I found the following video through Stephen Downes, who found it on Tim Kastelle’s excellent blog. In it, David Gauntlett does a very nice job of weaving together distinct but related perspectives on how social connections and tools engender engagement and creativity.
As Gauntlett puts it, “Making is connecting because you have to connect things together (materials, ideas, or both) to make something new.” “Making sense” and learning, in my mind, most definitely fall in this space, and Gauntlett’s comments point directly to what I feel is one of the most significant benefits of the social Web for those delivering education to adult learners: the availability of social tools makes deep engagement easier than ever for the motivated self-learner. That may sound live an obvious or trivial observation, but I find that so far it is not one that has been acted upon all that well by association educators or others who deliver continuing education.
The standard model – online and off – for delivery of continuing education is the lecture. Personally, I agree with Mark Guzdial that there is not necessarily anything wrong with that. For motivated learners who already possess a certain amount of expertise a good lecture often is the most effective way to deliver education. We don’t need to contrive a lot of active learning or forced collaboration – techniques I encounter too often in inappropriate contexts at association conferences. But we should make sure learners are aware of and versed in using the range of social tools that can support their learning outside of the lecture.
As for that last point, it is clear enough at this point that use of social tools is growing and not likely to to flatten out, much less diminish anytime soon. Facebook now has more than half a billion users (yes, that’s billion with a “b”), Twitter is well past 100 million, LinkedIn has passed 70 million, YouTube is the second largest search engine behind Google. There is little doubt that your learners are in there somewhere, and whether they are fully conscious of it or not, they are using these tools for making sense and learning.
So far, though, our research has suggested that association use of these tools to actively complement and support learning experiences – whether online or off – is relatively low. (A range of free research with relevant data is available on our resources page.) Motivated adult learners will, of course, embrace these tools on their own, but the playing field is far from level right now in terms of general knowledge and comfort with social media and how it can be used as effective a learning tool. Associations could and should play a major role in leveling this playing field, but this will require association educators and subject matter experts getting more up to speed than they currently are.
Enjoy. And as always, I welcome your comments.