In writing up The eLearning Guild’s most recent research report, “Social Tools for Learning,” I was surprised to see social bookmarking ranking low on the list of tools used by organizations. Social bookmarking for learning is an easy, usually one-click, way to aggregate resources that are then, depending on the product, easy to update and in many cases annotate or otherwise extend in some way. Some tools also allow for saving more than just URLs; you can add things like photos and documents. Some tools, like Evernote, Diigo, and Pinterest, allow you to save and share, with the additional option for groups to collaborate in the same space.

Instructional support

I often deal with technical topics subject to frequent change: features come and go, pricing structures morph, and products gobble up other products. I like to offer suggestions for research to examine, articles to read, or other additional material to access. Sometimes, in a class, I want to share a screenshot or two but give attendees (or those unable to attend) an easy way to go back and look at full materials. So a traditional one-and-done paper handout full of links can prove problematic.

I may need to curate a specific list of material to support an instructional goal. When I was working in state government, we did a lot of work with the hiring process. Following training, participants had access to a list of suggestions for current resources, such as articles or YouTube videos, that had been vetted for use by our workforce—for instance, ideas for effective interview practices that conformed to government guidelines. Some material was external; some was created in-house. This was easy for us to update, so the most recent information was available to workers whenever they accessed the list.

Diigo and Pinterest

Saving items in Diigo lets me give a single URL to participants or other readers—a list I can edit, make notes on, and update as need be. Figure 1 shows the start of the list of links for the “Ukulele Learning: Music and the Brain” session Shawn Rosler and I have offered at past DevLearn Conferences (and will again this fall). It includes links to research we cite (an item suggested by 2017 session participant Julie Dirksen), links to video clips demonstrating our examples, and a link to the Spotify list of songs that accompany ideas we share. The session concludes with a quick ukulele lesson: We hand out a paper sheet with chord diagrams and suggestions for purchasing a ukulele; it’s uploaded here as a PDF. All the items are tagged “MusicLearning” so they appear at a single Diigo #MusicLearning link.

Note that Figure 1 shows only the first few of a long list of links. They appear by date added, so those checking back post-session can quickly see whether anything is new. Bonus: This single list can serve dual duty as a resource for me and for others, as I can choose to make individual links private only to me if I wish.

A single Diigo link opens a list of linked resources related to #MusicLearning.

Figure 1: Session resources listed in Diigo

Note that many the items from this session are text-based and not particularly visual, so they lend themselves well to Diigo, which generates a simple list of links. But resources for a topic like “Positive Deviance” provide opportunities for a more visual treatment. So for that kind of subject matter, I create a Pinterest board like the one shown in Figure 2. As with a Diigo list, it’s easy to create, easy to update, and simple to annotate and share with others. And board viewers can comment on pins. 

A Pinterest board is more visual than Diigo, offering small images and very short text descriptions of pinned items.

Figure 2: Session resources displayed on a Pinterest board

These aren’t the only tools available. For instance, I can also opt to save items in, and then share, an Evernote notebook. That provides a list of links alongside a full-screen view of a selected item. The choice of tool really depends on your preferences, your organization’s standards and controls, and your users’ needs. Sometimes, depending on your needs, you may choose to mix tools: For instance, I use an If This Then That recipe to send all the links I post on Facebook to an Evernote notebook. That makes them much easier to search for and find again.

Working out loud

Encouraging workers to curate and share their own resources is a great way to capture tacit understanding, surface and explore expertise in the workforce, and share knowledge across the organization. Back in my instructional design days, one of the most popular resource lists I ever created was one for HR managers and other stakeholders and SMEs. It was an easy-to-update list of examples of great eLearning programs on topics relevant to our work and our workforce. It went a long way toward helping me fight the upload-narrated-slides requests.

Collaborative work

A number of products—Pinterest, Evernote, and Diigo among them—allow for shared spaces or groups. These are sometimes free, sometimes at cost, so check on pricing for the particular tools that interest you. Pricing models vary depending on number of groups, number of collaborators, whether groups are private or public, amount of storage space, etc. As of this writing, collaborative Pinterest boards and basic shared Evernote use are free.

When thinking of how to use collaborative bookmarking, consider:

  • Topic areas: Workplace safety photos and infographics, PowerPoint tips, articles on retaining talent, stress management ideas, onboarding information, links related to particular jobs or the kind of work done by an organization’s functional areas.
  • “Favorites:” Lists or boards of favorite management books, customer service videos, articles on marketing your library, or URLs from within the organization.
  • More complex sharing or planning:
    • Pinterest now offers the option to add “sections” to boards: For example, a board called “office furnishings” could have sections for “desks,” “chairs,” “lobby,” etc.
    • Evernote will let you send items to a single file—a “notebook”—that can be collated as a group or shared by one individual to others.

Project planning with Evernote “notebooks”

Using Evernote, you can “stack” notebooks on similar topics or related to a single project. Items in the notebook can include bookmarks or “clips”—whole web pages that can be viewed within the notebook rather than going out to the URL—but also receipts, images, and photos. These can be edited, annotated, tagged, and shared as individual items: You can send just one note to someone rather than share the whole notebook.

Think about opportunities here for something like project planning. For instance, teams working on a new leadership development curriculum can send items to different sections of a Pinterest board or to a notebook stack: One for leadership styles, one for goalsetting, one for developing mission/vision, one for ethics and culture, etc. Setting up a shared Evernote space is very straightforward, and you have the option of allowing others to view or to edit the notebook.

Want more?

This month, I’ve tried to offer a quick overview of what social bookmarking is and how it works—and to remind readers that Pinterest can be much more than a site for wedding planning and saving photos of tattoos. Bookmarking is one more tool in the box for supporting social learning, helping share information across silos, and managing the unending mass of information confronting us.

I’ve intentionally avoided much discussion of “curation,” as it tends to be viewed as a more serious, disciplined pursuit than what I’ve tried to describe here. Those wanting a deeper dive into ideas around curation might start with David Kelly’s curated list of resources (see what I did there?) that accompanies his talk “How to Curate.”

For the sake of examples and screenshots, I limited my discussion of social bookmarking for learning to just a few tools. For more, check out Jane Hart’s list of tools for curation and social bookmarking