Choosing the right fruit: unravelling the layers of social learning.

It’s counter intuitive to think of all learning as ‘social’ at heart because it’s largely process of internalisation and mastery, but increasingly we are paying attention to the social aspects of learning design and delivery.

I’ve been working my way through different analogies for social learning: is it like an onion, where you peel back one layer to reveal the next, or is it like an orange where each segment sits next to the other, within the whole?

Whilst i haven’t yet settled on the fruit of choice, i am increasingly interested in understanding all the different channels that are available to us in learning and how each channel is used. There are the obvious distinctions between formal and informal environments: the formal space of the classroom the learning forum or official communications and collateral about the learning. Then there are the informal spaces of discussion at lunchtime, commentary on how an event has gone or the Twitter stream that underlies formal discussions and subverts or appropriates messages for it’s own ends. But beyond this recognition of the different spaces, there are different tones of voice used in different areas.

There is a formal, pedagogic voice, there are voices of challenge and concern, voices that cajole or berate you and ones that align behind you and support you. Then there are the different types of conversations that take place: the synchronous conversations of the seminar or one to one, the asynchronous conversations in forums or Twitter and the deeper, more reflective conversations of write ups, reviews and development plans.

All in all, lots of variables: formal and informal spaces, different tones of voice and different types of conversations. All of these contribute to what we mean by the ‘social’ in learning and only some of which fall under our span of control.

I think the challenge and responsibility is not to try to control these conversations, but it is to recognise that they take place and to be part of the right ones. We should recognise that the different spaces permit different types of support and challenge to learners, far more nuanced than those that we see in a workshop or through the essentially ‘broadcast’ nature of e-learning.

And the picture is not static: some learning is inherently social, requiring deep levels of interaction in both formal and informal spaces to build and refine skills and develop internalised vocabulary and behaviours. Others is inherently introspective and, if i can use the term, antisocial learning. Indeed, it may be essential to engineer in some of this ‘antisocial’ space for reflection as part of our learning methodology!

At a practical level, i think we have to start playing with social learning, trying out different modes of interaction and taking an evolutionary approach to what is fit for purpose: what to keep and what to let die out. For example, instead of just creating our core ‘broadcast’ materials and approaches, why not engineer in some space for discussion, but encourage that discussion to take place in a semi formalised environment, such as a LinkedIn forum, or through Twitter. This will allow us to play with different models of moderation and intervention. All communities need nurturing, and this is no different with learning communities in the social space.

I’m not sure what type of fruit social learning really is: possibly a simple apple although maybe an exotic fruit with odd seeds that you’re not sure if you’re supposed to eat or not. Someone tells you that it’s going to be good for you, but it’s not always clear why. This is the time to take a bite and see what it tastes like.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Broadcast, Collaboration, Community, E-Learning, Formal Spaces, Forum, Informal Spaces, Instructional Design, Learning, LinkedIn, Social Learning, Social Media, Twitter and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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