Raised in the world of interactive media, the Internet, and digital messaging technologies, most of today’s learners have different expectations of their learning experiences when compared to learners in the past. This tech-savvy generation prides itself on the ability to create its own on-demand learning paths using computers, tablets, and smartphones, which make the vast resources on the web available with just a few clicks. This generation of learners is also the first to use social media to enhance those learning experiences.
To support learning pedagogy today, there are many types of interactive, social and self-publishing media tools. These tools can enhance learning beyond the live classroom, virtual classroom (synchronous or asynchronous), or self-directed eLearning. They can facilitate the formation of learning communities and foster student engagement and reflection.
Most often the missing piece in virtual classroom courses or self-directed eLearning is the full social interaction of the learner. Before computers and the Web were used for education, full social interactions required learners and instructors to be bound to a physical space. Today social networking platforms, such as Facebook, wikis, blogging software, YouTube and even Twitter, may be integrated into the user experience of online learning design to support social interaction.
The most frequently heard complaint from learners about dispersed eLearning or asynchronous instruction is that there is a lack of connectedness to the learning experience. With the advent of social media this complaint can be addressed. Networking with peers can increase learner collaboration. With learner collaboration, bonds centered on the learning at hand become a real possibility. Once those bonds are made, it is easier for learners to collaborate when working through online projects.
One of the advantages of social networking platforms is that they are free or low cost. In the case of Facebook, private pages can be set up at no cost. Instructions are found by a simple search on the web. Once the page is created, the sponsoring organization/institution or instructor sends out private invitations to course/class members. Once the learners accept and are “members,” discussion questions can be posted. Learners are able to post their own questions for assignment clarifications. Links to websites for online assigned readings can be posted and discussion threads on the readings can be started. This creates an online environment for the isolated student to feel part of a larger learning experience.
During the first decade of the 21st century, many major corporations created private learning wikis for employees to learn from one another. Wikis were created for separate groups of employees such as software engineers, administrative staff, executive staff, and others. Often times the wikis were created as a response to inquiries for a continued learning experience after an online webcast, eLearning or live class.
Private blogs are also options to extend and enhance the learning experience. With the ease of development using platforms such as WordPress, internal or external blogs can be created for the private use of course learners.
By using Twitter and specific hashtags, learners are able to follow subject matter experts and subject-specific organizations. Following leaders in a field of study often times creates access to up-to-date knowledge and insights that can make the remote learning experience richer. Also, creating hashtags to follow during a webcast or other online training events makes it easy for learners to contribute to a live discussion on the topic.
Learners can create brief informational eLearning videos that center on subject matter and upload them on YouTube. Their peers can leave constructive feedback and expand their own understanding of the learning topic. YouTube channels can be created to house the learners’ videos.
Now that social networking enables an eLearning course to be more interactive, how can learning organizations/institutions track the learner’s online participation in a learning management system (LMS)? It is now possible to integrate social networking with remote education or training and record the interaction for credit.
In the past eLearning content was developed to comply with SCORM (sharable content object reference model) specifications so that course completion, time tracking, pass/fail and score reporting could be recorded in an LMS. That was the beginning and end of what SCORM could do. Another drawback was that all learning had to be launched from the LMS. Plus SCORM was designed for the desktop only; so any learning from mobile devices couldn’t be tracked.
Today with xAPI (Experience API) specification, the experience of participating in social networking for learning can be tracked in the LMS, yet the learning does not have to be launched from the LMS. Statements are written to an LRS (learning record system) detailing the social interaction. (The LRS can be a small part of an LMS or be stand-alone.) An example would be: “In the XYZ Corporation Learning Blog, Jordan Jones contributed to an article called ‘Emerging Standards for Mobile Learning.’”
In the current eLearning environment, social networking as a part of a learning program is more important than ever. Adult learners, whether in an institution of higher learning or a corporate setting, are becoming more comfortable with using social media for networking. So, the next time your organization offers an eLearning or virtual class, consider designing the experience to include some form of social networking.
How does your organization use social media networking in its learning programs? Please share below.
CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).