Social Networks Effects in Training and Education

At the recent Moodlemoot 2013, a user conference for the Moodle learning management system, Terry Anderson and Jon Dron, of Athabasca University, talked about the constraints of current day learning management systems and the impacts of social media.

Social media, helps to address a person’s need to belong to “groups, nets and sets”, as Anderson and Dron call them. A learner’s motivation to acquire new knowledge is affected by the opportunities that exist, both formally and informally. Learners are getting their information from Wikipedia, Google and the like, and from this developing ideas or concepts about the world around them. Though this is pooh-poohed by the established educational institutions, it is the reality of today and will only grow. For dedicated learners, the use of the web is simply a portal or entry point, not the final destination.

To ignore the importance of influence that society has on who has opportunities to be educated would be unwise. The actions that individuals take are influenced by the social environment in which they exist in. They are also affected by the people they interact with, their personal belief systems, the accessibility to educational opportunities (both formal and informal ones), and their economic position within society. A learner’s mind is shaped by the surrounding environment… and social media is changing the face of formal educational constructs and perspectives.

Stewart (1987) supplements the above position by re-asserting the original four assumptions by Eduard Lindeman which were that:

  1. education is life – not a mere preparation for an unknown kind of future living,
  2. adult education revolves around non-vocational ideal,
  3. the approach to adult education will be via the route of situations, not subjects, and
  4. the resource of highest value in adult education is the learner’s experience.

For example, a learner may have a need to diagnose a problem with their washing machine, and perhaps by finding a video on the web produced by a local appliance repair company, this information enables them to fix it themselves. At the very least, this home-made video, will enable the learner to ask more questions or seek out more and better information.

However having walked through “information web portals” and “friending” on social networks, a problem soon appears, the availability of higher quality information for the average person. Open information is not really open, as in most cases, various research papers cost money to view and download. Openness to high quality information is not the reality, as openness to lower grade information is more of the case.

But on a day to day basis is this a problem, perhaps “low” is the way to go? Volumes of lower quality information need to be sifted and sorted. This is naturally done by the process of “social networking”, where the most number of “likes” indicates the most valuable or usable resources. It is up to  the learner as to determine value and not the instructor, as normally done in a formal educational setting. Are educational institutions or corporate training departments facing a crisis over control, where the pepdgogoical dogma will be circumvented by more populist approaches to learning?

The answer is of course they will be,  we used to call them newstands and magazine racks!