The theory about learning you embrace determine how you look at social media and its importance (or unimportance). From a behaviourism point of view, twitter might not be very relevant as a means for learning. However, from a social-constructist view you might see a twitter network building relations. In that case twitter is very important. I used a Dutch article about various learning theories: ontwikkeling van leren in organisaties by Keursten to look at what the various thought streams might think about twitter:
- Behaviorism: learning is equivalent to influencing and changing behaviour. You do this by offering situations to practice the desired behavior. One example is a course about giving feedback. You can teach people the right way of giving feedback and create a situation to practice it. Twitter will not be seen as an important means for learning, because the change in behavior needs face-to-face to practice (although there are also research which shows that an innovative program using a webcam to practice social skills worked very well).
- Cognitivism: learning as information processing; the mind and thought process is put at the centre of the learning process. Within cognitivism, a clear distinction between knowledge, skills and attitudes is made and sharpened. I see the cognitivist approach reflected in many conferences, where the expert notify and explain to participants what the latest findings and trends are. Twitter will be interestingly but mostly because people may link to articles, books and information. I must admit I have used this argument myself. I would now respond differently.
- Pragmatism: learning by doing. This an approach I see clearly in the design of 23things, a course for librarians. See for instance here. People can learn 23 new Web 2.0 tools by using them, experimenting and experiencing them. Within this movement Twitter will not be so important (unless you want to learn how to use Twitter!)
- Constructivism: learning means developing a unique world view based on all experiences acquired. Learning is a process by which a professional adds new knowledge and ideas to his or her existing body of knowledge. Independent and self-directed learning is important. Within this thought stream twitter is more interesting. Twitter provides a window on the world. And using twitter means quite some self-direction, choosing who to follow, what to tweet etc.
- Social constructivism: learning through collaboration. This school of thought views learn as the result of interactions between individuals, learning within networks and communities is important. I am myself a supporter of this school of thought. That explains why I think being active on Twitter might be an important part of a learning process. Using twitter to build your network and maintaining relationships.
- Connectivism: was developed because the previous schools of thought were not impacted by technology. These theories do not address learning that occurs outside of people (i.e. learning that is stored and manipulated by technology). They also fail to describe how learning happens within organizations. Learning is a process that occurs within chaotic environments of shifting core elements and is not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning can reside outside of ourselves. Connectivism might be summarized as 'I store my knowledge in my network'. In the case of connectivism Twitter might be a source of serendipitous learning and self-organisation.