community of learners, eLearning, Facebook, full-fat social networks, H800, lean social networks, micro-blogging, mobile social networks, Open University, quartet of social techs, social media, social networking, social networks in education, social presence, social technologies, Twitter
A quartet of eLearning technologies
eLearning is inherently social, which is why the technologies which best articulate it are social technologies – that is, ones which in various ways enable a group of individuals to become a practising community of learners.
I’ve already posted about a number of these technologies: the various flavours of synchronous and asynchronous computer conferencing platform which act as online analogues of the traditional classroom or tutorial space (Learner support in computer-mediated conferencing); social bookmarking applications which enable learners to organise online resources and plug in to the collective intelligence of the world wide web (The wisdom of clouds); and academic blogging, which offers teachers and learners an open publishing space for reflection, critique and community-building (Academic blogging).
I think social networking is the fourth leg of the quartet of eLearning technologies. Social networks are tools for expressing and amplifying social presence, and as such are powerful enablers of the kinds of online community which eLearning needs in order to thrive.
Social networks are astonishingly popular. In the UK 75% of students are active social networkers; in the US the figure is at least 85% – and this refers to daily use. The popularity of social networking is a global phenomenon, as Vincenzo Cosenza’s world map of social networking shows: every region apart from sub-Saharan Africa is well covered, with a surprising (to me) number of local alternatives to the standard Facebook platform. Nor does the social networking party consist only of young people and students. A recent survey shows that 80% of US university teachers have an SN account, with more than 30% saying they use the networks to communicate not only with other educators but with their students as well (Tinti-Kane, 2010).
Despite this ubiquity, however, SNs lag behind other online learning technologies in acceptance by educators and educational institutions as an integral part of the eLearning toolbox. I think this is partly because ‘full-fat’ SNs like Facebook are so multi-purpose, all-embracing and protean that educators have found it hard to figure out their learning purpose; and partly because the networks have become so closely associated with leisure and youth culture that utilising them for learning seems counter-cultural: educators feel wary of intruding, and students feel suspicious of attempts to annexe their social space.
But with a ‘lean’ social network like Twitter this problem arises much less acutely, if at all. Because Twitter does just one thing – text-based microblogging – and does it really well, it carries much less cultural luggage. It’s a vanilla application, an almost neutral channel for any community of practice or interest to use as it wishes, adapting it to its own particular purposes. As a learning community platform Twitter does two things brilliantly well: 1) it provides a space for social discovery, that is peer2peer question-and-answer and resource-sharing; and 2) it provides a space for thinking aloud, personal support and light-hearted chatter that is a necessary part of community building – what has been called eduglu.
Twitter is already being utilised extensively in both statutory and higher education. Uses include:
- Support for classroom discussion, especially for large classes and for post-class discussion
- Community building, using the #tag for group discussions
- Instant student feedback during lectures
- A collaborative notebook for recording and sharing of links, readings and ideas
- A personal notepad for recording facts, thoughts and references for later follow-up
One of Twitter’s biggest advantages, arising in part from its simplicity and spareness, is its perfect fit with mobile devices, which means that none of the above applications are dependent on learners being sat at a computer. In fact its mobile-friendliness is a big factor in Twitter’s massive success, with mobile usage of Twitter increasing by 347% during 2009 (Mashable, 2010).
Browsing the #H800 tweet stream this week, posting tweets from my phone – following useful links to unknown places and discovering students from other tutor groups – I found myself wondering why we’d not been using Twitter since the start of the course.
Tinti-Kane, H (2010). Pearson Social Media Survey 2010. Available online at http://www.slideshare.net/PearsonLearningSolutions/pearson-socialmediasurvey2010
Mashable (2010). Mobile Social Networking Soars, 03/03/2010, citing 2010 comScore report on mobile social media useage. Available online at http://mashable.com/2010/03/03/comscore-mobile-stats/
From → H800