Monday, May 11, 2015

How to Make Social Media Work for You in Learning / Training Programs

Imagine a group coming together to plan a new pet adoption center. They're working together as a team, and this project has a lot of moving parts, which include everything from the financing, design, permits, publicity, health and safety protocols, to finding the key personnel to make sure it's a sustainable enterprise.  

The planning process is also a learning process, and it requires a clear set of goals / objectives, and a constantly evolving set of information and a sense of what is "real" in terms of the viability of the project.

happy bear from slovenia susan smith nash
We care about our bears! Photo from Ljubljana, Slovenia.
It's a perfect example of the process of constructivist learning in action, and in the past, communication and the flow of information were both fairly easily mappable and ascertainable.

However, with social media, all notions of simple and predictable information / knowledge flows goes out the window.  Social media can give rise to all sorts of side or private conversations, and it pulls in other people into the conversation in an ad hoc manner. Further, the random and unpredictable nature of information that flows in can be either helpful or destabilizing / distracting.

Knowing that the use of social media is a reality, how can constructivist learning approaches make sure that social media contributes to the endeavor, rather than making it go off the rails?

Constructivist learning, which involves a dynamic interchange of ideas, approaches, and information, where learners interact with each other to share and fine-tune their knowledge and skills, is a powerful approach in the classroom and in the workplace.

It is also effective in online learning, where discussions and collaborative portfolios give individuals the opportunity to share, self-assess, and adjust.

susan smith nash, ph.d.
Social media accommodates different learning styles, and it allows people to collaborate constructively. Susan Smith Nash is your guide.
But, how do constructivist notions of learning fare in a world of social media? Here are a few questions for consideration:

•    What kinds of social media are group members using?

•    When do they use it to obtain more information and how do they share it?

•    When do they use social media for communication? With whom? For what purposes? 

•    Does the presence of fluid and potentially randomly gathered outside information call into question the authenticity or validity of the core materials that are in use?

•    Does the use of social media create subgroups and restrict the sharing of vital information? What is the nature of the "side conversations" if / when they emerge?  How can they be harnessed, rather than becoming divergent forces?

•    How can social media usage be unequal / uneven (asymmetrical) within the group? How can the highly adept users of social media share strategies with other team members?  

•    How might the asymmetrical use of social media cause problems in the "reality testing" that goes on in the shaping of knowledge in a constructivist model? 

•    What kinds of outside information are desirable?  Why?

•    When and how can outside information result in distractions? How can outside information be evaluated to see if it contributes to the achievement of learning objectives / project goals?

Many times in a group setting, it's easy for individuals to state that they're using social media, but it is quite rare for the group members to actually sit down and evaluate how / why / when they're using it, and how it contributes to (or detracts from) the achievement of goals. 

The dynamic and interactive nature of constructivist learning settings, essentially assures that there will be social media in the mix -- but the question is, to what end?  The key is to step back, assess the situation, and use social media in an intentional way.

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