Social learning

Social networking sites, forums, blogs and wikis are increasingly open, readily available and user friendly and as such have become platforms for human interaction that can foster and promote the development of networks and learning communities. The great potential for unplanned interaction and serendipitous discovery through such tools also seems to have a synergistic effect in which the network is greater than the individual contributions and active (and even inactive) members can benefit mutually from the links, cross-talk and feedback.

If such tools are to become truly beneficial for educators, students and those involved in lifelong learning, then it is important that we understand their pros and cons and how they are being used for gaining knowledge and learning in general. Margarida Lucas and António Moreira from the CIDTFF of the Department of Education, at the University of Aveiro, point out that communication technologies have been adopted for tailored learning opportunities for everyone at all stages of their lives. This has led to the spread of the so-called distance learning paradigm and recognition that technology is critical to successful lifelong learning.

The evolution of the Internet and, more specifically the emergence of web 2.0, the “social web”, emphasises sharing, participation and collaboration. The most popular blogs tend to have thriving comment sections, Wikipedia and its ilk would be nothing without the vast army of unpaid contributors and editors and the advent of Facebook and other sites relies wholly on users contributing freely for their survival. Critically, web 2.0 activity is not compulsory; instead it is motivated by curiosity and an urge to share and to connect with other people.

Having investigated just how online networks might function in an educational environment, the researchers state that, “learning becomes a product of social interaction through distributed, yet context situated and highly connected knowledge exchange sustained by a collective practice.” In other words, if (distance) learners work together they learn faster and more effectively.

Research Blogging IconMargarida Lucas, & António Moreira (2011). Using social web tools for knowledge construction Int. J. Technology Enhanced Learning, 3 (2), 151-161

Further reading

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Author: David Bradley

Freelance science journalist, author of Deceived Wisdom. Photographer and musician.