Educators and Employers vs. Social Networking Web Apps: and Opportunity to Improve both?

There is a lot of complaining lately that sites like MySpace and Facebook are eating into companies’ productivity and student’s attention. I think this is an indication that both work and school need to be more engaging the way social networking sites and video games engage people to communicate in fun and interesting ways.

Since schools and employers are usually slow to innovate from the top down, many of them will be fighting this war for years to come. But, when you see what is happening from the bottom up is the use of non-authorized tools to enable more efficient communication between students with Facebook and with co-workers using IM and free productivity tools like 37Signals apps, Google apps and Facebook.

Imagine what types of learning apps could be built for the Facebook F8 platform? School book publishers could change their strategy to include their lessons as Facebook apps (well, one can dream). Students can be ranked against each other in quizzes in real time. Classrooms across the world that are studying a given subject at the same time could engage with each other in real time. It will happen, but probably not soon. The old guard needs to retire.

A couple years ago when I worked for a multi national corporation, I had the idea to try to connect together all of the support organizations worldwide (there was one for every major country) without anyone’s permission so we could share our knowledge. Should have done the “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” thing. It never would have happened any other way.

65% of workers in big (>1000 employees) companies rely on each other, not management, to solve problems…
37% ignore company policy rules because they have a better way to get things done…
– The Informal Organisation, Katzenbach Partners, July 2007

86% of workers use an unsupported tool at work to boost productivity…
– Zen and the Art of Rogue Employee Management, Yankee Group, July 2007

Ted Russ had similar thoughts a couple weeks ago. I found his post while searching for the quotes above that I found in Stephen Collin‘s presentation on Knowledge Management 2.0 via David Armano’s Twitter regarding the video of this presentation. Luis Suarez also blogged about the “lost productivity” caused by Facebook today, pointing out that shortcomings in knowledge management probably cost companies more than time spent on social networking sites.

It’s funny how it is easier to do less important things with free tools (search, blog, chat, write to wikis) and at your own will, but harder to do important work with tools someone had to pay for, they are not as up to date, and you have no choice but to use them becuase the rest of the organization expects it.

If you remember anything from this post let it be this: When Alexander Graham Bell approached Western Union, the telegraph company, in the 1870s about Bell’s invention, the telephone, the president of Western Union balked at the idea and stated that the telephone was just a toy.

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