Over the recent months and years the Linked In discussion group and indeed the Yammer groups have become more and more prevalent (and lets not even mention Twitter). There is no doubt that these groups have mushroomed as organisations and interest groups seek to lever profile and opportunities by starting discussions in the many different groups that exist.

The ability to share knowledge, to curate knowledge on behalf of other members is of great value indeed, and indeed many of us have shared opinions and ideas in these groups.

I am taken back to the seminal work of Hagel and Armstrong – published in 1997 titled Net Gain, Expanding markets through virtual communities (still selling well on Amazon 15 years after publication) where the concept of “Fractel Depth” was introduced to give value and meaning (net financial worth) to the network created by the owner.

Of course in 1997 creating these networks was much more difficult, as the tools to create them, and indeed the infrastructure and devices to enjoy them were in much shorter supply. Today we can all set about creating virtual communities with the power of social networking tools.

Fractel Depth is still a great concept, especially for a business seeking to use Linked in et al to promote their products and services, but from a learning perspective it is probably not enough.

I am taken with the concept of “Intentional Networks” – and I am indeed indebted to a very bright post graduate Gurmit Singh  for this term. You can find him on Linked In of course.

I am sure marketing agencies are using terms to describe the “tribes” that inhabit these on line groups, and the very excellent Jane Hart’s Yammer group is today discussing the role of “Lurkers”. To these tribes I would add “contributors” – those with new ideas and original thoughts, “co-ordinators” – those who keep the groups moving, “curators” – who find other existing material on behalf of the groups, and “pluggers” – who just plug things – jobs or their own products and services. I guess we should add “disrupters” – sometimes a good thing…and sometimes not.

My question is…where would the learner be in these tribes? Especially given that without doubt huge amounts of information and particularly experience is shared on these networks. If we believe that much social networking is based around the simple concept of “I did this” – (and remember if you are a techie and follow the evolution of post SCORM standards at Project Tin Can – you better get used to this approach of I did this.)

Twitter has gone shouty or celebrity communications (but let’s not go there)……the noise is becoming impossible and an ever growing number of tweets are plugs from pluggers….well it is certainly going that way in my view, and the many genuine and well- meaning curators are not being heard. This is an issue for the learner in my view. We need an environment where the learner or knowledge seeker can be heard and ….Intentional networks to share experiences.

So, in my view, for effective learning to work in social learning terms in virtual communities such as LinkedIn, we should focus on experience sharing…..as if we believe (as I do) that the formula for Knowledge is:   Knowledge = (skills X ability) X experience, (Marc Baker circa 1999) we see that social networking/learning is a powerful element of this in that it is principally focused on sharing experience.

Now we have focus, we need intent and recognition to make this work as a framework. And this is where we need a recognition mechanism which is more sophisticated than the number of followers on Twitter

Michael Allen at DevLearn  Highlighted the importance of recognition to individuals contributing, and in our future postings we shall look at creating intentional networks with recognition mechanisms and the role e-learning can play in our Knowledge equation.