Social Media often comes in for a hard time, so does social learning have a future?
Which has more Facebook fans – a Danish logistics and freight transport company, or the owner of the biggest container ship in the world, broadcasting a stream of dramatic video footage and compelling stories about the gigantic scale of world trade and the people who work through storm and sunshine to make it happen?
Answer: they both do, it’s just a matter of perception! Maersk was once just a dull logistics company, but thanks to social media, it’s become a social media dynamo with a million Facebook fans and tens of thousands of twitter followers. That level of online engagement has led to the company being feted in what was once very definitely 'traditional' media, Forbes
The 'traditional' media can be thought of as a thoroughbred racehorse: expensive to run and often difficult to control. This beast is under constant scrutiny from a public who expect nothing less than consistent results: we look to the media to provide information about our local community, our country and the rest of the world and the intelligence provided shapes our opinions. The growth of online and social media means we have developed an insatiable thirst for instant news and views, arguably leaving less time for considered articles, or articles from authoritative sources, to find prominence.
Social media is influencing all aspects of our lives. It is driving mobile communications, facilitating international trade and, in some countries enabling democracy. Sadly there are also cases of tragedy or appalling behaviour in the internet ghetto. Some sites seem to relish the fact that they offer anonymity to youngsters at the same time as providing tools that encourage them to say or show things they may regret. Is it any wonder trolls lurk around the teenage sites of choice?
On a more positive note, social media can and is having an impact on all industries. For example, there is a popular opinion that the shipping sector deserves more recognition for its contribution to world trade. As a sector, the companies and people involved should use all available communication channels to trumpet achievements and influence policy for the future. Equally, no company wants to find itself at the heart of a crisis without a voice on the web and the time of crisis is not the time to start trying to build a presence. Naysayers should remember that social media and mobile communications are in the DNA of the next generation. Companies that don’t embrace it risk looking out of touch to tomorrow’s employees and customers
Learning to be safe online should be a compulsory topic for all children around the world and perhaps receiving that lesson online would be a great way to prove the point of the value of social learning. After-all, there is evidence to show that online students are outperforming those getting traditional face-to-face lessons. (One such example here) That said, despite being involved in online learning, Coracle wouldn’t advocate an online only approach, but we do believe that online learning should be part of the mix.
Learning should be a social thing for the simple reason that people learn from people. That doesn’t mean that technology shouldn’t be involved. Far from it. Using technology means that learning can be social on a truly massive scale, and valuable learning can be offered to a greater range of learners than ever before. The Learning Line platform from Coracle allows learners to share statements of learning with mentors, to have one-to-one conversations with tutors and to engage in peer-to-peer discussions. These conversations all happen in context with the piece of learning that sparked their question and are recorded there in an easily searchable format for future reference.
Why social media works
A social dynamic is important to learning for the same reason that social media works in the first place. People like belonging to groups and the internet allows us to take that interest in groups to a global scale. Whether it’s playing with the local football side, meeting friends at a book club, playing in a band, having a regular coffee with friends in a cafe or being connected to friends online, we seem to be pre-programmed to like group activity.
The reason for this has a lot to do with something called the Friendship Paradox. Read more here on wikipedia and here on the Economist. This is an interesting study that shows that your friends have more friends than you do and how this helps you get close to the centre of the network of any group. We have a natural desire to want to find groups and for those groups to be thought of as ‘good groups’ to join. Prestige, exclusivity and cost are some of the more obvious markers of an aspirational group. When we look to join those groups we do so in the hope of expanding our network or bettering ourselves. We are therefore drawn to people whom we perceive to be more popular than us. At the same time, other people are befriending us with the same thought in mind, hence the paradox.
Scientists have studied this effect and the maths that goes into understanding the relationships is part of the ‘secret sauce’ of the social media websites as they aim to connect their users with people of value. For the owners of the sites it is imperative that their user base not only grows, but that they spend time interacting with the site - after all, users provide the metrics used to sell the valuable advertising. By designing and building clever algorithms computer programmers have been able to take advantage of this knowledge to create powerful online networks that offer experiences to users that mirror real life and as such have become one of the most important tools for communication on the planet.
Despite the desire to join groups, social media can seem, and is sometimes portrayed as, isolating, rather like a tanker out on its own at sea. However, if you are able to change the perspective and take a step backwards, you may discover that the tanker is connected to an SBM and that things are more connected than at first glance.
For more about dealing with the media, about social media in general, for a guide for parents of teenagers and social media, please contact Coracle about our Media course, available on the Learning Line.