L&D Lessons to be Learned from Rand Paul’s Silly #StandwithRand Selfie App

“The internet is where things go to go wrong.” So wrote NPR reporter Sam Sanders last weekend as he wrote about Republican hopeful Rand Paul’s #standwithrand selfie feature embedded in his campaign app.

Of course, it immediately made me think of L&D and our use (or mis-use) of social media as a learning tool.

In the #StandwithRand selfie campaign, the idea is to have people use an app to post a bunch of “selfies with Rand” to Twitter and show the world how fun the campaign is. It actually yielded some nice, supportive tweets like this: 

Of course, it also yielded stuff like this:

And this:

I haven’t downloaded the app (because I don’t want a bunch of political emails), but if I were to craft my own “selfie with Rand”, it would come more in the form of a stock image to be used in PowerPoint:

StandwithRand Stock Image

I really don’t know what political genius in this day and age thought this would be a good idea. And this brings me back to learning and development and our use (or mis-use) of social media.

Using social media can be an effective learning tool, but it’s not effective if you’re just using social media because it’s en vogue. In fact, that’s the type of thing that brings about cynical participation (like the second and third selfies with Rand above), if any participation at all.

A Tale of Two Uses of Social Media for Learning Purposes

Using a Wiki: Our team engaged in a book club a few years ago. In order to not wait until the end of the book the begin a discussion (and in order to encourage people not to wait until the last minute to begin the book). I set up a wiki with a discussion board for people to comment on a weekly basis. Each week there was a different online discussion prompt.

The first week, most team members posted something, and a limited discussion among teammates (spread across sites in Seattle and India) began. The second week, only a couple people engaged in the online discussion, and that was only after I prompted them with email reminders. By the third week, the discussion had died.

In hindsight, I think this attempt failed for a variety of reasons:

  1. It was one more thing. Logging in to a wiki was just one more thing people had to remember to do on a daily (or weekly) basis. My teammates were busy people and this wasn’t part of their normal routine.
  2. Little executive support. Our team leader was intrigued by the idea of bringing the learning online, but he certainly didn’t hold anyone accountable for posting regularly.

Using WhatsApp: I work with a team of people spread across India and Nepal, and I was looking for an easier way to stay in touch with them and to try to get a feel for their daily routines (and where learning needs might arise). Email didn’t seem to be working, but an India-based colleague suggested forming a WhatsApp group.

WhatsApp is more commonly used by the folks I work with as a communication tool than email or even text messaging. The WhatsApp group that we’ve formed has turned into a natural form of peer-to-peer support in a way that no other technology or in-person meeting could have offered for us.

I think it’s been successful for several reasons:

  1. It flows with the daily routine. My colleagues are using WhatsApp on a daily basis, for both personal and professional reasons. Creating a peer-based group was an obvious extension of their daily routine.
  2. It’s not forced. Herein is the big difference between this effort and my earlier effort with the wiki site (as well as Rand Paul’s campaign): the WhatsApp group is an organic conversation that just seems to happen. I’ve found that when I try to push talk about training from time to time, I get very little response. However, when I take part in the natural flow of conversation and sometimes simply ask clarifying questions, it’s a vibrant online community of peer support.

Forcing social media – whether you’re trying to get people to like your presidential campaign or if trying to make social media an unnatural extension of the instructor-led classroom – is a bad idea.

Integrating learning into the natural flow of social media – when and where people are already using it – can be a recipe for success.

How have you tried using social media as a learning tool? Have you been successful? Have  you made mistakes others should learn from? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comment section.

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