What can you learn from social media?

Social media graphic

Many think of social media as providing recreational social activity. In fact, there are many social platforms that provide channels for social learning.

What’s social learning?

Social learning theory (Albert Bandura) posits that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction, even in the absence of motor reproduction or direct reinforcement.
Source: Wikipedia

Bandura suggests that with the increase of technology in learning that there is a need for education systems to focus on “self regulation”.  Continual change in technology and associated learning developments can result in learners becoming overwhelmed.  Do you know that feeling? How is the pace of change in your sector/industry?

Personal learning environments
Education academics suggest that learning contexts can be structured to foster self-regulated learning. A “personal learning environment”(PLE) can be created and facilitated by the use of social media enabling students to manage their own learning (Dabbagh & Kitsantas, 2011).   Social media provides tools that enable learners to create, organize, and share content. These tools predispose users to a far more proactive engagement in learning than more traditional methods may have. Collaboration and co-creation of content that result from this is open to everyone who can access social media spaces. That means YOU too.

Bandura’s work gave a social perspective on learning.  Growth of the knowledge economy means more focus on cognitive ability and flexibility in an ever-changing world. Social media appeals to the curious.  It offers a social context for “on-demand” learning where people “pull” knowledge towards them. Different platforms provide opportunities to engage with others in different ways – to share knowledge, ideas, pose questions or problems and collaborate on developing solutions.

Social media learning
Here are some of the different social media technologies you can use for learning.

Social media post

Source: Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies – 100+ examples

Such “social learning” puts interactions into a different context.  This is not restricted to a virtual setting – it is just convenient that it may occur there. From your desktop computer/tablet/mobile phone you can interact with others about your area of interest. Learners seek answers to their questions, or different approaches to solving their problems in virtual communities.  With communal spirit, people also “share” their expertise.

Social learning can be academic, practical or just convenient. Engagement might involve access to on-line forum discussions, “how to” videos on DIY projects, or seeking answers to crossword puzzles. For those enjoying a flexible lifestyle, it means access to professional development wherever you are and an avenue for minimising professional isolation. The question is, can you trust the content?

Who’s in charge? YOU are!
Who regulates the content out there? Who moderates the information offered, through filters of accuracy, authenticity and validity? Well that’s where Bandura’s principle of “self efficacy” kicks in.  Does the learner put in some checks and balances to ensure the quality of the content being harvested? Is it “on point”? Is it valid in terms of current knowledge/research?

Learning this way, weighs on learning’s social nature. There are social “rules” of etiquette – to acknowledge support received, as well as a spirit of reciprocity that accompanies generosity. People share their expertise unasked. They contribute to an online community that helps grow knowledge and expertise in different areas, from people across the globe.

Working out loud
One such initiative is called working out loud. An authority on this is John Stepper whose website offers insights and resources.  It is currently Working Out Loud week (#WOLweek). Search this term on Twitter and you will find many professionals sharing their work and learning online. Or, put a question to Google, to see a range of examples from those who are working out loud.

To access such learning in particular areas, is more effective through platforms like Twitter where people tag their tweets relating to specific areas. Frequently tweets will include links to blog posts/articles where expertise is shared. So for example, my twitter feed included this:

WOL tweet

The link included in the tweet, goes to an article where a set of slides share the reasons professionals share their work. Some reasons (benefits) included:

  • to share work, raise profiles and showcase abilities
  • as a method of exploration
  • to connect with others
  • to help solve problems
  • to promote community and reciprocation

A new take on an old process?
These qualities are age-old in learning – even though they are associated with 21st century technology platforms. And, they’re not limited to virtual interactions. Many people take these interactions off-line to face-to-face meetings. For me, this restores faith in humankind. It means that even the sole operator does not have to work in isolation. They can have access to a virtual professional community.

Here are links to some posts by others about the benefits of engaging in social media:

Next steps
How do you “dip your toe in the (social media) water”? Interaction is like in any new social situation.  Enter, observe and mimic others. Here are a few tips:

  1. sign up to a social media application
  2. complete your profile, sit back and watch
  3. hang out and watch what happens, how people interact and how often
  4. observe the protocols of etiquette
  5. start to interact, mimicking the behaviour of those you respect

Social media is not a one way street. It depends on the generosity of sharing and reciprocity. Will you become part of an online learning community? Why don’t you try now, by writing a response to this post?

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