Next week there’s a big Christmas meal which, leading to much debate amongst certain elements of the community as to what to wear. There are impressions to be made, people to catch up with and celebrating to be had. It will be no surprise to those who know me that i have not expended much thought on the subject, as i tend to adopt a ‘what comes to hand’ approach to fashion, but i’d be deluding myself if i dismissed these conversations as unimportant.
In any social situation, formal work or informal, we control our appearance, our tone of voice, our outward persona. In the real world, this is through our clothing, our haircut, jewellery, perfume or aftershave and whether we have a beard or not. It’s about whether we moderate an accent or shout a lot. In social learning spaces, it’s about the avatar we create, the stance we take in discussion, the identity that we forge and the roles we take within the community.
The notion of how we curate ourselves, and how others do the same, is important in understanding the challenges in the wider uptake and development of virtual learning spaces: things which we take to be true in the real world can appear to be surprisingly fluid in the virtual one. Trust is based upon commonality, understanding, shared values and a belief that being within the community space is more advantageous than being excluded from it. But in virtual spaces, it’s harder to know what’s true and what’s just varnish.
Whenever we decorate our Facebook timeline or curate the content on our LinkedIn homepage, or whenever we populate an ‘about me’ field, we are consciously making the same types of decision as the ones that govern whether i wear a Bon Jovi T shirt or a suit to the Christmas dinner. There’s who we are on the inside, then there’s the persona that we project in any social situation.
We all adopt roles that are fluid over time: in some situations we may adopt a subject matter expert persona, in others, an organising role, in others, passive learner. It’s easier to be fluid in online spaces, not least because we can create and inhabit multiple identities, and this fluidity itself is a risk for those who are less experienced.
A social learning methodology means that we exploit the benefits of bringing people together in a community space. The group can create meaning within itself, instead of just regurgitating the wisdom or dogma of others. Social learning spaces are ideal for bridging the gap between formal learning environments and the reality of everyday work. But we still have to choose our clothes, adopt the right tone of voice and be aware of the risk of getting it wrong.