Today i want to share a model for Social Learning. It’s at quite a pragmatic level: ‘what do we do about it?‘, rather than an esoteric discussion of ‘what does social mean?‘. I’m presenting a view of Scaffolded Social Learning: a way of balancing the structure and defined outcomes of formal learning with the collaborative, co-creative and ‘sense making‘ functions of Social. Here it is at the most simple level:
Scaffolded Social Learning is built around two types of components: formal elements (‘boxes‘) and ‘bubbles‘ of social. Boxes are formal, bubbles are social. At the boundary between each, there is a gateway. The bubbles are co-creative, community spaces, places where we can feed out questions, case studies, activities and exercises that are carried out over time and within communities. The boxes are formally defined learning: maybe eLearning, classroom or defined resources. The overall arrangement is defined by an overarching narrative: it is, after all, still semi formal learning, with a defined outcome in terms of skills and capability, not an entirely free form and unstructured space.
This type of scaffolded solution is only one of a range of approaches we could choose to take: we may want totally formal experiences, or totally social one. This is not intended as a solution for everything, but rather as a model of how we design in that middle space.
But enough of the disclaimers: this is what Social Learning is about:
We create a series of spaces (and grant appropriate permissions) that people can work their way through. Not every journey is the same: some people do different things, but some elements may be defined as common for everyone. Instead of us creating one linear story, with all our materials sat along the route, we define a story, but with different resources and spaces to find our way through. Some of these are more traditional didactic resources (say an hour of eLearning or a workshop), others are semi formal (say a structured case study that you work through in your community). Some are formal assessments (like a test or scenario you must pass), others are social (like creating a personal narrative around your takeaways from a community conversation). Together, it provides a coherent and semi structured learning experience.
Let’s look in more detail:
Our experience of learning in this way is that we start with a structured space, maybe an introduction, where we set the context (if you are interested in Learning Methodology and a detailed exploration, you can find my book on the subject here). After this, we launch into a community space with structured activities. For example, in the first bubble, we may work through six structured questions, discussing each in the community and co-creating a narrative around it.
From here, we enter a new formal space, maybe via an assessment (in this case, a group narrative or blog). In the formal space, we may carry out role-plays to rehearse particular skills, or we may discuss the narratives together. Crucially, under this model, we try not to use the formal (and therefore expensive and time consuming) parts for pure knowledge transfer: instead, they are opportunities to question, build vocabulary and practice, with feedback. From here (possibly via another accreditation gateway, we launch into another bubble, perhaps this time where we try to apply the learning and share our experience with the community. Again, it’s semi structured, but the content of the discussion is generated by the community.
So what are we trying to achieve? It’s about creating meaning: in the Social Age, knowledge is no longer enough, instead, our ability to create meaning is what counts. In the formal spaces, we are rehearsing, sharing, narrating our progress. In the bubbles, we are co-creating and ‘sense making‘. The ‘sense making’ function of communities sits at the heart of Social Learning. It’s the ways we challenge and support each other as we work out what rings true and, crucially, what we can do about it and with it. It’s about learning and taking action, out in the real world. Under a scaffolded Social Learning approach, we are finding ways to let learners create meaning and share it, within their own reality: the story you build will be different from the one i build, we will use different language, but still within an overall structure that is shared.
If you’re interested in Social Learning theory and design, you can contact me for a free copy of my book ‘Exploring the World of Social Learning‘.