Learning the site. Learning the service. Learning to learn.

What is the difference between a social media “site” and a “service?” At first it might seem that the two words can be used interchangeably to lend a little variety to the wording of a blog post. However, the difference between the two terms is a lot less subtle than that. A “site” is a set of web pages, typically connected by a shared URL. A “service” is an aspect of a site that offers some sort of function (Ferro and Zachry, 2014). For instance, www.twitter.com is a web “site” that offers “services” like microblogging.

In their research published in 2014, Ferro and Zachry take a survey of knowledge workers four years in a row to monitor the frequency of use and the function of publicly available online services (PAOS) in their work. Ferro and Zachry found that the majority of those polled reported using PAOSs during 20% of their workweek (p. 13).

Though the percentage of time spent using PAOSs remained fairly constant each year, the sites and services being used changed from year to year. For instance, the most used site by knowledge workers in 2008 was Wikipedia. In 2009 there was a tie between the use of LinkedIn and Twitter. In 2010, Twitter gained almost 5% in usage over LinkedIn, and then in 2011 Google Calendar took the lead. Not only are the most popular sites different from the previous year, but so are the services provided by the sites. Wikipedia is a wiki, LinkedIn is a network creator, Twitter is a microblogging site and Google Calendar is a knowledge transactor.

What we can learn from this is that, though PAOSs will continue to be important tools in knowledge workers’ professional repertoire, the specific sites and services that are being utilized can rise and fall in popularity in as little as a year’s time.

When reviewing this study I was reminded me of how my undergraduate professors taught my Communications Design cohort how to use the Adobe suite (the industry standard technology in the graphic design profession). To be more specific, they purposefully didn’t teach us a single keystroke. All they did was tell us on our first assignment that we “might want to use PhotoShop” for this assignment, so we should probably go figure it out before coming back to class next week… or at least figure it out well enough to complete the homework. Their philosophy was that the programs that their students use professionally will always be in flux. Whatever software they would have taught us that year would be outdated by the time we graduate. To teach the design students how to use PhotoShop is to make them experts in that specific program only. In forcing them to teach themselves, they are given the resources and confidence to learn to use the next programs after the first ones become out of date.

By the time I graduated I had taught myself the Adobe suite well enough to secure my first job. I have learned a lot since, mostly through continued google searches and discussions with my co-workers, but the knowledge that I can teach myself anything gives me the confidence to jump into the deep end when it’s asked of me.

When a knowledge worker masters the use of a certain social media site, she has no guarantee that that same site will be useful in coming years. If a knowledge worker masters a service, she can apply that knowledge across the range of sites that provide that service. However, we have observed that even the popularity of services seems to fluctuate over the years. Though learning to use a site and a service are both necessary and constructive, the most valuable skill to the knowledge worker looking to stay on top of technology is the ability to learn.

Posted on November 8, 2015, in Social Media and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi, Allie:

    Thanks for sharing the story about how your teachers taught you Adobe PhotoShop. That is a pretty brilliant methodology. I have purchased plenty of books and online programs to learn various software and it does quickly become outdated. If I don’t hope right on it and start working through the tutorials, then it is all outdated. I think I am better served to make sure my own “learning as I go” mental muscles stay in continuous use, rather than throwing any more money away on being “taught” those programs.

    Service and sites are a lot like learning new software, such as PhotoShop. Once you get used to a site or a service it provides, you really have to stick along for the ride if you want to be able to utilize it. As you mentioned, sites and service change. The popularity of a site and the way a service functions or the service offered can change year to year. In recent years, every time I have stepped away from a site, for any extended period, it has rendered me a “beginning user” again when I return. Things change so rapidly. I could not agree more with your statement that the ability to learn is the key!

  2. Hi Allie,

    The “learn it yourself” model is pretty standard in higher education past the first two years when many students are in remedial or core courses. Take a look at this program. We’re “guided” to resources and given expectations to meet, but it’s our responsibility to learn the material, conduct the surveys, earn the certification etc. And it needs to be done like that in some high school classes. Learning to teach ourselves is an indicator of critical thinking, something I find lacking in most teenagers.

    In my technology department rarely do we find prospective employees up to date in the newest tools. But we’re a department charged with meeting faculty technology needs including training, so we all have to learn; that’s often done on our own. For me, I love the challenge. I can’t stand to be spoon-fed, as the thrill of discovering my capabilities keeps me engaged in my work. And I love this teaching method.

    But many colleges haven’t caught up and still hand-hold a student throughout their degree. It’s a disservice. There’s no “loyalty” between corporations and employees anymore, and employers want more from their staff. It’s students (like us) who rise to the work challenge and instructor/ employer expectations by teaching ourselves what we need to know, who will be the ones to succeed.

    Great job on the Adobe Suite.

  3. “When a knowledge worker masters the use of a certain social media site, she has no guarantee that that same site will be useful in coming years.”

    So true. When we are proposing courses that involve technology or social media we often don’t even list social media sites or software suites since we know those are likely to change. When it comes to assignments that rely on social media, I’ve found the most success when I let the students have open posts in addition to responding to readings.

  4. natashajmceachin

    Hi Allie,

    This was such a great post! It’s very true, mastering products that’ll only become obsolete in a year isn’t key to workplace success. I’ve always felt it’s the ability to be tech savvy and self education that keeps you up to speed in this field.

    Whether you’re beginning a new job or going through a technology upgrade, you’re definitely going to get on the job training. It’s all about aptitude and personal effort.

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