools like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn in society-at-large are profoundly re-shaping the ways people and organizations communicate.
As we know from Rogers’ writings on diffusion of innovation, people’s attitude toward a new technology is a key element in its diffusion. Roger’s Innovation Decision Process theory asserts that innovation diffusion is a process that occurs over time through five stages:
The final phase of the diffusion process is characterized by large-scale continued use of the idea or technology, and by “satisfaction with” (Diffusion of Innovations, 2003, p.2) the idea. This does not mean that the the individual or organization that has accepted the idea will use it constantly, rather, it means that the diffused idea has been integrated into their schema or metal model as a valuable asset or resource.
Individuals or organizations will typically go through these processes at varying speeds, depending on factors ranging from the cost, time, and effort required to implement the diffused concept, the return on the investment, how well it aligns with their previous experience with similar concepts, as well as the complexity of the idea or technology under consideration. By endorsing and supporting a range of well-tested, free-to-use solutions, that are currently very positively received in the public consciousness due to their apparent ability to elect presidents (Obama), overthrow despotic regimes (Obama again for Dubya Iran), and circumvent traditional media channels (Michael Jackson’s death). Such momentum is hard to ignore, especially when coupled with the economic imperative of clients demanding access to CPA members’ skills via social media.
However, a corollary to the curve described in Figure 1 (above) is the Gartner Hype Lifecycle illustrated in Figure 2 (below).
I would suggest that Twitter, Facebook etc are well on their way to reaching what Gartner describes as the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” associated with this type of innovation. It remains to be seen if the CPA can take this flood in the tide of technology and progress their non-formal learning initiatives, or if they will be “bound in shallows and in miseries” if they are unable to leverage the potential of this phenomenon.
Personally, I’d like to see more evidence of planning and strategy behind their informal learning activities. Based on the information in the article, it looks to me that new learning channels are added in an ad hoc fashion. Nothing wrong with this: it’s one of the advantages of a non- or informal approach to e-learning, but I would suggest that too much of a ‘make it up as we go along’ approach can lead to spreading finite resources too thinly for any of them to be truly effective.
Kennedy, J. (2009). Number crunchers find social media a ‘tweet’ surprise. Silicon Republic. [Internet] 29 June. Available from: http://www.siliconrepublic.com/news/article/13271/ [Accessed 29 June 2009]
Rogers, E. M. (2003) Diffusion of Innovations, 5th ed.. Simon & Schuster International.