Social Media Learning in the BSA: What I Learned

November 4, 2013 – Click on the image or link below to see my curated research on Pinterest.

Image by Everaldo Coehlo, LGPL 2.1

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Image by 
Everaldo CoehloLGPL 2.1

A Thin Line
In The Boy Scouts of America, our product is our program, and we sell it to organizations and individuals who have an interest in developing positive qualities in youth. The line between training our customers how to use our product and promoting our product is thin. Our product, when properly implemented, promotes itself.

This was a defining element in my research on the use of social media in training efforts within the BSA. In many cases, promotion (with its one-way-dominant line of communication) seemed prevalent, but I found something of interest in those promotional outlets. I found a key to training in the BSA.

The overall BSA program is complex enough that it takes years to learn and general enough that it can be implemented dozens—if not hundreds—of different ways. Introduction through a social media channel to another depiction or application of a program element fosters a form of learning-by-experience that is fundamental to what we do in the BSA.

-Educate while promoting
-Educate through vicarious experience

Experience Needs
Learning-by-experience is so fundamental to the BSA, in fact, that it is a significant factor in successfully gathering Scouters together—sometimes at great personal expense—to share and collaborate. Social media channels are starting to cater to the needs that drive these gatherings and, in my opinion, are reducing the personal yearnings that some Scouters feel to gather in person for training.

For example, the Summit, BSA’s newest high-adventure camp, is using social media very heavily to promote its program. It might seem a stretch to label this kind of promotion as training, but, by letting us experience portions of others’ experiences at the reserve, it is educating America (and the BSA) about a very important element of our program: fun with a purpose.

Though I would like to visit the Summit, my need to inspire fun with a purpose in local units can be partially informed by the social media content they are producing. There is, of course, a much deeper level of learning that goes beyond fun with a purpose which a personal experience at the Summit can deliver and social media cannot.

-Use social media to fill potential voids in learning environments
-Leverage this filling process to tap into PLEs

BSA has been embroiled in turmoil for the past few years over divisive issues. Among some groups, the prominence or credibility of the organization has suffered because of the outcome of these experiences. I noticed in my research that a few of the teaching endeavors rolling down through certain social media projects are tied to branding and image. Are these channels viable models for managing image in our council? Time permitting, a channel like WBtv would give our volunteers essential glimpses into council operations.

-Educate on issues while opening new venues for feedback

A New Generation
When compared to the 100-year-old Scouting program, the relative newness of social media tools combined with leader demographics and program structure have resulted in limited use of social media for learning projects in the BSA. When today’s youth lead the organization, will training conducted through social media channels more readily adopt a community contribution structure (like rather than a marketing prerogative? How will outlets like the national council’s Livestream channel and IntComm’s The Buzz more effectively tap into Scouters’ personal learning environments? Will youth participants more consistently incorporate program initiatives showcased with social media, such as the Messengers of Peace initiative, into their learning networks? If our council’s use of social media doesn’t more effectively leverage the power of community and reach into volunteer learning environments and networks, can we educate as we promote?

-Focus on community
-Try to connect with networks

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