Social Media For Learning and Problem Solving In Disaster Situations

By Kelly Meeker, OpenSesame Social Media & Community Manager

While social media has a terrible reputation for tempting people to waste time and talk about Justin Bieber, social technologies have tremendous capacity for enabling humanitarian and development professionals to learn, iterate and adapt their practices quickly in challenging circumstances.

(For those who haven’t experimented with Twitter yet, check out the six minute crash course I built for friends who were bugging me to help them “learn to use Twitter.” It’s quick and it will cover the basics. Both that course and another entitled “Beginning Twitter for Professionals, Part 2” are available to LINGOs Member Agencies via your LMS. In addition, I’ll be presenting on Twitter for learning at the LINGOs member meeting in October.)

With famine and drought situations in East Africa, many NGO staff members are faced with incredibly challenging, dynamic relief situations, where the best solutions are never obvious and rarely consistent.

With limited resources, social media creates an opportunity to network with peers all over the world. Social media is the gateway to the personal learning network (PLN): A network of peers where you share your challenges and experiences. You may be the only person with your job function in a 500 mile radius, but social media can help you build a support network based on ideas, challenges and topics.

How do I get started building my PLN?

A strong PLN will help you find information rapidly, get advice, learn from experts as you go, and find support from peers. In turn, you will have opportunities to share your own experiences. Here’s how.


  1. The first step is to figure out where your peers are hanging out. This doesn’t just mean “on Twitter” or on “LinkedIn”. It’s the next level of analysis from there. Is there a hashtag chat on a topic of interest to you? If you’re a training/learning professional, how about #lrnchat? If you work with social entrepreneurs, how about #socent? If you’re seeking advice on using social media, how about the LinkedIn forum on social media for nonprofits? Still new to technology altogether? Try liking “Gettin’ Geeky” on Facebook, where Gina Schreck shares great tips and how-tos on getting social.Ask your peers, coworkers and friends. Next time you attend a conference, find out what the hashtag is and take part in the conference backchannel. Form online relationships through your preferred social networks to reinforce and extend the relationships you have offline.
  2. Create your profiles and introduce yourself. Whether it’s any of the Quora, LinkedIn forums or hashtag-based chats mentioned above or something you find or found, use your profiles as an introduction to who you are, what your affiliations are and what your experience is. Use the same keywords to describe yourself that you would when searching for people to communicate with. Don’t make it hard for people to understand why they would want to network with you. Provide links to your sites and other profiles to make your network connected and multi-faceted. 

3.    Get involved. Start talking. Don’t be bashful. Many people feel unsure about jumping in conversations (perhaps because they view these conversations like the kinds you encounter in real life). Don’t be. People are having these conversations in open forums because they expect, value and welcome new voices and new ideas. If you have something to say, say it. (For more on this, read on.)

4. Curate and share. Once you’ve started building your networks and engaging in conversations, think about how you can make the network richer and more effective. Can you create Storify records of useful Twitter conversations? Can you introduce new voices? Do you have internal resources from your organization that you could share? Do you have a blog where you could feature new ideas and the leaders in your PLN?

 So once you have started building my PLN and you some online connections, you’re probably wondering what kinds of conversations people expect and want to engage in.

  • Share what happened today. Did you develop a new approach to conflict management? Did you find a great resource, blog post or idea? Curate the resources that you use to succeed, and look for people doing the same.
  • Share your organization’s resources and best practices. Within reason, share the point of view your organization has developed over time. 
  • Experiment. The flipside of sharing the ideas you develop on the job is being adventurous and experimenting with the new tools, ideas and suggestions you encounter through your PLN.
  • Ask for help. Do you need help with finding the right person in a distant country to help you clear a shipment through customs? Do you have a challenge with finding the right application or software package to help you solve a problem? Ask. You will find references to new tools or to people have solved the same problems. I’ve been consistently surprised and thrilled and the new connections and helpful ideas I’ve built on social networks.
  • Say thank you. People appreciate hearing that their advice and ideas are being put to work. Say thank you and highlight how your PLN has made you better at your job.

In closing, you can start by reaching out to other LINGOs members through the @LINGOsOrgTwitter account and LinkedIn forums, not to mention the Oct 2011 Member meeting. These are great starting places to find nonprofit professionals focused on organizational learning.

The well-developed PLN is social learning at its finest: Technology providing opportunities for employees in challenging situations to communicate with peers, sharing the challenges and solutions, and improving performance and programs along the way. 

Start Building Your PLN at the LINGOs Member Meeting

I will be giving a presentation on using Twitter and social media for learning and networking at the LINGOs member meeting next week. If you have specific topics of interest or questions you’d like me to cover, please send me an email.


Kelly Meeker is the Community Manager at, a marketplace for buying and selling elearning courses. Connect with her at @OpenSesameNow. She’s a communications professional and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Mali 2005-2007).

To see Eric Berg’s post about the LINGOs Meeting, please click here.


The Largest Water Cooler:Social Media for Learning

Posted by Mike Culligan, LINGOs

Our Biggest Workplace Learning Challenge?

A presenter at a recent national learning conference asked an intriguing question, “Where do you go if you need to learn something at work?”  Surprisingly, the answer among the 500+ attendees was nearly unanimous, “Google.” 

 What does that say about the way we learn on the job? It appears to point out that many of us have become “workplace searchers.”  An article in KMWorld magazine indicates that knowledge workers (those of us who tend to work at desks using computers) live in an increasingly information-based world.

  • We spend between 15% to 35% of their time searching for information;
  • We are only successful in finding what we seek 50% of the time or less;
  • Furthermore, only 40% of us are able to find the information we need to do our jobs on the company intranets.

 As a result, we find ourselves stuck in a vicious cycle.  We spend extensive amounts of time looking for information, often unsuccessfully.  Then we spend even more time recreating existing information, only to have our new work lost in the information maze that characterizes the organizations where we work. 

 This is one of the biggest workplace learning challenge sin our organizations!  Furthermore, this isn’t the type of challenge that is addressed through a workshop, a training, an e-learning course or any other form of workplace instruction. 

 So what do we do?

 Enter Social Media for Learning! 

Social Media!  Yes, it is the buzz word in the e-learning world today!  It seems that you can’t go to a conference, attend a webinar, subscribe to a blog or read an article on the issue of technology assisted learning without somebody insisting it is vital to learning success! 

 That said – social media offers great potential in addressing the challenge of the information seeker in your organization!  First, however, you need to be able to navigate the maze of options that exist for deploying social media.  This is a vexing challenge, because today’s reality is that hundreds (thousands?) of options exist to incorporate social media into your learning strategy and it is easy to become lost among the many options.

 One way to simplify the challenge is by first taking the time to clearly articulate the learning objectives you intend to address through the introduction of social media.   The following list provides three potential learning objectives that social media can be especially helpful in addressing:

Objective One:  Improve the Ability of Staff to Listen and Learn:  Do your colleagues subscribe to access relevant knowledge and learning via feed readers?  Do they load information into their home page via RSS readers?  Do they listen to the feeds on LinkedIn groups or other groups that allow them to hear what the community is saying on the issues of most interest to them?  This is an important first step in learning and tools like Google Reader, Bloglines (and many others) allow learners to pull the learning and conversations that are most important to their performance straight to their home page or e-mail account, allowing them to skip the process of searching out that information on a daily basis.    

Objective Two:  Improve the Ability of Staff to Create and Share Knowledge:  If your colleague in another office had developed a similar PowerPoint presentation to the one you will do next week, would you know it existed?  If you wanted to view the on-line course on project management from last year, would you be able to find the recording?  What about that link to the statistics on the gender breakdown of your beneficiaries in the field? 

Unfortunately, the answer to most of these questions will probably be, “No!”  And yet, think of all the social media tools that exist outside of your corporate firewall that allow people to share this type of knowledge to the entire world:  SlideShare, YouTube, Twitter, WordPress, and more. 

Do opportunities exist for you to establish a comparable system in your organization?  For example, can you (or one of your esteemed colleague) start a blog to share information?  Can photo assets be shared on Flickr?  If Twitter isn’t an option, what about Yammer? 

If not, why?  Be creative! Remember, 15-35% of our job is spent looking for information and most of the time without success.  If we improve our organizations ability to create and share knowledge, this will have concrete impact on our results!

 Objective Three:  Improve the Ability of Staff to Create Networks and Build Community

In the words of Jay Cross, “Learning is social.”  Since the day we were born, we learn from those closest to us — parents, brothers, sisters, playmates, schoolmates, roommates, teammates, classmates… the list goes on!  Research indicates that the workplace is no exception!  We learn from our colleagues in conversations that takes place in the hallway, at the water cooler and in your cubicle. 

The beauty of social media is that it lets you build the world’s longest hallway, the largest water cooler and our cubicle can now extend to reach the entire world!  Examples abound of international development agencies that are leveraging social media to create networks and build community.  The LINGOs Linked In Group, Oxfam’s NING workspace for its Raising Her Voice! Program, IRC’s monthly Elluminate sessions on best practices in Monitoring and Evaluation.  These communities allow those of us that are new to the business to ask the water cooler questions, while the more experienced among the group have a channel to share their hard earned wisdom. 

 A Final Cautionary Note!

As is the case with any learning trend, don’t be taken in by the allure of the next big thing!   Avoid the temptation of equating “social media” to “cool technology!”  The key to successfully deploying social media in learning is not about buying the newest and coolest toy.  It isn’t about building a website, deploying smart phone apps, promoting micro-blogging, posting message boards, etc. 

Yes, technology is important, but it is only the last of three important considerations you need to keep in mind as you develop a strategy for social media in learning.   Your strategy should be designed around your answers to three critical questions: 

1. Who is Your Audience?  Who needs to be connected?  Where are they located?  What are their needs?  What technology resources do they have (computers, virtual networks, etc.)?  What challenges do they have (firewalls, internet reliability, software skills)?

2. What are Your Objectives?  What exactly is the challenge? Are you trying to increase communication?  Manage project baselines?  Share documents?  Comply with regulations?  Improve scheduling and coordination?  A combination of all the above?  Is this challenge best addressed through a technology-based solution?   Or, is this a challenge better addressed by improved norms and policies?

3. THEN… …What is the best technology to reach your audience and achieve your objectives?   Based on the answers to questions one and two, the project team can now begin to identify the collaboration technology that best serves its need.