No-one knows everything but everyone knows something. Behind this truism lies the principle of empowerment through collaboration. Say you’re exploring a theory about a little known or widely misunderstood subject, or you are researching an unusual medical condition, or you are trying to learn more about a niche art movement in the 1880s. Whatever the query, someone somewhere is going to know something about it.


Users of social networking tools, like Twitter, can build a community of knowledge on any subject. Each Twitterer acts as a node in the wider learning network. This is why, in the US, over 80m adults use social media for health-related issues – creating or sharing content on blogs, message boards and chat rooms. It’s also the reason why, as long ago as 2009, the internet surpassed physicians as the most popular health resource in the US.


So it’s hardly surprising that today’s most innovative businesses are already using social networking principles to empower staff – and benefit the wider organisation – through collaboration. For example when CSC ( , one of the UK’s largest computer services companies, wanted to find out what 22,000 of its staff in the UK and Ireland were really thinking about e-learning – as opposed to what they might tell the boss – they worked with e-learning provider SkillSoft to develop a social networking model, conducted via the web, to find out.


Since then, SkillSoft has launched inGenius, a social learning platform layer which extends the value of trusted expert information by surrounding it with the knowledge and expertise of an organisation’s own employees. Staff at companies such as CSC who use SkillSoft’s Books 24×7 can select, share and comment on relevant texts, so tailoring the information to suit their individual companies and building their own bespoke knowledge bases.


Comment: Of course, this approach is only new in the technological sense. As long ago as 1884, WS Gilbert’s libretto for the Savoy Opera ‘Princess Ida’ tackled the subject of women’s education – which had gained momentum in the 1870s with the founding of Girton and Newnham Colleges at Cambridge and Somerville and Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford. At the opening of Act II of the opera, the lady undergraduates in Castle Adamant, the women’s university founded by Princess Ida, sing enthusiastically – with the optimism of youth: ‘In trying to achieve success no envy racks our heart, for all we know and all we guess, we mutually impart! And all the knowledge we possess, we mutually impart!’


They could just as easily have been singing about web-enabled social learning, some 125 years later.