2012-08-15

What is Social Learning (within the context of e-learning)?


I have recently (2012-08-14/15) engaged in a discussion on LinkedIn on this very topic. It was interesting and thought provoking.

Logos of various social networking sites.

Firstly, I will define social learning as being within the context of e-learning, and describe this as On-line Social Learning (OSL).

I have read much of social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, and various writers describing these as examples of social learning. Is this a lax use of language, or are they to be taken literally? I trust it is not the latter.

Learning may well take place via such networks but that is, largely, an unintentional consequence of their use.

The phenomenon of OSL is new, we (in the e-learning community) have not had access to such facilities before, and many are asking the question ‘What is Social Learning?’ as a means to generate discussion and find ways of exploiting social networks to integrate effective OSL into e-learning.

Many discussions, not surprisingly, walk the path of social learning theory, gaming theory, and all manner of other intellectual highways. There is nothing wrong with this, but I fear we are doing what we always do in such circumstances.

We humans love to make things complicated, to take every opportunity to exercise and show-off our knowledge of the latest buzz words, and be seen to be towing the party line.

Let’s cut the bull, and get back-to-basics.

“What is social learning? I understand the theory, but somehow that doesn’t really help with actually doing it, especially on-line. Where can I see it in action? I’m human, I understand best by seeing it happen for real.”

Toddler!

No, it’s not a new software.

Toddler is human, about a couple of feet tall, and tends to fall over quite a lot. If you don’t have one of your own, a friend may let you borrow one.

Toddler is pretty much the original ‘back-to-basics’ practitioner of social learning. Alright, Toddler will not have just completed some e-learning and then have been skillfully supported to engage in OSL to support and embed their learning in the workplace, and, coincidentally, contribute to learning evaluation and review. That’s not the point, Toddler is amazing at social learning that is the point.

Toddler does not ask itself ‘What is social learning?’ Toddler just gets on and does it. So, watch the expert, for a few hours, best if it can be for a few days, you will also have a lot of fun while working. Actually, you may have some icky smelly moments, at which point you need to engage another expert, closely associated with Toddler, known as a Mum (I am so dead for writing that).

Now, speaking of a Mum, it is a good idea to watch how Mum collaborates with Toddler in social learning. This tends to be an innate skill of Mum and levels of competence may vary, so be prepared for some odd behaviour.

The types of thing you need to be on the look-out for are:
  1. Mum: Repetition of behaviour or phrases in context
  2. Toddler: Ability to recognise when to practice behaviour or phrase in context
  3. Toddler: Option to encourage Mum to further repeat behaviour or phrase by making Mum-friendly responses
  4. Mum: Always available to provide convenient reaffirmation of behaviour or phrase
  5. Toddler: Is provided with sufficient feedback from Mum to recognise when behaviour or phrase is being performed correctly.

“Well”, I hear you say, “That is all very amusing, I am sure, but how does that help me to effectively integrate OSL into my e-learning programme?”

Funny you should ask. Let me give you some ideas for each of the five points above, and, in true learning style, you come up with ideas of your own. You can tell I used to be a teacher, can’t you?

Firstly, I will assume you have produced wonderful e-learning, which has not simply dumped the trainer’s notes on the web, but has in fact mapped actions to business/curricula objectives, and addresses the changing of learner behaviour. The e-learning also supports the ‘ideas’ given below. The worker has accessed the e-learning for the first time.

 

1.      Mum: Repetition of behaviour or phrases in context

This could be our good friend, the workplace aide memoir. This could be the notice above the sharps bin in the hospital ward that reminds the worker of the main points for consideration. The aide memoire could also include:
  • The URL to the relevant e-learning;
  • A QR code of the URL;
  • The dedicated Hash tag for use on Twitter (or some other method used on a social network).

 

2.      Toddler: Ability to recognise when to practice behaviour or phrase in context

The aide memoir is already familiar to the worker. They have seen it in the e-learning. Its purpose and function is therefore immediately recognisable.

 

3.      Toddler: Option to encourage Mum to further repeat behaviour or phrase by making Mum-friendly responses

The worker can:
  • Note the URL and re-visit the particular part of the e-learning relating to the aide memoire/task;
  • Scan the QR code with a mobile device and access the e-learning;
  • Use the Hash tag to search Twitter and/or ‘join the conversation’.

 

4.      Mum: Always available to provide convenient reaffirmation of behaviour or phrase

The worker has permanent accès to the aide memoire and may not need to go on-line. Alternatively, the worker may go on-line to confirm learning at that moment to ensure standard of performance.

 

5.      Toddler: Is provided with sufficient feedback from Mum to recognise when behaviour or phrase is being performed correctly.

Senior staff can:
  • Recover reports of e-learning use and access methods (QR code use can be tracked);
  • Follow Hash tagged comments on Twitter;
  • Refer to in-house controls that report on the standard of performance in monitored functions.

All the above can be used to both evaluate/review the e-learning and evaluate behaviour of workers.

Conclusion

E-learning Expert.
So, there you have it, and you thought I was raving mad for engaging Toddler as an e-learning consultant, and expecting to be paid for playing games with kids.

If you are not sure what to do, go back-to-basics, and find a common-sense expert. Remember to be open minded and don’t let what you have been taught overly cloud your judgement. As the Buddha said ‘everything is teaching us’.

Be open to the metaphors that can be found in most things. I hope Toddler and Mum give you more ideas. If they do, why not share them here.

Thank you for reading. Take care.

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