Connecting Social Media to Learning

I’m confused.

I hear the term ‘social media’ being used as a place holder for new hardware (tablets, smartphones, iPods, etc.) AND for content that is accessible through new hardware or web distribution mechanisms, AND for software people are using (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) AND for the particular behaviors that people are engaging in.

I’m trying to simplify my life a bit.  Communication of ideas demands that we define things together, or at least attempt to do so, so that we can know what we are talking about.  And I’m thinking about the link between social media and learning.  So.  I’d like to propose the following:

Social media is a changing set of tools that provide channels through which people can connect, create, share and interact. 

Too often I hear and see people approaching this from a publishing standpoint.  “Oh wow, we can now push our content out through social media!”

Please don’t.

Or at least consider the ‘social’ part of social media.  This is about people connecting to people way before anything to do with content.  We are social creatures.  Social media tools have simply provided a vast new (and changing) array of methods by which we can be what we are – humans.

  • Social media behaviors arise from the proliferation and availability of the tools, and our natural inclination to connect with others.
  • Social media tools continue to change.  Beware he or she who claims to be an expert in a field of such shifting sands.
  • Social media tools are primarily software.  Your smartphone is a dumb paperweight without the software on it.

(steps down from soapbox)

The link to learning.

The use of social media tools (such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) does not necessarily connote ‘development’ or ‘learning’ of course.  I don’t doubt that we are learning things through social media tools (thank you, FB friends for sharing your insights on living in London!), but the question for me is how to wisely use social media tools in a designed learning experience.

It strikes me that, as some have identified, there are hundreds of social media tools, and that each of them may present the education designer with unique opportunities.  It’s like suddenly discovering your spice cabinet when you’ve been cooking with salt and pepper only.  (note to self.  must buy spices)

Overdrive Interactive's map of social media tools

Here are just a couple of ways I’m thinking about the tools:

  • Access to published material for commenting (YouTube, Flickr, etc.)
  • Collaboration and co-creation (Wikis, Google docs, etc.)
  • Quick sharing of info in a broadcast or narrowcast approach (Twitter, Facebook)
  • Aggregators of feeds and other tools (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Immersion for shared experience (virtual worlds, gaming spaces)

The above is imperfect and incomplete.  As education designers, we need to think pedagogy first, then examine what each of these new tools can do, and (importantly) take a constructivist view – put the tools in the hands of the learners.  Give them a goal that is meaningful.  Provide guidance and source materials.  Step aside.  Let them be humans and actively connect with each other to build and create meaning, practice new behaviors, get feedback, and have access to support.

I think that the constellation of social media tools provides a new array of possibilities regarding how an individual accesses networks of information and people that are important to her or him, how they interact and make meaning of new information socially with others, and therefore how they gain insight and translate that into effective behaviors for work and personal contexts.

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