I have been on the periphery of a few conversations and discussions about the use of social media both for teaching and learning and about use of social media more formally in training and learning. Some partly alluded to in this post.
I am generally of the mind that use of social media are best considered broadly within communication skills and that there may be some forms of guidance that can be offered, mostly in terms of modelling behaviours, it isn’t a subject that either can or should be taught as a distinct subject matter.
These are my reasons
1) We are still at the early stages of knowing, learning and understanding the possibilities, format and etiquette of interactions which take place online. By ‘teaching’ we codify a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way where the right and wrong should merely be an extension of what we consider to be ethical practice and conduct in all spheres of life and communication.
2) We are confusing the tools and the medium for the content. Platforms come and go – from Usenet, bulletin boards, IRC (Internet Relay Chat), MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs – the media can, does and will change. Teaching someone the basic IT skills to set up a WordPress blog is one thing and can be enormously helpful but teaching them what they should or should not put on it?
I think that’s better left to the community around them. Yes, mistakes will be made but that’s how learning grows. If someone doesn’t realise that disclosing details of a visit on their own blog is counter to professional codes of ethics, it isn’t because they don’t ‘get’ social media, it’s because they don’t ‘get’ professional codes of confidentiality.
3) Identifying self-appointed ‘experts’ who do the ‘teaching’ is a tricky area. What makes someone an ‘expert’ in social media? Is it someone with 5,000 followers on Twitter? Numbers are meaningless – followers can be bought and it’s more important who those followers are. Is an expert someone with a blog that has a following? Well, they might be an expert in writing a particular blog about a particular subject but I don’t think that gives them an authority globally. Or is it an academic that has written extensively on and about social media?Perhaps but it is a sector where the learning by doing is particularly prominent.
Learning about the theory of social networks is fascinating but does it help with the practical implementation? And what is ‘good use’ of social media anyway? Building a supportive network of people who think in the same way? Extending ideas and focus of knowledge? Learning about new research? We have different and fluid outcomes that are personal and individual – so how can a syllabus capture that? I’m not sure. Should it try? That’s a really key question. If there’s one area that self-directed learning and understanding really should flourish, I suspect it may well be this area.
4) Social Media is about building relationships and trust. No one can teach you to be authentic if you aren’t. No one can build an authority for you. You live or die on the content, information and relationships you build.
5) I worry that by creating a culture of ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’ we are imposing a hierarchy of a system of ‘people who know’ and ‘people who don’t’ into an area that thrives particularly because it is able to break things down.
So how do we learn and ensure that people learn to use these networks safely?
I say by relying on just diving in and perhaps modelling some behaviour around ‘mentors’ – asking and helping as we go. Perhaps when we see people new to these networks we all take a responsibility to offer suggestions and advice. When I helped someone set up their facebook account, I went straight into the privacy settings with them and explained them.
Sometimes people need to be guided around the etiquette within different networks and forums and a gentle guiding hand can be useful.
My worry is that more formal teaching/learning will lose the instinctive learning-by-doing and learning-by-experimenting which have led to some amazing opportunities.
I’d be really interested in the views of others about this though. After all, we are all still learning. I don’t have the answers and I am willing to be swayed on this as it’s based pretty much on my own experiences and thoughts. So please do feel free to persuade me otherwise!