Learning via social

This guest post is from Helen Webster, an academic developer at Anglia Ruskin University. She’s particularly interested in digital literacy in Higher Education and has run several online programmes on social media for academics and students.

It’s long been recognised that digital technology has huge potential to enhance and even to revolutionise education, from the educational TV of the 1960s to the Virtual Learning Environments of the 1990s. Most recently, the Open Education movement promotes the use of Creative Commons licenses to allow learners and educators to use materials without falling foul of copyright legislation, and outside of traditional education contexts like universities. The latest innovation to capture the imagination of students, educators and the press are MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses, offered for free by universities and other providers to as many students across the world as want to take them, packaging high quality content into a wide variety of interesting courses. You already have some MOOC experience – 23Things for Research is itself a sort of MOOC! Although the University of Oxford doesn’t officially participate in MOOCs currently, it does provide a wide range of OERs – Open Educational Resources – via Open Spires

But what makes the latest digital innovations in online learning so exciting is that social media enables learners to create, participate and share online, instead of just passively consuming educational content. We know that people learn something best when they’re actively exploring new ideas or solving problems together, rather than just being told about it or reading about it. And social media platforms facilitate this interactive learning via social networking tools, blogs, wikis, video and audio creating platforms, cloud storage and content curation, social bookmarking – all the tools, in fact, that you’re exploring in this programme!

Whether you’re participating in a MOOC or using online resources as part of informal professional development or to supplement your formal education, here are some suggestions for making social media an effective part of your learning approach:

Build a Personal Learning Network: Use networking platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to connect to people who are interested in the same things, and who will share resources which may be useful to you. If you manage your learning network well, your Twitter or Facebook feed can become a stream of interesting, relevant and useful resources which people have shared or sent your way.

Curate and manage: Make sure you have a robust system for finding interesting content again when you’ve discovered it, using curation apps like Pocket, Mendeley, Evernote or Delicious (editor’s note to participants:  most of these these aren’t an official ‘Thing’, but we’ll cover them a bit in Week 8). That way, you’ll be able to dig it out again for yourself or for others when you need to. Use tagging and metadata well, and you’ll not only be able to build up a personal library of resources, but you’ll be able to curate and share a collection which others will find useful too.

Create and share: You can learn quite a lot by lurking online and consuming content, but you will learn even more by making things yourself. Blogging, tweeting, creating and sharing Slideshares, infographics or videos will help you to process and articulate what you’ve learned at a deeper level, and well as developing your digital skills. What’s more, by sharing these artefacts, you’ll be helping others to learn from you, getting feedback from them on your own learning, evidencing your development and promoting your expertise. Many of these tools make it easy to create and share materials, meaning that it’s not just teachers and publishers these days who get to make learning materials; learner-generated materials are just as valuable a part of the process. It’s certainly more creative than just writing essays!

Interact and participate: Liking, sharing, retweeting and better still, responding, commenting and reblogging will help to build connections between you and others in your personal learning network. These social networks thrive on reciprocity, and your feedback, questions and encouragement will not only help others to learn, but will help you develop your own critical skills, start useful conversations and make new contacts to collaborate and share with. As well as making it more likely that others will do the same for you!

The internet has vast potential as a learning resource, but that is greatly increased when it’s not just a ‘broadcast’ medium through which you can passively consume content, but a social space where you participate, interact and contribute to the learning resources available.

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